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