I just spent an hour with Apple's support team and now I need a drink

If, for just one second, you thought Apple devices are always reliable, try watching the complaints pour in on Twitter. And imagine what it's like for the Apple staff who have to respond. If they're humans, of course.

Apple Inc logo

This takes a lot of patience.

/ Getty Images

I've been fairly lucky with my Apple devices over the years.

They've rarely been the source of abject disaster. Well, except for the time when my MacBook Air enjoyed its butterfly keyboard -- and I didn't.

Oh, and then there was the time my iPhone wouldn't charge and an Apple Genius told me my charging technique was faulty.

But as so many people are stuck at home all day -- and night -- reliance on our gadgets has perhaps never been more extreme.

So I decided to spend a little time observing the Apple Support Twitter feed. What sorts of problems were people having? How were they expressing themselves?

After an hour or more of scrolling and scrolling, it's easy to believe that Apple's devices really aren't too good. Until you remember there are billions of them now out there, somewhere.

Still, there's something instructive in seeing how vast the gamut of issues truly is. 

Especially when it's cold. 

Sample from a customer: "Why are iPhones so sensitive to cold? Why does @Apple not fix this? My phone battery went flat and the phone shut itself down when I came inside today. It's just -5 Centigrade."

The answer from Apple Support was a little chilly: "Use iOS devices where the ambient temperature is between 0 degrees and 35 degrees C (32 degrees to 95 degrees F). Low- or high-temperature conditions might cause the device to change its behavior to regulate its temperature."

Emotions can run very high. A customer called Dominic, who claims to be a spelling bee champion, tweeted: "My AirPods are trash now they just aren't loud anymore Apple is a scam."

As if realizing he may be sounding intemperate, he sent a follow-up: "Side bar. I left them in my car last night, would the cold have anything to do to effect the volume? Plz help @AppleSupport."

A word of advice. Don't call someone a scam and then ask for their help. That's definitely the wrong order.

Angry, Meet Help. Or Meet Robot?

Aggression does seem to be many customers' essential mode of communication. Threats too. 

A customer was unhappy his iPhone 11's battery lasts a mere six hours. He tweeted: "MY PHONE IS NOT WORKING ANYMORE .. yo whag [sic] if i sue apple ...@Apple this you?"

Oh, I think Apple's lawyers are well versed in the suing thing.

It wasn't just iPhones that upset people. "@AppleSupport my macbook air 2020 doesn't turn on. it's been doing this for more than one hour. what am i supposed to do? i've bought it in november lol."

A remarkably reasonable lol in the circumstances, I felt.

The list of alleged annoyances was remarkably extensive.

"It is unbelievable that I cannot update an expiration date for a card on file with Apple. I cannot even remove and re-add the card. It is so frustrating!" screamed one customer.

Some aren't sure whom to blame: "@Apple@AppleSupport just updated iPhone 7 to iOS 14.4 and it keeps rebooting and cannot use @Verizon cellular data. Is this a way to force me to upgrade my phone. WTH @VZWSupport."

For some, their phone was ringing on silent. One man asked: "Why did my iPhone 7 just shock me through the torch on the back."

For others, Apple Music wasn't working. And the number of people complaining about Big Sur would, if they jumped simultaneously on Highway 101 at Big Sur, have sent the roadway crashing into the ocean. (That just happened without them - Ed.)

There was a MacBook that wouldn't connect with Wi-Fi and an iPhone 12 Pro Max with a flash that turned orange on front-facing pictures. iOS 14.5 was apparently causing a man's CarPlay not to play.

There were customers who went to severe language. Well, it's easier to get mad on Twitter, rather than face-to-face, isn't it? Sample: "Apple and AT&T need to get together and figure out they gon run me my money for this shitty ass 12 Pro."

Somehow, though, I could find no correlation between extreme language and Apple not responding.

There were customers who went to severe extremes: "Sample: "I'm losing the will to live in getting case No 101318982224 resolved. 3 hours online and 4 hours on the phone talking to 6 different advisors and still not rectified. Unacceptable service."

And: "I've bought 2TB of storage and my problems still dont go away. @apple Do you want me to die?"

I feel sure Apple wants you to live and spend more money on other Apple products, actually. I was less sure, though, whether the replies came from humans or robots. Many felt robotically formulaic.

For example: "We will be happy to help. What error message are you getting exactly? Please send us a DM and we can continue to assist there."

Or: "We'd love to help out with the Apple News app performance! What device and operating system version are you currently using? Let us know in Direct Message and we'll be happy to look into this with you."

No, These Are Humans, Right?

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The more I stared, the more I needed a pacifier. A glass of something non-alcohol free, perhaps.

If I needed a pacifier, I can't imagine what any humans on the other end must be thinking and feeling. They're real people, right? It's not always so easy to tell.

For all the responses felt entirely manufactured, there were a few that likely weren't.

This to a customer with persistent keyboard issues: "Thanks for reaching out! We're sorry to hear that this happened again. Without a keyboard, our computers are practically worthless."

But I thought Apple products always had great resale value.

Or this to someone whose computer simply won't turn on after updating to Big Sur: "Hey there, Solomon! Thanks for connecting with us! It's far more useful when we can power it on."

You see? Dry wit.

How Much Can One Person Tolerate At One Time?

I asked Apple how many actual humans work on the Support Twitter team. I also asked how long each shift is. I failed to get a response, from human or robot.

So I DM'd Apple Support and asked: If I had a problem with my Mac, would a real human respond? I got a swift reply: "Rest assured, there's only human beings on the other side of the DM! We're really here and always happy to help."

As to how they manage to tolerate the really angry customers, the DM person offered: "We appreciate all of our customers." A touching exaggeration.

Working from home has been painful for many. If your job consists of confronting frustration and anger, that truly can't be easy. It's as if you're being trolled all day by the politically opposed.

So many in tech customer service have exhibited unusual patience and strength as they've tried to help the frustrated, the angry, and the plain disgraceful -- Verizon store staff have certainly faced that last one.

I want to believe that the Apple Support staff are used to all this and just brush it off. But given the tone of many complainants, I finally see a positive reason for artificial intelligence. Robots don't feel a thing. Well, not yet.

Still, some customers do try to use charm: "Salutations my beautifulliesssss @Apple, I think I permanently lost one of my AirPods how do I get the recovery to find that one? I can activate location but I get no hit... not even on the one in the case... (I think the next set .. needs external sound also) now what? Tk u."

I saw no evidence that (this attempt at) charm incited a more favorable response from Apple.