I'm convinced there will never be a lonely Apple Computer repairman.
What finally persuaded me was my experience last week with the folks Apple calls the "geniuses." Now, let me hasten to add one note. I strongly suspect they are in fact geniuses--especially Charlie at Apple's New York store in SoHo, who may be one of the smartest and most reassuring major electronics repair guys I've every run across.
Still, Charlie and his fellow geniuses made my experience only marginally less maddening. Last Monday evening, my 17-month-old iMac G4 died. When I say "die" I mean it was so dead that not even a flatline appeared on my screen. When I finally got through to an 800-number repair guru, and after I made him understand why I couldn't access their 24-hour online tech help, he confessed that my problem was clearly "hardware related" and was beyond his capabilities.
So shortly after 6 AM Tuesday morning, there I was humping my iMac G4 into Apple's SoHo store--its only physical location in New York City. At the "Genius Bar" on the second floor, an eponymous genius looked at it and conceded that it was broken. "Probably the power supply," he nodded gravely.
I breathed a slight sigh of relief when he quoted me a price that was not much more than dinner for two at the neighboring Mercer Kitchen (attached to the Mercer Hotel where Russell Crowe heaved a telephone at a receptionist, an incident which, had I not known better, I might have thought was touched off by his experience next door at the Apple Store).
As the genius was filling out the repair slip, I spotted a printed notice on a board next to where they performed their miracles. It pledged that computers arriving before 8 AM would be ready the same day. Great, I thought. By Tuesday night I'll be back online, cruising the Web and making sure Forbes.com was everything it should be and more.
By the next morning--28 hours after checking iMac into the Genius Bar, Apple's Web site still had my link with the outside world "in triage." Triage? At any hospital, if a patient were still in triage 28 hours after arriving at the hospital, administers would be flying out the door--sacked. Some of the patients would be dead, others would have cured themselves by then and headed home.
An Apple customer service operator explained patiently that the delay was to order a part and have it shipped in, so it probably wouldn't be ready for another week. Another week? Pretty basic, it seems to me--a power supply for what is arguably one of the most popular desktops from Apple in its history. OK, I understand shipping it in. But another week? I mean, UPS and FedEx have made a pretty good business out of getting just about anything from anywhere in the U.S. to anywhere else the next day.
I offered to pay extra for overnight shipping of the part but was told that wouldn't get me my computer any quicker.
Fortunately, I had some phone numbers for some Apple people in Cupertino, Calif., and a couple of phone calls later the wheels were slowly grinding into motion.
"Your experience shouldn't happen to any Apple customer," explained a company spokeswoman. Darn right. Only most people wouldn't have her cell phone number. And indeed, I was by no means alone.
Even at 6:30 that Tuesday morning, there were already several frantic Apple-owners clutching laptops and iPods, waiting to drop them off for repair. Thursday evening, 60 hours after my wife and I first walked up to the Genius Bar, we went back finally to claim our iMac that by this time had been impeccably fixed--they even buffed up the screen thoroughly. And at 6:30 Thursday evening, I counted more than 100 Macniacs queued up, some lugging huge PowerMac G5s, waiting their turn at the Genius Bar.
I'll concede it's probably a little unfair to single out Apple in all this. A Forbes.com colleague pointed out to me that on a recent visit to Best Buy, she saw scores of PC users queuing up at the repair counter clutching their ailing links with the online universe.
So that got me to thinking about the broader question. Twenty-five years after the first PC, the desktop and the laptop are still not nearly as reliable as the most basic automobile, washing machine, refrigerator or, even closer to home, television for that matter. When was the last time you brought your 36-inch color TV into a repair shop? Shouldn't we expect, even demand, better reliability?
I've gone through three computers (a Compaq, Gateway and now iMac) in the ten years since I bought my 36-inch Sony TV. Somehow it just quietly keeps chugging along, anesthetizing me without a single thought.
By David A. Andelman