Apple’s Service and Build Quality

There’s really nothing more annoying than spending time on the same things over and over again. Like, because your hardware keeps breaking. Or because somebody doesn’t do his job. or both.
During the last two months, I went to an Apple Store or Reseller about eight times (half of it in Hamburg, the other half in Dublin), called Apple Care three times, and reset my iPhone twice - all that because of problems with either my iPhone or my MacBook. The MacBook Air ist not even four months old and my first iPhone 4S I bought in February. It was replaced twice since, and will be a third time.

I spent several hours in Apple Stores or talking to Apple Support staff because of broken hardware, and that sucks. There are quite a few things that are wrong with Apple’s service.

Build Quality

In my experience, Apple has always had a reputation for good build quality. They do unibody MacBooks a while now, but there still are other companies around that build ‘business’ laptops that are made of plastic material and never have heard of ‘sturdiness’. So, in comparison: Apple laptops? Good build quality.
But most units Apple sells aren’t laptops anymore. When I got the ‘fat nano’ (nano third generation), I managed to get a replacement from Amazon because I thought the center button was loose. It was turning a little, just not as fix as you’d expect it to be, and I found that very annoying. Turns out it was the same with the replacement and every one of my friends’ nanos I looked at afterwards. I figured that’s what you get when you buy a product that’s sold in such ridiculously large quantities.

It’s the same with the iPhone: I think nothing’s more common than a broken ringer/silent switch on an iPhone 3G/3GS, or a weird feeling home button on every other iPhone model.
And then there’s the special case of ‘my’ (first) 4S: Often times, it didn’t get reception. At first I didn’t realize because in Germany I’m on O2 and just assumed they were responsible. Well, sometimes they were not, and I went to the Apple Store in Hamburg, and got a replacement. Two days later, the replacement’s springboard crashed in three different ways, it rebooted and powered off at 80% battery. I went to the Apple Store again the day after that and got another replacement which I ‘still’ use.
‘Still’, because the unit I currently use stops to play audio every now and then. It’s no problem with my headphones, the apps which play the audio say they’re playing, and it also occurs when I use the dock connector for audio output. It gets even worse when I plug the cable in for charging. I didn’t treat the iPhone badly, it has its bumper and everything.

Bottom line: When somebody now tells me that hers or his iPhone is broken, I’m like “Sure, is it X, Y or Z?” instead of “Oh, and you sure you didn’t drop or soak it?”. And that’s not a good thing, and that’s not what I bought an Apple product for. I mean, I would still get another iPhone, because I assume other manufacturers aren’t better at that kind of stuff (and I don’t want to use Android or ‘Windows Mobile Phone 8 Metro’ - that’s the name, right? - at the moment).

But there are also MacBooks in Apple’s lineup. Much, much, much lower quantities, higher price, more components, easier to fix than iOS devices. Even though the trend goes towards a more integrated approach which caused all the whining about the rMBP and the new MBA: If your MacBook’s screen is broken, Apple doesn’t just take it back and hands you a new one as they’d do with an iPhone.
At this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I’ve had a few problems with my MacBook Air. A few days after I got it, one of the keys didn’t work. One of the small pins that connect the keycap to the rest of the keyboard broke off and so the rest of the key tilted and didn’t work. I took it to the Apple Store in Hamburg.

Oh, the Apple Store in Hamburg. Well, they must be lazy bastards. Sorry to say that, but it took them about 10 days to replace my MacBook Air’s top case, which houses the keyboard. After that, the trackpad was loose. I brought it in again (remember: that takes time), they retorqued a screw, and it was fine. For about two weeks.
In the meantime, I had moved my main place of residence to Dublin to take on the Erasmus experience. In order to fix the non-alignment the local Apple Reseller, Compu b, again changed the top case, but it took them only one day. The still didn’t get the alignment of the trackpad right (I brought it in again), but at least they did that fast.
I can use the MacBook, no problem. But, depending on the temperature and the position of the MacBook as well as the surface it rests on, the bottem right corner of the trackpad sticks out. Since fingertips are ridiculously sensitive, that’s annoying, especially considering Mountain Lion’s Notification Center gesture. My MacBook clearly isn’t in the same shape a four-month-old laptop should be in, and apparently none of Apple’s Service institutions is in the position to fix that.

But: Apple clearly has to put some effort in, it can’t be that the iDevices are of so much worse average quality than the MacBooks. But the PR-hogwash about production tolerances with the iPhone 5 seem to go in that direction. But the low build quality I experienced is not my only concern.

No Apple Store around? Suck it up.

Since I’m from Hamburg, I’m used to having an Apple Store nearby. And when you go there and they can’t resolve the problem at once, they basically throw replacement units at you. That’s good. But when there’s no Apple Store in your area, tough luck. When I called Apple Care regarding my latest iPhone problem, I already had reset my iPhone once, just to rule a software problem out. The support guy made me reset the iPhone again, now by using my Mac to download a new batch of iOS 6. Doing so, including backup and setting the iPhone up again took me roughly 1,5 hours. Just to recognize the persistence of the problem at the end of the process. Pure joy.
I’m not stupid, I think I recognize a hardware problem when I see one. That Apple Care deals with a lot of people who don’t really can’t (or: shouldn’t) be my problem and therefore I shouldn’t have to reset my iPhone another fancy way ‘just to make sure’.

And: I know you think I’m a whiny Hipster, but I’ll soon receive a box from Apple, put my iPhone in it, and won’t see a new (or: ‘refurbished’) one for about a week. That’s about the worst thing that can happen. They also offered me to send a new one immediately, but I would have needed the money for a new model transferred to Apple and released once they diagnosed that there’s a problem with the unit I sent them. A: Didnt have the money, B: There’s a small risk they tell me I destroyed the iPhone and have to pay for the new one. Again: Just because there’s no Apple Store around. That’s a shitty experience. I get that Apple can’t post iPhones around the world and risk not seeing them or any money again, but the difference in experience you get still sucks.

In a nutshell: Like Tim Cook said in his letter concerning the new maps, Apple “strives to make world-class products that deliver the best experience”. Apple has to keep that up on the hardware level and has to make sure the service experience doesn’t spoil that.

Update: I got feedback from Kevin:

I used to run the Compu b service dept. Your experience isn’t unique, but Apples service (rough edges & all) is still markedly superior to Dell or other manufacturers

Update 2: Apparently Apple sent me an envelope that is only paid for within the UK, so I had to pay 5€ to get the package posted to Apple Service. Grand.