Crap Apple


In Britain we have a breed of small, wild apples which tend to have extremely sharp flavours. They are called “crab apples”. I have just had a run in with the other Apple. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. I winced at their incompetence, or perhaps it was simply their sharp practice which made me pucker up .

Here’s the thing. A little while ago a message appeared on my iPad telling me a system update was available. I installed it. Pretty much immediately the installation finished a large icon appeared in the middle of the screen which said “Sound Effects”. There was nothing I could do to shift it. The iPad became unusable. I’d had it about six months.

Eventually I rang Apple. I got some rhubarb about how the support person had never heard of this type of problem before. This happened again on a subsequent call with another Apple guy. Am I being overly suspicious to imagine that this is an oft’ used tactic designed to put you on the defensive by implanting the thought in your mind that the issue you are ringing about is so unusual it must somehow be your fault, not theirs, so you’re just grateful that they seem willing to navigate you away from this self-made mess?

I told the first Apple helper that, before ringing, I had searched the Apple online support community bulletin boards and found several references to the same issue. He told me not to take any notice of those boards because sometimes “nutters” go on them and say all kinds of crazy stuff which, if acted upon, could completely wreck the device. I refrained from asking the obvious question about why Apple supplied links to boards inhabited by “nutters” who could do damage? I thought the boards were approved by Apple otherwise why would they promote them in the way they did?

Anyway in that initial call that lasted over one hour I backed up the iPad and did a complete reinstall. The support person left me to it confident all would we well. As soon as the system came back up so did the annoying icon. Failure.

Because I had an extended warranty I then had a number of options open to me about what to do next. I could send the iPad back to Apple. I was told that if Apple were not able to fix it they would simply replace the iPad “no questions asked and straight away”. Alternatively I could go see an expert in an Apple Store. If the expert couldn’t sort it I was assured it would be replaced. I chose to go into the Apple Store in Covent Garden. This is where I met Nico. Nico tried to rip me off though my guess is he was only following orders.

When Nico looked at my iPad he spotted a small scratch on the volume control button. From this he concluded that I must have dropped the iPad or abused it in some way and  this was the cause of the problem. He didn’t run any tests. He saw a scratch. Enough.

Nico took my iPad and showed it to an Apple buddy standing at an adjoining table. I observed the two of them turning my iPad upside down and sideways. Nico then came back and told me his colleague concurred with his “diagnosis”. By the way the section of the store you are directed to for this high level of service is called the “Genius Bar”. Some genius. Maybe Nico had a PhD in scratch detection.

Long story short because, according to Nico, the problem had arisen from my obvious mistreatment of the iPad my warranty did not cover me for a repair or a replacement. I reminded Nico that the guys on the telephone Help Desk had said that if it couldn’t be fixed on the spot I would be given a replacement. Nico said that was irrelevant because the Help Desk guys had not been able to see the iPad. They couldn’t have known about the scratch. That’s undeniably true.

I asked Nico to explain the connection between the scratch and the appearance of the icon. He burbled about icons like mine being known to appear when something went wrong with the volume control button but, absent any test, I was far from convinced. I asked Nico if he thought it was simply a coincidence the message appeared immediately following a systems upgrade. He said it was.

I told Nico how unimpressed I was with his explanation. Nico asked me if I would like to speak to a manager. I said I would. A few minutes later he came back and told me a manager was not available. Hey ho.

Nico then shifted his ground. He pointed to the power socket and said there was a pin in there which had been bent, probably because “excessive force” had been used when plugging in to a connector. Alternatively I might have bent the pin when attaching the iPad to external speakers.

I can say with complete certainty that the latter had never happened but the fact remains Nico was talking about and pointing to a pin I couldn’t even see. For all I know it doesn’t exist but it is certainly convenient to be able to invoke something like that. I wonder if there is a passage in the Apple Manual which says

If all else fails and the customer seems obstinate or awkward blame the invisible pin. Say it was bent because “excessive force” must have been used. Nobody can know exactly what that means so no one can honestly say it isn’t true.

Again I asked Nico to explain the link between the supposedly bent pin and the appearance of the icon. He repeated the mantra.  Seemingly bent pins are also known to cause error messages of the kind I was receiving. He had done no tests or provided me with any references which linked bent pins to troublesome icons. I think he was making it up as he went along. His job was to refuse a claim under the warranty, and he would not be denied. Essentially I was told to get lost.

Although actually that’s not what Nico said. He told me that, because I had an extended warranty, they would cut me a deal and allow me to replace my iPad at half the normal replacement price. He said he would confirm this in an email. I am looking forward to receiving it. Three days have passed. Hasn’t arrived yet.

But guess what? The very same day when I got home and turned on the iPad I was greeted by a message from Apple advising me that yet another operating system upgrade was available. I installed it. The icon disappeared. Immediately. I wonder if Nico has an explanation for that? Perhaps it’s a miracle? Divine intervention? Another coincidence?

I think it suggests the problem was not in any way linked to bent pins or scratched volume control buttons. It was a software issue triggered by the previous installation of the Apple operating system. If I had accepted Nico’s deal I would never have found that out and Apple would be around £200 richer at my expense.

So watch out in future. If a problem develops with your Apple device and there is any kind of surface abrasion you are doomed. Apple won’t feel obliged to explain or prove the link between it and the problem. Superficiality rules. They’ll just ask you to get out your plastic and give them some more money.

Today if you take a modern motor car into a garage they stick a few sensors on different parts of the engine and chassis. Within seconds you will have a more or less complete picture of every single bit of the vehicle and how it is performing. Makes servicing decisions so much easier and more precise. There are bits of software available that will do something similar on PCs. Couldn’t the guys at the “Genius Bar” have tools like that to help them with their diagnoses and with their recommendations? Or am I missing something?

About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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