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.
Did you not have a local Apple store to which you could take it? One of the in-store techs might have been able to solve the problem while you waited.
Mark Shead says
It is about a 2 hour drive to the nearest Apple store. I asked if they repair laptops onsite and they said no–they usually have to send it off to do things like replace the system board or they have to order the part. So taking it to an Apple store would be 4 hours to get it there and 4 hours to pick it backup later. And that doesn’t count the time of actually going into the store.
Dell on the other hand shows up the next day with the part in hand.
Hmm, sorry to hear about all the trouble you had. I’ve had no fewer than 5 Mac laptops so far, and only needed repairs once. That process was as painless as it could have been, but then again, I am fortunate to have an Apple store a mile away.
Braden Douglass says
While I find this to be an extremely well written article about the need for better repair services in the computer world. I do see Apple’s service to be on the ok side of things. Example: I had a computer with a bad logic board and video card, sent for an applecare box, received it the next day and then received the computer two days after that. I find this to be an adequate turn around time and when we are not spending money on shipping and packaging this is very good. Thanks for the write up though, everyone needs to see holes in their system and this is a good way to show them the need for improvements.
Mark Shead says
@Nancy – Well I must be harder on my computers than you are. :) Of the past 5 laptops I’ve had only one didn’t need repaired.
@Braden – Apple does have good tech support. I’m just saying they don’t have a “business class” option like most PC laptop manufactures have. Their system works well and usually the turn around time is 3 days. A lot of people who buy a Dell aren’t going to opt for the business level support either. I just wish Apple had it as an option.
Bret Capranica says
Mark, I admit to a degree of Mac envy. Having gone through 5 PC laptops in the past six years, I was intrigued with what I thought was a superior built machine in the MacBooks and MacBook Pros. My iPhone has made me think again about the Mac world.
I too would really love to stick with one machine for three to five years. I’m not so sure it’s realistic. Machines will be machines and those of us who use them incessantly will simply have to be content with the constant of repair centers, and none seem exceptional to me.
One of my co-workers has the exact same Toshiba laptop as I do – purchased from the same store the same day. We always buy the extended warranty on laptops for quick service. His motherboard went out. We immediately contacted support and it was over-nighted to the repair center. We were then told, because of the economic slow down and the newness of the machine, the repair center kept no motherboards for this machine on hand. 6 weeks later. . . . How’s that for support – extended warranty support.
Your Mac story, still sounds better to me.
Mark Shead says
@Bret – I think Apple has an excellent system for home users. It doesn’t match up with what I’ve experienced buying business class service plans for business class laptops from Dell or IBM.
But I do agree. I like my experience better than what you just described! :)
that is exactly waht happened to me. My laptop is still on the shop, I have still no idea of what is wrong with it, and I bought another lap because I cant live without a machine!!
Wish me luck! :)