I’ve always said that the Genius Bar and Applecare are why I buy Apple.
This story starts with a broken fan.
48 hours before I had to leave for Las Vegas for a conference my company hosts every year, my computer started making noises. Really scary noises.
I immediately began backing up my computer – every file I could think of that didn’t exist on another hard drive or in the cloud somewhere. At the same time, I hopped onto the apple website, and made an appointment with the genius bar for the next day. They’d never failed me before, and I knew my applecare was dangerously close to expiring.
Lo and behold, I learned at my appointment that one of my fans was failing, and was an easy fix. I had made it just in time for AppleCare, which would have expired the same day I returned from Vegas. The guy I worked with at the Apple store checked my computer in, so that I could bring it in that Thursday to get it fixed.
Fast forward to Tuesday.
The entire reason I didn’t just leave my computer at the store while I was at the conference (since I have a Windows computer provided to me by my company) had to do with the role I was playing for this conference: blogger. My Dell is amazing, in so many ways, but when I try and type on the keyboard, its trackpad always messes me up. Being that conference blogging is significantly faster in pace than normal, day-to-day work, the inconsistent cooperation of the Dell trackpad essentially made it impossible to use.
In one of the keynotes, my battery went low enough that I wouldn’t have made it through the breakout session afterwards without charging it, so I moseyed my way in to the employee room and plugged my charger in to the surge protector. I was chugging along, fixing the typos in my notes, when someone popped in and needed to get something from behind where my computer was stationed.
I went to unplug my computer, and move to the other side of the room, and burned my hand.
It was the same kind of burn as the one that occurs if you accidentally touch a stove burner for a split second, or spill boiling water for a cup of tea on your hand. It hurt.
Alarmed, I yelped and caught the attention of one of my fellow employees who works in IT.
He told me to call Apple, because overheating and burning devices were a very bad thing, and I should bring it to the attention of Apple and try to figure out a resolution with them to avoid injuring myself in the future.
In the meantime, he told me to not use my charger again until I could give it to them to check out.
So, I call Apple, and they connect me from a regular customer service person, to a safety employee (or they consult with one, something along those lines). After about an hour on the phone, explaining the chain of events, and providing all my information (serial numbers, account information), he tells me he needs to call me back after he consults with someone.
When he calls me back, he tells me: “Here’s what we’re going to do. Take your computer in to the Apple store on Thursday, and they’re going to exchange it for a new one.” (paraphrased, but same wording and meaning).
Surprised, but grateful that they were taking the initiative to help avoid safety issues / burning potential in the future, I thanked him, and we ended our conversation.
It turns out he was wrong, and the Apple Store in Pleasanton never said that.
According to the guy I worked with on the phone, someone else with my same situation, at the same store, was to receive a new laptop. I asked him why the resolution for someone in the same situation would be different, and he said that it had to do with the model of charger…or something along those lines.
Let’s pause for a minute here.
So…someone who had a pre-existing commitment from the Apple store to replace a broken left fan, and also had a broken power cord that was overheating, and then had both of those things coordinate in a disastrous way to cause the person to burn their hand, just so happened to call that same week, and from the same store. I find it hard to believe.
But I digress.
I went to the Apple Store as scheduled, unaware that I was about to go through an attempted laptop drop-off from hell (or to my knowledge when I first walked in, exchange). The Apple Store employee that I worked with was patronizing, and essentially called me a liar and/or idiot for a solid 20 minutes, and told me that:
“under no circumstances would someone in my situation be told they would get a brand new laptop, and I must be mistaken.”
But wasn’t it someone with my situation that apparently was getting a new laptop? Additionally, the person claimed he talked to that was in charge actually wasn’t on the clock when I was in there – he had been on lunch the entire time. Things just didn’t add up.
I don’t mean to harp on the new laptop thing – it never would have even occurred to me had it not been suggested to me by Apple. It moreso bothers me in the way with which it was handled, and the way I was treated.
Any time I asked a question about the impact that the consistent overheating would have, or the possibility that the broken fan and power cord together could have caused long-term damage, I was abrasively interruped, and told:
“I can almost guarantee that fixing the fan will fix your heat problem.”
The first time he responded with that, I followed up by asking:
“But what guarantee can you give that the excessive heat has not damaged something else internally. And now that my apple care is out…I fear I will have to pay for the future damages that were caused by this.”
To which he replied, and said
“it’s definitely just the fan, and they’ll check it for other damage and as long as they can replicate any future heat issues at the genius bar they should be able to cover it. But they need to replicate the problem […etc.]
Again, I probably wouldn’t be annoyed if they hadn’t said one thing and done another, or interrupted me repeatedly to reiterate the fan thing.
At the end of the day, I left my laptop with Apple for the previously scheduled fan replacement, and furious, drove to Oregon to see my mom for the first time in months.
Before I went to pick up my computer, I called the customer service employee I had been working with, who was the opposite of helpful. He seemed to pick up the patronizing attitude from the employee at the Stoneridge Mall store, and despite me just trying to confirm that things would indeed work once I got my laptop, and that I wanted to confirm this before I picked up my computer, he tried to say that:
“There’s no way to prove one way or another that the fan and power problem, and the resulting overheating, could have caused long-term damage to my logic board.”
Which by the way, directly contradicts what the Apple Store Genius employee told me.
Next, he proceeded to tell me that:
“He could almost guarantee that if the fan replacement didn’t fix the problem, that reinstalling my operating system would.”
Again, wasn’t it already “pretty much guaranteed” that something would fix the problem I was experiencing? I kept thinking to myself, growing more frustrated by the minute, that I just wanted a straight answer. I just want someone to tell me what’s wrong, why it’s going wrong, and help me come up with a solution.
I’m not looking to exploit Apple, I’m just looking to have a working computer. That’s all I want, and all I need, and certainly don’t need to be treated like an idiotic, temper-tantrum’ing child along the way.
I picked up my computer, and lo and behold, two days later, it starts making a funny noise again. This time, the noise began when I got up from an armchair at my mom’s house – my computer, still on, wasn’t exactly level for a few seconds (it’s next to impossible to keep a computer straight when you’re picking it up, and getting out of a chair).
It sounded like there was a CD in my macbook, and I had tipped my computer on its side, and the noise was the noise that occurs when there’s an active CD running in the drive, and the service becomes unlevel.
Alarmed, I immediately called Nate’s partner, who works with computers, hardware, and software on a daily basis. He’s a wolf when it comes to computers. He told me that there was a good chance something was installed incorrectly, and the “rolling” or “tsssing” sound I was hearing was just a loose screw. Irritated, worried, but someone calmed, I made another appointment with the genius bar.
I should have taken a video.
Because of course, two minutes in the Apple store isn’t long enough for my computer to heat up and begin showing the symptoms it does when it’s been on for more than an hour.
So, it was time to leave the store again, being told that I can always come back in if it starts making that noise again, but since they couldn’t replicate it (in two minutes), there was nothing they could do for me there.
Nate and I interpreted it as:
“Well, sucks to be you, but we don’t particularly feel like being helpful, empathetic, or useful in any way, shape, or form, so why don’t you run along now, so we can sell stuff to people, and come back if it makes the noises again, and keeps making it.”
Nate, in a minor outburst of frustration, offered to go watch Netflix for an hour. Meanwhile, the fury in my chest had essentially reduced me to tears and all I wanted to do was go cry and buy a Windows.
Fast forward a very short amount of time, and now my computer has the white screen of death.
All I was doing the first time that display went funky and distorted on me was using the “Inspect Element” tool in Firefox. That’s it. I had a few Yelp tabs open, too.
Later today, I was taking a screenshot, and sending it to someone on Facebook when everything went white again. A simple screenshot caused everything to irreversibly crash, and nothing I’ve tried since then seems to be able to fix it.
I’m left wondering…how much does it take to get Apple to take ownership and admit that something is indeed a problem with the device they’ve created? Despite my fan being replaced, my computer would still get dangerously above 5,600 RPM’s and over 160 degrees fahrenheit, and that would happen with only two or three things open, at the most.
I find it hard to believe that the overheating and graphics cards issues aren’t at all related, and that there truly wasn’t a single bit of damage caused to my logic board from my computer overheating – for months. Grumpily, I vented at Facebook:
Despite reinstalling my fan and giving me a new power cord, which they told me would definitely fix the heat problem, it really didn’t help very much. it also sounds like I’ve tipped my computer on its side with a cd in the disk drive…despite there being no disk in the drive. Go figure though – they can’t replicate the problem in store.
Sunday, I walk into my apartment, and the entire room smelled like burning plastic. The handy dandy sniff test revealed…the brand new apple charger was the culprit. While the cord was plugged into a surge protector. And the computer wasn’t connected. So over Apple that I’m writing an angry blog post. which I never do. and also looking up reviews online for PCs.
(Note: if you’ve read this far, you’re reading said angry blog post.)
Do I expect Apple to acknowledge any of this?
If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said
“Absolutely. When you buy a Macbook, you aren’t just buying a device. You’re buying AppleCare, and the Genius Bar is enough to warrant an overpriced computer that’s pretty much guaranteed to mess up at some point during the duration of AppleCare.”
Now, I find myself dreading the thought of calling or visiting – knowing that I’ll have my intelligence mocked and/or put down, and that the excuses will roll out faster than ever.
So, instead, I find myself typing this, and in the background, researching Windows computers. Because I’m done.
And for someone who’s been dedicated to Apple, and a huge proponent of their Genius Bar, AppleCare, and the overall positive experience that comes with owning an Apple, it’s immensely disappointing.
They’ve burned a huge bridge, and burning my hand was apparently just collateral damage.
And apparently, so is my computer.
Update, late 2014:
These woes (no joke) continued. I ultimately took the advice of one of my best friends, Max, who used to work at an Apple retail store and actually referred me for my current job at CallidusCloud. He had a similar experience at the Pleasanton store, where employees were condescending and patronizing (though, he had the knowledge to call their bluff at the time). He recommended to go to a flagship (is that the right word?) store, and to check out Palo Alto.
What a night and day difference.
After going to the Apple Store in Palo Alto, I not only am a huge champion for Apple again, but I will actually go out of my way to persuade people to not go to the Stoneridge Mall / Pleasanton Apple Store.
Because frankly, unless something incredible has occurred since this journey began, that store’s employees seriously need to check their privilege.
It turns out that a lot was wrong with my computer, and it very likely was a cascading effect from the heating problems.
Here’s a timeline.
May 15, 2014 to May 20, 2014
- Issue: Fan makes excessive noise
- Steps to Reproduce: Verified fan motor failure for left fan in Mac Resource Inspector.
- Action: Replaced left fan.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Go back to the Genius bar — overheating and noise issues. Essentially called the boy who cried wolf, and told to come back when I could replicate the issue for them.
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
5,600 RPM’s and over 160 degrees fahrenheit. (See above for video)
- Issue: Customer reports device booting to white screen and power adapter smelled like burning when it was plugged into the Edison outlet but not connected to the MacBook after about an hour
- Steps to Reproduce: Verified. SMC reset, pram reset, device posts, apple logo with spinning gear shows then goes to white screen. MRI passed.
- Proposed Resolution: Check in for full diagnostics. Check power adapter for issues.
June 12/13, and told me that my hard drive was failing, and that I needed to purchase a new one. Having had multiple Macbook Pros suffer from a failing hard drive, and also had company IT folks + the wolf helping me run diagnostics, I told them that perhaps they were mistaken, because the signs were textbook logic board failure. The patronizing tone came back out, and told me that I was wrong.
For the record (literally), generally, when a hard drive crashes the symptoms historically were more like this (11/16/2013):
- Issue: Computer freezes and is really slow. Spinning beach ball shows up a lot. Sometimes, gray screen with flashing question mark will randomly appear while customer is performing a task in their user.
- Steps to Reproduce: Ran smart utility, hard drive fails with 31 pending bad sectors.
- Proposed Resolution: Replace hard drive and cable.
I told them to not touch my hard drive, and to stop working on my computer.
I’d pick it up as soon as I can. (And immediately made two appointments – one for that evening in Palo Alto, one for the next day in Walnut Creek, in case I had a similar experience in Palo Alto.)
I think all they ended up doing that time was reinstalling my OS.
Friday, June 13, 2014
I didn’t have high hopes for this Genius bar visit. It was Friday the 13th, after all.
Except…the Genius Bar employee that I talked to that day did something that the folks in Pleasanton never did. He listened.
- Issue: Customer states that unit will not power consistently, unit overheats, and Mac will not always boot past apple logo
- Steps to Reproduce: Verified at bars, unit will not power, SMC reset did not resolve
- Proposed Resolution: Replace logic board and hard drive if necessary.
It’s safe to say I haven’t made it a year since 2008, when I bought my first Macbook Pro, without a Genius Bar employee making me cry.
There’s a big difference between bursting into tears as I realize:
- I don’t have a laptop to study for finals (back in college);
- Or that I forgot to back up everything for my photojournalism courses before a hard drive crashed;
- I had to break it to one of the clients I did freelance work for that his website wouldn’t get to launch as planned because my logic board failed;
- My logic board just failed for the third time in two weeks, and Apple Care expired in two days (back in 2011 — they actually ended up replacing the entire device);
- I lost my entire music library because the external I had crashed right around the same time (note: Google Music actually saved the day here – I swear by that service to this day, because it got me my entire library back.)
Versus being driven to tears out of sheer frustration at receiving degrading, patronizing treatment by an employee of a company I trusted, and held a high brand opinion of.
So, him listening? Huge. Game changer.
For the record, the hard drive wasn’t replaced
in this visit. I may have retorted that I was right, and said some relatively snarky things about the other store.
Remember that cascading effect I mentioned earlier?
Monday, September 22, 2014
Issue: The customer is reporting clicking sounds coming from the computer after repair in June. The computer sometimes does not start up or will show graphical errors with the menu bar. Missing foot on bottom case.
Steps to Reproduce: Verified the issue with screen capture provided by customer. Can hear clicking sounds like the sudden motion sensor without the computer moving.
Cosmetic Condition: No major damages. Missing foot.
Proposed Resolution: Replace logic board and hard drive along with any other failed components at depot repair facility.
I checked it back in, again.
While attending an workshop-like event hosted by LinkedIn for customers using their advertising solutions the next day, they called me back, and told me that someone reviewed the work history, and would like to just replace the device.
Remembering my “too good to be true” experience from earlier that year, I dubiously took down the details he provided, and his name, and his title, and since I was already in Menlo Park, popped over to Palo Alto after the event was over.
True to their word, the journey had a seriously happy ending: they just replaced it.
Here’s to hoping it stays great.