To Regent Street by Underground carriage, there to keep an appointment with Genius. My first trip to the Apple Store, yet already I come as a dissatisfied customer. My iPod is running out of battery life and warranty at a worrying rate: with two hours per charge and just a month to go on the guarantee. I wanted to see what could be done, not without a certain nervousness at never having sent away the warranty form and buying the thing in a land far, far away from home. "No problem" said Alex, our Apple-savvy production bod. "Just book yourself into the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, and they'll sort you out."
Yeah. Right. So at 11:30 on Saturday morning I get an appointment from the online system which tells me to present myself with my petition at the Genius Bar, 4:30 sharp that very afternoon. Which I duly do.
The store is heaving. Packed. Pulsating with humanity of all sorts and ages, every demographic is represented except for that group known to professional anthropologists as "poor people". I think I bring the average annual income per household of the place down by 10K just by turning up in an anorak. I find myself a seat on the tastefully stripped bench by the Bar, and wait for my name to come up on the screen.
Everything's running about ten minutes late (and forget about those pictures of a fully staffed bar on the web site: there are two or three black-clad geniuses working their designer-clad backsides off. Nevertheless, a nice lad appears at the appointed hour, ticks my name off and says I'll be sorted out shortly.
At 4:45, a different nice lad looks at a screen and calls me up. He looks at the iPod, checks for the obvious sillies (equaliser on, backlight set) and taps the serial number into his computer. The iPod is there, but with no name or other details attached. No problem. He dives into a drawer behind the Bar and pulls out a Jiffy bag with - a brand new 3G 40GB iPod. Who am I? It doesn't matter. Do they want to take it back to the workshop and try and repair it, or at least test it? Naw. Just sign here, please.
At 4:55, my 11 month old (and showing it, frankly) iPod has been replaced by a sparkling new one for no more cost than a few moments of my time. Astonishing. All I have to do is take it home, plug it into iTunes and my portable musical life carries on as if nothing had ever happened. (This doesn't happen: later that evening, iTunes claims to have lost five thousand songs and when I tell it not to be so silly, there they are, it promptly duplicates them. There is no de-duplicate function in iTunes. Handy hint: sort by date, then block delete: not perfect, but it's a start).
So: Apple, take a bow. You may have an attitude problem towards the press (not in itself a hanging offence) and you may have been a bit of a stinker in the past with certain PowerBook problems, but in terms of hassle-free punter satisfaction you've just beaten every other company I've dealt with into a cocked folder. If Sony has any wish to stay on this planet, it should poach whoever it is runs your customer service side at once, at whatever price it costs.