A couple weeks ago, Ed Conway, Economics Editor for Sky News wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook outlining why he was done with Apple products. While I understand and even agree with a few of the points he makes, I’d like to share an experience that speaks to just one reason why, as the title suggests, when it comes to Apple, I’m not going anywhere.
About six months ago, my Verizon contract was finally up, allowing me to say goodbye to my stalwart LG Cosmos “feature phone” (their words, not mine) and say hello to an iPhone 4S. I was virtually the last of my friends to get an iPhone, never really believing that, despite the brilliant design, I really “needed” one, since I already had an iPad (I have since changed my mind). The reality is, moving from a basic feature phone to a smartphone is akin to moving from dial-up to FIOS. It’s simply a completely different world, a world of connectivity, yes, but also a world that in many ways, fundamentally changes the way you go about your day. Sadly, all was not well with Number One. For whatever reason, after about a month, it just wouldn’t hold a charge. I’m not a power user by any means, in fact, my phone spends most of the day idle on my desk, but it would only go a few hours before needing to be plugged in again. I read the forum posts saying it was an iOS issue and others that said it was a hardware issue. I restored from backups, restored to factory and even downloaded and installed current and previous firmwares. Nothing helped, so I made an appointment at my local Apple Store at Victoria Gardens. They listened to my story, took the phone in the back, and returned a few minutes later with the news that it appeared to be a hardware issue and they would have to replace my phone. Really? Cool. So, in all of about 10 minutes, with no arguing or fuss, I was in and out with Number Two.
A little over a month or so into Number Two, the same issues started happening, only this time, there were occasions where I could actually watch the battery meter tick down 87%, 86, 85, 84… Not good, so, after the obligatory steps of restore, reinstall, etc. to no avail, off to the Apple Store I went, where, once again, they took it to the back and once again, came back and told me it seemed to be a hardware issue, but they would be glad to swap it out. I asked if this happened a lot and the two different employees said they had never heard of it. Weird. Still, they were happy to make it right and off I went with Number Three.
I can’t remember whether it was the day I took Number Three home, or one or two days later, but, either way, it shut down mid-call. It didn’t drop the call, the whole phone shut down. Neither the Power button, nor the Home button were responsive. Plugging it in did nothing either. The only way it came back was a soft reset (Power and Home simultaneously). I told Nikki about it and she said that hers did the same thing once. Probably just a glitch, so I didn’t think much of it. However, over the course of the next couple of months, it happened again, and again. Same thing as before. It would just spontaneously shut down and require a soft reset. After the second or third time, I noticed that, after the soft reset, the battery meter showed significantly less than before the shutdown. Also, the logs contained a number of crashes and several “panic.plist” entries, which, according to several posts on the Apple Support Forums, pointed to hardware and warranted replacement. Needless to say, I was not pleased. Three devices in less than six months? Come on. The last straw was having it happen twice in two days. Hello, Apple? Do you have any appointments on Tuesday?
With Number Three in hand, it was back to the Apple Store. As I was explaining the situation, I noticed that the battery meter was in the red, displaying 18%. Now, this may not sound significant, except that when I left my house, four miles away, it was at 76%. So, from 76% to 18% in about 15 minutes, with no apps running. As I mentioned this to the Genius who was helping me (a total sweetheart, by the way) the meter jumped briefly to 65%, then back to 22%. “That’s weird,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” So, off to the back room went Number Three where, after a few minutes, I was told that it seemed to be a hardware issue and they were happy to replace it. Now, at this point, I was a little hesitant at the thought of leaving with Number Four, and asked if there was any way they could upgrade me to a 5, since, for whatever reason, the 4S and I just couldn’t get along. She said she would see what she could do and, once again, disappeared into the back room. A few minutes later, she came back and said that they couldn’t upgrade me to a 5, but could offer me new 4S and an iTunes gift card “for my trouble.” It wasn’t the ideal solution, but a new phone and a gift card was nice gesture. So, with Number Four in hand and the assurance that “this never happens”, we left.
I connected Number Four, launched iTunes and set it up as a new phone. After setting it up and getting my apps and settings dialed in, I went back to work. However, it wasn’t long before I noticed something was amiss. Though I was connected to my Wi-Fi network, the App Store refused to open, instead just hanging at the spinning loader. Fired up Safari, nope. Tried to check email, no dice. Via Wi-Fi, it simply wouldn’t connect to anything. I tried another Wi-Fi network with the same results. I switched to 3G and grabbed Nikki’s 4S to do a little side by side test. While they both worked under 3G, switching back to Wi-Fi, Number Four just stalled at the loader. It was then that I noticed the screen itself, which had a pretty dramatic yellow cast to it. Comparing it to Nikki’s 4S, it was even more dramatic. I understand there are variances between screen samples and that no two are going to be exactly alike, but this was the difference between tungsten and daylight. For whatever reason, I looked at the model number of the phone and compared it to the model number of Nikki’s. Turns out, the model number of my phone corresponded to a refurbished product, while Nikki’s was consistent with a new device. Now, I have nothing against refurbished products. In fact, I have purchased several refurbished pieces of gear from Apple, without incident. However, I purchased those refurbished items intentionally. In this case, I purchased a new device, and was given a refurb as a replacement. Right or wrong, this was the last straw and back to the Apple Store we went.
I asked to speak to the manager, who, as it happens, recognized Nikki and I straight away (I guess we’re in there way too often). I explained the situation with the previous three and now Number Four and how frustrated I was with the fact that this has apparently never happened to anyone else in the history of the iPhone. All I wanted, I explained, was an iPhone that worked the way it was supposed to. He said that he understood my frustration and wanted to make it right, to make me happy and that he would be right back. When he came back he said “Do you like white or black?” I asked him what he meant and he said to go take a look at the iPhone 5′s and see what color I liked better. A couple minutes later, he met Nikki and I at the iPhone table and asked “So, what do you think?” I told him I preferred black and he asked if I was on Verizon or ATT. After I told him, he said, “Great. Give me a couple minutes and I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later, he returned with another employee and told us that he would get us all taken care of. So, in about 15 minutes, we were out the door with a brand new iPhone 5 and my Applecare reset. No hassles, just a willingness on the part of Joshua and his staff to make the situation right.
I have never received anything but superb customer service at our local Apple Store, but this experience went above and beyond what I had expected. For me, it speaks to Apple’s commitment to the user experience, to work to make it right, whether it is hardware, software or a situation with some knucklehead in the Inland Empire who just wants an iPhone that works. Did Apple have to give me an iPhone 5 to make me happy? Not at all. But they did, and, more than that, they gave me a story, an experience, and a reason to keep evangelizing.