In general, I am happy with using a Mac. The operating system is very well designed and gives me everything I want from Linux without the complexity. The hardware is well designed and thought out and is (for the most part) a pleasure to use.
However, there is one area that Apple is sorely lacking in and since I often mention how I like using a Mac, I felt I should take the time to mention what I hate about Apple–the repair process.
When I buy a laptop, I expect to use it very heavily for 3 to 4 years. I expect it to be powered on about 75% of that time. Given the mechanical nature of laptops and the complexity that goes into their construction, I expect to have some type of repair issue during my computer’s useful life. This isn’t just for Macs. I expect this on any laptop.
With this expectation, I always buy some type of warranty to cover what I expect to be the machine’s useful life. With Apple, the only plan you can get is 3 years. This is a little annoying because I’d like to have a 4 year option, but I can understand the rational. The thing that really bugs me is the process to get your machine repaired once something goes wrong. To illustrate, let me tell you a story about when the last Dell laptop I had, broke.
I was flying to California and doing some programming on the flight. The “I” key decided to commit suicide and I spent the rest of the flight copying and pasting the letter “i” into my programs whenever it was needed. During a short layover, I called Dell and explained the problem. I gave them the address of the hotel where I would be staying. The next morning, a repair person showed up with a new keyboard, quickly replaced it and I was ready to go.
It was a beautiful process. My laptop never left my sight and I was able to use it (sans the “i” key) right up until it was being repaired.
Now, let me describe my most recent experience with an Apple repair.
I was disconnecting my laptop from my monitor when suddenly, both displays went black. At first I thought I must have somehow disconnected it from the battery and power, but then I realized the machine was still on, the display just wasn’t on. Thinking I had somehow confused it when I removed the external display connection, I rebooted it. Everything sounded like it came back up, but no display. The external display didn’t show anything either.
This was on a Monday and I realized that Apple tech support was about to close, so I called them and got a hold of someone. After explaining the problem, he said they would need to repair it. Now, the way Apple repairs things is interesting. First they ship you an empty box overnight. You put the laptop in the box and then ship it back to them. They repair it and send it back. If you can get it out the same day, it is possible to receive the box on Monday and get your computer back on Wednesday morning.
Anyway, the rep explained that I would have the box Tuesday and would hopefully get the computer back on Thursday or Friday, but informed me that they would take up to 2 weeks to fix it. This is what bugs me about Apple. If I were just using the computer to organize my family photos, make home movies and load my iPod, that type of turn around time would be fine–but this is a machine I’m doing actual work on. IBM, Dell and all the other laptop manufacturers seem to get the idea that being down for two weeks just isn’t acceptable–even if you “normally” turn things around the same day.
Tuesday morning, before the box arrived, I decided to try to do a firmware upgrade, hoping that it would fix the problem and I wouldn’t have to send the computer in. After a couple tries, I called tech support with a question about how to trigger the firmware update (since I couldn’t see what was on the screen). We got far enough to know that it wasn’t going to help and the tech said he’d send me a box. Figuring that he hadn’t gone through all the notes, I informed him that a box was on the way and would be here any minute.
He told me that there was no record of a box being sent out in the system. I had him check the tech’s notes from the night before and sure enough, the tech had told me a box was on the way while documenting that I was going to do something or other and call them back. I guess he was ready to go home, so the extra button click to send me a box was too much of a burden!
Skipping ahead, I got the box on Wednesday. I actually went out to the DHL truck and packed it up right there so they could take it with them instead of having to come back to pick it up. After waving goodbye to my laptop, I called Apple and got a hold of a manager. I explained the situation again and asked if there was anything that could be done to expedite the repair so I could have it back by Friday. She said it was pretty likely, but that she would personally watch it and make sure it didn’t get hung up.
Thursday evening, I saw that the repair was complete, but it didn’t show up on Friday. I called the manager who said she would watch it and got a voice mail saying that she didn’t work on Thursday or Friday. I’m not exactly sure how she was going to watch the process if she wasn’t even there!
I eventually got another manager who couldn’t change anything to speed it up (I was asking for them to send it out overnight with Saturday delivery). However, she sent me a free copy of Aperture, which was very nice. I did get my laptop back on Monday.
To be fair, in the past, Apple has done an incredible job of turning around repairs. Usually, if I sent the computer in by 9pm on Monday, I got it back by noon on Wednesday. So I’m guessing this was more of a fluke. However, it really shows the difference between the enterprise level repair given by some of the other companies and the repair given by Apple. Apple’s repair process seems to be more geared toward home users than people who are using their machine for business.
I have heard that, with desktop units, they will send someone to your house, but I haven’t had a desktop for a while.
My recommendation for someone who can’t afford to be down is to get two machines. You can easily clone your hard drive to the backup machine and keep working just in case you have to send your laptop back to be repaired.