Time for a small gripe. I’m a huge Apple fan! But unfortunately, it’s not all good news! (Duh!) My wife bought a 20 inch iMac in late 2006. I bought the new iMac 27 inch earlier this year, and love it! I just added a MacBook Pro to my arsenal. And, of course, there’s the series of iPod’s I’ve bought over the years – with my current workhorse being a 5th generation iPod Nano. I love the products, I love the Apple Stores. I love Apple’s website. I’ve taken advantage of their Personal Shopping (to review the options before I purchased my iMac 27 inch), their Genius Bar (more on that in a moment) and their web store.
Wonderful, but Imperfect?
My wife’s iMac started playing up a few months back. Symptoms were thin purple lines appearing on the screen as if rows of pixels were dropping out. Sometimes, the screen distorted, as if the image was melting or being torn. The more serious problem was the machine crashing! This was quite distressing as the occasional MS Windows “blue screen of death” was one of the (many) reasons I’d moved my wife to the Mac, then me to that platform. The crashing took the form of the little spinning color wheel icon appearing and staying on – forever! The only way out was to hold in the power button, forcing the machine to quit. The good news here is that a reboot on a Mac is dramatically faster than on Windows. (My Windows point of reference is Windows XP.) The crashing was especially frequent when I was using her machine to do processor intensive things such as video editing. (Fortunately, I now do that on my 27 inch iMac – which has – touch wood – been totally fault free!)
So, How Smart Are the Geniuses at the Genius Bar?
First, the good news. The whole process of making an appointment – whether with the Genius Bar, Personal Shopping Assistant, or One-on-One is excellent! In fact, I still find everything about the Apple Retail Store experience to be mostly superb! Anyway, I took the iMac along to the store and met with our Genius at the appointed time. He did a quick check, and concluded they would need to take the machine out back and run some diagnostics. I filled in some paperwork, and left the store. A couple of hours later, he called and said they could not replicate either of the problems I’d described and the diagnostics revealed no problems. He suggested they reinstall the Mac OS (I was on the latest release) and that I could recover all my files and applications using the Time Machine back up.
I was fine with this – I’ve been using an external hard disk with Time Machine since it became available. My only concern was that when I tested Time Machine recovery before I took the machine to the Apple Store, the Mac crashed! So I had never proven I could recover. I did, however, make a copy of my wife’s critical digital assets – mainly a 7,000 photo iPhoto library, a nearly 2,000 song iTunes library, and our Quicken data. So, I figured we were relatively safe.
I picked up the machine later the same day – no charge to me, which was great. I got the machine home, turned it on and immediately had the lines of purple pixels, and within minutes, the dreaded spinning color wheel icon. I soldiered on and tried Time Machine to restore my wife’s applications and data, and – miracle of miracles – that worked superbly!
The Wonders of the Web
Some days later, frustrated that my trip to the genius bar had not resolved anything, I did some online research – yes, I know. I should have done that in the first place! I quickly found several Mac forums that indicated that both my symptoms with this iMac were very common on the older machines. So, Apple disappointment numbers 1 and 2! There clearly was a real issue with these machines:
1. Why didn’t the ‘Genius’ know that, or have access to a knowledge base (e.g., the Mac forums I quickly found)?
2. Why doesn’t Apple acknowledge these well known problems and provide fixes beyond the warranty period? (I’m assuming that if I’d hit these problems during the initial warranty, or if I’d taken the extended warranty, it would have been fixed at no additional cost to me.)
On more scanning through the Mac forums, I came across a potential fix for the problems I was experiencing. This involved resetting the parameter random access memory (PRAM) and nonvolatile RAM (NVRAM), with a link to instructions for this on the Support section at Apple’s website . This was trivially simple to do – essentially shutting down the computer and restarting it while holding down 4 keys – Command, Option, P and R. (Actually, pressing these keys together requires some dexterity!) Anyway, this simple fix seems to have totally eliminated the two problems we were experiencing on my wife’s iMac!
So, Apple disappointment numbers 3 and 4!
3. Why didn’t the ‘Genius’ try this at the store? (I assume he didn’t as the computer came back with exactly the same problems it had when I took it in!)
4. Why didn’t Apple suggest I try this when I made my Genius appointment, given that I explained why I needed the appointment in the first place!
Again, I’m still a big Apple fan. Perhaps, one lesson from this is that when you create an exceptional customer experience, expectations rise, and your customers want every interaction with them and your products to be exceptional. Regrettably, they are not. I guess the good news is, there’s still room for Apple to become even better at what it does!