Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

broken apple logo   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?Misplaced brand loyalty – or brand disloyalty as it sometimes manifests itself – is a game I gave up on long ago. Speaking from experience, buying or ignoring a certain company’s products “just because” without duly considering the real pros and cons is a mug’s game.

Apple have arguably one of the best regarded customer service records of all large-scale technology manufacturers. Of course there are horror stories, but on the whole the expensive shiny products that leave their stores every day are regarded as solid investments that will last, and “just work”.

But do they? And what exactly happens when things don’t work? Here’s my own personal experiences with hardware, blue-shirts and returns.

iProblems

I’m currently typing this article from my girlfriend’s MacBook Air, despite owning my own rather expensive MacBook Pro with Retina display. My MacBook Pro is my office, it’s a mobile powerhouse that does everything I need it to and more. I bought it because I wanted a sturdy, reliable and powerful laptop, and I opted for the Retina model because the display really won me over.

That display, however, has let me down. A few weeks into my inaugural Apple computing experience I noticed that the backlight wasn’t uniformly illuminating the screen. For an AU$2,500 investment, that wasn’t quite what I had in mind so I headed back to the Apple store and the blue-shirt I spoke to quickly confirmed the problem, ordered the part and a few days later it was replaced and as-new.

retina macbook pro2   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

Months passed before I noticed my next problem. Just to be clear, I have had no problems with the laptop’s internals – the logic board, RAM, processor, SSD, cooling and so on all function as designed. I have a few personal issues with Mountain Lion, but software and hardware are two very different things.

Once again the Retina display was the source of my issues, and a few months after getting the display replaced I began to notice ghosting or what many refer to as image retention. This is a heavily documented issue, and while it’s not inherent to IPS panels in general, after some research I discovered the problem seems to be more prevalent in IPS screens manufactured by LG. Just to be clear Apple uses two panels in its Retina models – one from LG and the other from Samsung.

retina burn   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

And so off I trotted to my nearest Apple store to get the issue looked at.

Burn-In Desire

Apple have now had so many Retina panels with this issue they have their own dedicated test for such a thing. It’s a simple checkerboard pattern that is “burned in” for 60 seconds and then if the issue persists beyond another 60 seconds of pure black they’ll agree to replace your display. I told the technician I spoke to that the issue seemed to be a lot more prevalent after the laptop had been on for some time, owing perhaps to heat. She reassured me that from my description they would invariably be replacing the screen, and sure enough I “passed” with flying colours. Apple agreed to replace the screen, reserved the part and told me to drop the laptop in when I could afford to be without it for a few days.

applecare receipt   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

I mentioned what I had read on Apple customer support communities about LG displays having more issues than Samsung ones and was told that the store only had Samsung replacements in. This was confirmation enough that Apple seem to be taking the issue seriously, and I would be getting a Samsung display this time round. I was also told by an employee that Samsung panels have also been returned, but that the issue is much less prevalent.

While in-store I had been looking at buying an unlocked iPhone 5 outright from Apple, and at this point in time they’re still fairly rare in my locale. After their reservation system failed the day before, they had a few spare phones. Sensing an opportunity (I had been meaning to replace my carrier-locked iPhone 4 for a while) I bit the bullet and purchased an iPhone 5 too. Not a decision I took lightly, though the jump from 2010’s model to this one is a rather satisfying leap – despite what anyone tells you.

iPhone 5   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

The staff asked me if I wanted the phone set up, but after my past iCloud restoration experiences I knew the process fairly well by now. When I got home and peeled off the protective plastic however I noticed a few things I don’t usually associate with brand new electronic items – scratches, grime and most alarmingly fibres stuck in the lens seal. Like any consumer who spends close to a grand on expensive technology, I wanted it to be perfect. I called up Apple, explained and they told me to book a Genius bar appointment for my Mac and they’d sort out the iPhone too.

Back to the Apple store I went.

The Perfect iPhone

Upon seeing the scratches and fibres I was instantly offered a straight swap, no questions asked. The employee I spoke to on the phone told me they didn’t make records of phone calls, and so I was a little concerned I would be accused of dropping or causing the issues myself but this was not to be. I duly swapped the phone and opened it there and then, removing all protective plastic and inspecting it.

On close inspection I found another, much smaller mark on the device. I asked the blue-shirt to take a look, and it was only a few minutes later that I was once again offered another iPhone 5. At this point, I started to feel like a bit of a picky consumer, demanding perfection when the unit itself had no problems besides a small cosmetic mark. If you’ve been following the news, scratches on the iPhone 5 have been making headlines with Apple cracking down on quality control standards in its manufacturing facilities and of course reports that the phone is easier to scratch due to lighter, softer aluminium being used.

google iphone5 scratches   Dodgy MacBooks & Scratched iPhones: Is Apple King of Customer Support?

I was quickly informed by the person serving me that “I can keep replacing these until you’re completely satisfied, it’s meant to be perfect“. That was fine by me, and for the last replacement I handed it straight to the employee who inspected every inch for marks or problems. I walked out of the Apple store confused as to why there are boxed, brand new yet scratched iPhone 5s waiting to be sold but also thoroughly impressed with the customer service I had received.

You could argue that these units should not be sold with cosmetic imperfections, and you’d be right. On the other hand, a scratch or two makes no difference to the operation of the device, all of which worked flawlessly. One thing that cements my faith in the company is the willingness to help when problems arose, no matter how trivial.

Conclusion

As I type this I’m about to leave for the Apple store to pick up my laptop that’s on its third Retina display. You might expect me to be disappointed or angry that the machine required two replacements in the first place, but I’m actually rather impressed with the whole ordeal.

I’m still not going to only consider buying Apple hardware solely in the future, and maybe I’ve been lucky, but the whole experience has left a positive impression on me, especially compared to companies who have left me feeling deflated in the past. I should add I only have the complementary AppleCare on both of these products, which is otherwise known as a standard warranty.

Have you got any returns or replacement stories? Have Apple customer support treated you well? Do you have any horror stories? Let us know about your experience with returning and repairing products in the comments, below.

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28 Comments -

Laga Mahesa

THIS is why Apple has my loyalty. Support is second to none, even in countries where Apple has no official presence. This, coupled with the fact that 3 year old devices still receive updates makes the price of their products CHEAPER by far than any of the competition.

Christian West

My experience with official Apple support has been good, but with remote Apple support not so good. I live in a town that has only had an Apple store for 3 or so months. Prior to that Apple products were sold and supported by an authorised dealer. Support with them was not as easy as mentioned in the above article. Once the Apple store appeared though, support became very good.

Collin Hoffman

I live in a state with no Apple stores in it (Vermont), so all Apple service is done through authorized dealers, mainly Small Dog Electronics, a local chain that I used to work for. My impression was always that they were excellent with customer service and working there only confirmed that belief.

Laga Mahesa

Next time, if there is a next time, report such dealers to Apple. Dealer authorization comes with certain requirements.

Félix S. De Jesús

Since Day 1, the iPhone 5 had problems specially on the Aluminum… :/

Ivan Sevkovic

Well for the price you people pay for Apple products, they better give you free replacements when something is wrong and it’s not your fault.

Tim Brookes

Yeah, pretty much. And that’s what I’ve found they’re more than happy to do every time I’ve needed to do it!

gpvprasad

This is a weird question, But I will think like that so the questions is who paid your vehicles expenses to go to store and get it replaced?

Tim Brookes

I did of course, though this isn’t exactly a huge problem. The store is about 30 minutes by train from my current location. Travel there and back is about $5 Australian, which is pretty cheap. I was more bothered about the time involved in getting there than actual expenses!

carie

This is just nuts! 66% of the phones you were offered had some or other defect. Your reliable mac book pro is on its third retina display! And you are still happy because the company is willing to keep fixing their mistake! How is it okay, that a brand new machine has scratches on it or that a very expensive machine is consistently fitted with faulty hardware! I would not stand for this if I was unpacking my new android or high spec pc laptop, regardless if the supplier happily replaced the faulty items until I was satisfied.

Anonymous

Totally agree with you, but fanboys are somehow hypnotized by that apple symbol on the back of their devices and will stay blind till they die.

michel

For years I was an apple fan, until I finally noticed that every product I bought failed soon after warranty. Computers, printers, laptops – all Apple branded, every one toast within weeks or months at best after the standard year warranty expired.

I could not resolve file corruption issues on my desktop. Apple service simply ran Norton Disk Doctor and returned it to me, saying they’d found no problem. I wrote a long, detailed letter – yes, letter, by post – to Apple Canada. I never received a reply.

I switched to Windows. It’s not any better, but when it fails, as all Apple products I’ve ever purchased have, it’s a lot cheaper to fix or replace.

Then I did coursework in Adobe, for which our classes and labs were equipped exclusively with Macs. Over six months, they crashed and failed several times a week. More than once we were simply dismissed from class because the computers simply would not work.

truly, Apple customer satisfaction is not based on reality.

Tim Brookes

Clearly the reality I’ve documented above is all fabricated then? Nearly every laptop, phone, hard drive, router [etc, and so on] I’ve ever owned has failed, that’s why I buy new ones. I don’t understand why you wrote a letter to Apple, I think you would have had more joy escalating the issue over the phone. I also don’t see a software issue like that as being too much cause for concern unless the underlying cause is a failing (yet within warranty) hard drive. If you’d have called up Microsoft or Dell they would have literally charged you for the phone call while they got you to run the same tests, and then you’d have had to reinstall the operating system yourself at the end of it anyway.

My old iPhone 4 has been dropped on stone, stood on, used in extreme cold (-10), extreme heat (+37) and generally been banged about and it still works absolutely fine. In the office I work at there are more than a couple of old “silver keyboard” metal and white plastic body MacBooks that work fine 5+ years after they were on sale. I understand that you’ve had problems with longevity, but I’d say on the whole you’ve been unlucky compared to a lot of other people who subscribe to the “built to last” philosophy based on personal experience.

In short, there’s a reason used iPhones and MacBooks have much better resale prospects than a similarly specced laptop of the same age.

michel

sorry, you’re swallowing the cool-aid. Your post sounds to me like you had a lot of trouble with a poorly manufactured product, and you’re praising them anyway. Re: software issue: I think consistent file corruption is a big deal. And we’re talking the OS here, which they make. Plus I’m talking about a range of products. not just one – maybe four or five major pieces of hardware, all dying an early death.

In my experience, people love their Apples and simply ignore the trouble they have with them. I have countless times heard friends go on about how wonderful their macs are. And by the way, could I come over and help them fix this problem please? Even while they experience the problems, they go on about how great the machine is. This seems to be what you’re doing.

The reason they have inflated resale value is the same reason they have inflated original prices: people think they’re better.

Pete

I have to agree with Michel. Had iphone and ipod and found both to be very junky. Both went in for repairs more than once. Then the 12 months are up no more warranty. Tried fixing myself with replacement parts off ebay but apple make that difficult. I don’t think apple should be praised for simply doing what they are required under law.

Tim Brookes

I’ve never had a problem with an iPhone aside from the cosmetic issues I stated above, so I can’t agree that they’re “junky”. It’s a phone that earned its reputation for being well-built and well-designed, so to describe it as “junky” defies what most people have experienced. I’m curious as to what your issues could have been?

As for being “required by law”… most tech companies will do the bare minimum as required by law within some mammoth timescale (past experience with Dell). At least Apple make you feel that the extra money you spent on anodised aluminium was worth it. And from experience, it was.

Also did you know you could have paid $99 for Apple Care and an extra 2 years warranty on your iPhone? I’m sure if you had complained enough about whatever issues you were experiencing you could have gotten in sorted, rather than resorting to DIY repairs which most of the time don’t work anyway. Oftentimes Apple will just replace the unit after so many problems, so that could have been an option. Conversely my nearly 3 year old iPhone 4 is still working as described – this is literally the first phone I’ve ever had that has lasted years without something going wrong, which is incredible considering I never put it in a case and dropped it every week.

I’m not what the trolls describe as an “Apple fanboy”. I hate the term. I’d still buy non-Apple gear too, though at the moment every other laptop and phone feels like second best.

Chris Hoffman

Weird, I thought I read Apple was telling its customers that iPhone 5s that were scratched out of the box were perfectly normal and would not be replaced.

Tim Brookes

Not sure about that one Chris, what I definitely know they’ve said are two things:

1) That demand would be short while they tightened up QA at their Foxconn facility, because too many scratched units were making it through to stores. I believe this is already in effect, and definitely explains the lack of supply some have been experiencing (though it is the iPhone, and they’re still selling like hot cakes).

2) That the phone will scratch due to the lighter, softer aluminium used and that it’s pretty normal. Even the Apple store employee told me “that will scratch unless you put it in a case”, and to be honest it’s not a big deal. It’s made of aluminium, and when the phone’s naked it feels very nice in the hand. This is worth a few scratches, though I have a low-profile case because I’m clumsy and will probably drop it anyway.

Fairly sure if you get an iPhone 5 with any small scratch or dink then you can tell Apple and they will replace it. That’s what I was told, and that’s what the employees insisted on.

Timothy Liem

won’t buy any apple products. don’t want to get tied to its walled environment.

Collin Hoffman

My only experience was with Apple support was when showing my sister how to add money to her iTunes account. I inadvertently scratched part of the code off the back of the card, to the point where it was unreadable. I emailed Apple support and they were able to retrieve the code for us within 24 hours. I sent a reply email thanking the customer support person and received a reply thanking me for thanking them. The support person seemed genuinely pleased that the issue was resolved and grateful for me taking the time to let them know that. The whole experience left me very satisfied with Apple support and I would be perfectly willing to deal with them again should the need arise.

Michael Jan Moratalla

nice support apple

Charles Rachor

While their customer service is a cut above the rest (i’m slightly biased against Apple, i’ll be the first to admit that) I feel like you pointed out the main points that I caught on in the article.

Customers demand perfection especially as the price paid increases, so the customer service has to be on par. If Apple is selling phones that, when unboxed, are scratched and such, that’s a problem. However, I think customer’s should probably be willing to deal with a few scrapes every now and then. It’s probably going to get scratched up, unintentionally, within two weeks of owning it anyways.

On the other hand, like you mentioned with the Retina display, that raises a question. If Apple knows the issue’s, should it have released that option so soon, instead of working out the kinks with customers through it’s excellent customer service? And should it really use a (relatively) soft aluminum to make it’s phones?

I have a 2 1/2 year old Samsung laptop that has given me exactly 0 problems since I bought it. Given, I’m usually the one people call for tech support/help, so I’m a little bit more knowledgeable than the average person at taking care of a computer both physically and software-speaking. I’d rather buy a product that’s perfect out of the box and take care of it myself, rather than go through multiple trips back and forth to customer service, no matter how good it may be.

Tim Brookes

I felt a bit bad complaining about a few cosmetic issues when the unit itself was perfect (regarding the iPhone here). Then again, I had paid a lot of money and as you said wanted perfection. I agree it’s probably going to get scratched by me in a few weeks anyway, but at the same time I’d like the first scratch to be one caused by me and not someone in a factory.

Apple definitely know there’s a problem with some Retina models, mostly those with an LG IPS panel. They’ve clearly gone to some effort to get these problematic displays out of circulation at stores, but it would be nice for them to publicly recognise the issue. I did mention this on the customer satisfaction survey they sent me after the repair (not that it will do any good of course).

On the other hand, for as long as they’re happy to replace any issues I find, I’m happy with the company. I can’t stress how much I enjoy using the laptop, so maybe that goes some way toward softening the blow of having to get a replacement screen or two. I’ve never owned a machine of this calibre before, the design, performance, marriage of software and hardware and display are all top-notch, and even with the problems I’ve experienced I’d still recommend it to anyone looking for a high-end laptop.

Anonymous

I’ve had multiple problems with my laptop but I will say the phone support had been good. However, I’m going to bite the bullet, and take it in to the shop for a proper inspection. So many random things have been happening, and my charger began falling apart; since then my laptop had been charging poorly. I was not treated so well when it came to my old iPhone. However, when I get the chance I’m going to try the iPhone 5.

Tim Brookes

I’ve had very brief encounters with Apple’s phone support, but it too has been pretty good. They’re always true to their word about emailing and calling back to follow-up on issues, which is more than I can say for my ISP or mobile provider!

Oddly enough, whenever I phone Apple from Australia I seem to get American people. I have no issue with this of course, I’m just wondering if they bounce the call all the way over to the US?

Jack Cola

So what did Apple do with those other 2 iPhones you gave back to them? Did they rebox them and sell them as new to other “less picky” customers? (No offence Tim, I would return them as well).

I can now see why Apple puts a high price on their products, to cover the costs of the repairs because they can’t be bothered fixing the main cause.

Now I know why the Apple store is always busy when I walk past one…

Tim Brookes

Well funny you should mention that, I asked the girl who served me what would happen to them and she didn’t really know for. She said they’d either be sold as refurbished models (which, considering they only have a few cosmetic issues is pretty good as the internals are 100% brand new and barely used) or returned to the factory and recycled.

They won’t be sold as brand new models from what I was told.