Death of an iPad: True story of Apple tech support

Death of an iPad: True story of Apple tech support

Summary: Apple's announcement of a more powerful iPad this week didn't make me appreciate my third generation iPad any less. Then yesterday my iPad died.

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TOPICS: iPad, Apple
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Apple Highland Village
Image credit: Apple

Yesterday started much as planned with an early workday. I was having some minor work done in my apartment first thing in the morning so I threw my third generation iPad in my bag and headed to the coffee shop to get some work done. As good as my intentions were, the sudden death of my iPad put a stop to doing anything productive.

"No matter how much hardware you stuff into a device at less cost than your competitor, if your ecosystem is inferior, and your apps just aren't as good, then it doesnt matter what you put in that pile of silicon, plastic and metal." — Jason Perlow

Talk about irony, on the day my tongue-in-cheek column was published in which I explained why the recent iPad refresh didn't make me enjoy my iPad any less, it let me down. While thousands were reading my explanation that my now 'old' iPad still "had my back", said iPad was refusing to run for the first time.

The iPad would start and then reboot with a gray screen every few minutes. It wouldn't run long enough for me to trouble-shoot the issue, or restore it from scratch. It would start and crash every few minutes. Start, crash, reboot, repeat. It was as dead as an iPad could be.

When the workmen finished in my apartment I left the coffee shop and headed back home. I was thoroughly dejected that my iPad, only a few months old, was a paperweight.

I went online and made an appointment at the Genius Bar in my local Apple store, not knowing what to expect. I don't have a lot of experience with Apple tech support (thankfully), and past experience with other vendors didn't have me feeling too positive about things.

While driving to Apple I reflected on the excellent article by my friend and colleague Jason Perlow. His reasoned explanation that the value of the new iPad mini is more than just the worth of the hardware struck a chord with me. Jason pointed out that the worth of the new iPad mini, and any Apple product, is more than the sum of its parts. The entire Apple ecosystem plus good hardware together yield a good user experience. That has intangible value that makes customer satisfaction levels consistently high for Apple products.

I admit that as I pulled into the Apple store parking lot I wasn't feeling too positive about the quality of Apple products. It was up to Apple to prove how much value the intangibles (tech support) added to the perceived value of its products.

I was greeted at the door by an Apple employee with an iPad who looked up my appointment and sent me to the Genius Bar. Within a few minutes my Genius arrived and asked me what brought me in for service. I was impressed that the tech then listened carefully to my explanation of the problem. She admitted that this constant rebooting was unusual and when she took the iPad in hand she was immediately confronted with the gray screen and a reboot.

New iPad (222x300)

Without missing a beat she told me the problem is definitely hardware so a new iPad was in order. That was it. In less than 5 minutes the Apple tech listened carefully to understand the problem, saw it for herself, and determined a replacement was in order.

The rest of my time at the Genius Bar was just as well spent. The replacement iPad was brand new, a 64GB model with Verizon LTE just like my dead one. The tech booted it up and made sure I was able to set it up with no problems. She pulled the Verizon SIM from the old iPad and popped it into the new one, then made sure it was connecting to the LTE network.

I back up my iPad to iCloud so the tech made sure my contacts and calendar information pushed down to the new iPad. She recommended, and I agreed, that it would be better to install my apps from scratch rather than restore them all from my backup just in case one was corrupt. I intended to do that anyway as I wanted to use the new iPad as an excuse to get rid of the dozens of apps installed on my old iPad that I never use.

Just a few minutes after walking into the Apple store with a dead iPad I walked out with a brand new one at no cost. This was only possible because the tech actually listened to my complaint and acted on that information. There was no scripted session as is so common in tech support scenarios. They listened to what I had to say and acted properly on that information.

My session at the Genius Bar is not uncommon based on conversations I've had with others in similar situations. The purpose of this tech support is to address a customer with a problem that makes them unhappy, in a way that makes them leave the store a happy customer once again.

While Perlow properly addressed the app ecosystem as a big portion of the value of an Apple product, I would add the tech support offered at Apple stores as a valuable part of that system.  Apple was able to take a customer in a very negative situation and turn it into a positive experience. That certainly adds to the value of my Apple product.

This is exactly why opening its own retail stores was a great move by Microsoft. Even more so now that it has become a hardware company with the Surface line. Hopefully Microsoft will learn what Apple has learned so well: don't provide tech support for hardware in the cheapest way possible. It is far cheaper in the long run to do whatever it takes to convert an unhappy buyer into a happy one.

More coverage about Apple's latest announcements on ZDNet:

Topics: iPad, Apple

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120 comments
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  • Do all Apple products enjoy same level of service?

    Judging by your article, it's not surprising Apple rules the tablet world. Does the same apply to all other Apple products?
    SinfoCOMAR
    • More and more yes

      Yes this is how they handle things and it is getting to the point that laptops will be the same way thanks to the soldered on RAM, proprietary hard drives, and sealed in battery for their MacBook line.
      slickjim
      • Those things are not good for anyone but Apple

        After market parts are what keep prices down and it is not a guarantee of quality. Even with his soldered in RAM and propritary hard drive his iPad still failed.
        balsover
        • But the tech support experience will be similar.

          With more and more Apple products featuring built in components, it will become less and less likely that they will attempt to repair your computer on site, and more likely that they will swap it out for a new one, then recover and recondition the parts after the fact.

          The article isn't trying to suggest that apple products don't fail, but that when they do, repairs, and more and more often replacements, are simple and straightforward.
          LukeHB
        • yea

          Soldering is so antique anyways there are way better ways to build a device without it. But that's Apple for you, always failing.
          kikax
        • It's an illusion

          It is not true, that the ability to replace parts makes the device or it's exploitation cheaper. It's exactly the opposite.

          By soldering these things and making them not serviceable by the user Apple not only lowers the cost for themselves, but also for the user -- as the user can no confidently seek service from Apple.

          Of course, for all this to happen, the technology had to mature, but it has and there is no excuse for anyone else to not do the same -- except if they don't have confidence in their own assemblies and parts... so that the user might need self-service and third-party parts.
          danbi
          • Riiighhhtt!

            Speaking as a tech myself ... that's bushwah.
            fairportfan
        • Two words - "Xbox 360"

          33% failure rate . . .
          Wakemewhentrollsgone
          • Soldered parts vs plugged in parts, doesn't matter

            so XBox had issues that cost MS money. In the end since the XBox issue was not user serviceable, it still would have gone back to MS.
            DontUseGoogleAtAll!
      • They do change MBA batteries...

        But you're quite correct about having to change the "logic" - read "mother"- board.

        As part of my job, I've probably been to the genius bars at their Regent Street and Covent garden stores more than fifty times since I joined my firm. Just to explain it comes down to how we handle the infamous BYOD; we supply blackberries and dell laptops to those that qualify. However there are purchase programs that allow our "clients" (the guys not in the "technical support and information solutions" department) that allow those that qualify to get discounts on laptops, phones and tablets of thier choosing. In addition to this anyone who signs up to have the ability to possess company information on their device agrees to getting it serviced through us. We call these "Peppers" - read "personal equipent, problems, repairs and services" sure it's not an official name but it's the in office term for dealing with these devices... Officially the second "P" stands for phones...

        Anyway I digress; the point is that the "pepper pot" is pretty much left for the new guys and interns to sort out. I spent my first year in the office spending around a third of my time dealing with peppers.

        In all my dealings with the apple genius bar, I'd say this experience is very typical. They basically have two routes with mobile devices- reflash the firmware (we have always tried this in the office before a trip over there) and a replacement. If it's out of warranty they attempt repairs, but 90% of the time it's 1) attempt software fix, 2) replace unit.

        There's good reason for this; they have very short appointment slots as far as I can tell; they defifinitely have less than 20 minutes to deal with you and they cannot book mobile devices in - by contrast mac's are nearly always booked in as fast as possible ... Presumably to get on to their next "slot " as fast as possible; I've often assumed they are payed by the number of "sulutions" they provide in a day given the speed they process you.

        That little gripe aside they are one of the easiest peppers to handle; it's always fast once you have an appointment; often laptops are fixed in 30 minutes or so if it's simple, and the longest we've had to wait for a laptop to come back is around 5 days. Mac repair pricing is expensive however, but i suppose inline with their initial outlay.

        Mobile by contrast is much cheaper than the htc and samsungs I've dealt with and a lot faster with the device's swapped rather than repaired. Additionally I have experienced them upgrading a 3gs to a 4 because they couldn't get that model's part in time.

        If they could send someone out, or at least let their business clients ship repairs to them, I'd give them 5 stars, but for the service once you're instore they are definitely the best; I've never been patronised or told off by one of their staff, unlike some other "support" teams I've dealt with.

        Their only downside is they are incredibly fastidious about their warranty; I don't know if they are more observant, but I've encountered more service rejections from apple on the grounds of external servicing than any other conpany (things like people upgrading their hard drives, etc.
        MarknWill
    • Not here...

      When I got my iPhone, it would lock up and not turn on.

      As the nearest Apple Store was 3 hours and 4 countries away, I had to send it off for repair.

      After 2 weeks, their repair center sent it back unrepaired (no fault found), a day later, I sent it off again, as it had crapped out, 2 weeks later, it came back unrepaired (no fault found), after 2 hours, I was back at the collection point and demanded a new device in a loud voice, in a packed store... 2 weeks later, they had "magically" found the fault and sent me a new unit.

      3 days use in the first 6.5 weeks of ownership - and to add insult to injury, I was given a Samsung candybar phone as a replacement, while my iPhone was being "repaired".
      wright_is
      • Did the

        collection center send it to an Apple Store or an Apple Authorized repair center? Unfortunately there is a difference in the level of service... and it's not just an Apple thing which is why I usually avoid any Authorized Repair Centers and go directly to the company.
        athynz
        • An Apple what now?

          Service Centre. There were no Apple Stores in Germany at the time.

          The devices were sent to a repair centre in Holland, I think.
          wright_is
      • that sucks

        Why don't you get something that just works?
        kikax
      • If they're supplying Samsung phones...

        I find it hard to imagine that this was anything to do with Apple. Did you send it to Apple, your carrier or a third-party repair company via your insurance or an AASP?

        I've never had that with Apple directly, but third party coverage, including that from apparently trained apple service providers, and especially that provided by network carriers, is generally much poorer.
        LukeHB
        • Provider

          I took it back to the provider, where I bought it. The provider sent it to the official Apple Repair Centre, which sent it back unrepaired.
          wright_is
      • Let me be the first to say BS

        I don't believe you. I am sure that you had problems. But that Apple repair did a bogus job is what I am skeptical of. I have yet to hear of an Apple repair shop that will send you a Samsung phone. It tells me that it was your carrier or third party that was a pain in the arse.
        serpentmage
        • It s based on the type of defect

          I've had good and bad.
          If you can repeat the error on demand the service is great.
          If it is an intermittent issue, your service level is gernerally a crap-shoot.
          rhonin
        • Let me be the second to say BS

          I, too, do not believe a word of what was said.
          Wakemewhentrollsgone
        • Why would you think that Apple repair isn't capable of a bogus job?

          It could have been an issue with one of the chips that Apple repair can't see, or a circuit board where it would only happen say under humid conditions? The repair centers are probably air conditioned and humidity controlled, so it won't happen.

          After the second time being returned, you would have thought it would have given them some indication that a problem really exists, and sent out a refurshed phone or done some more extensive testing maybe.
          DontUseGoogleAtAll!