Friday, 5 April 2013

When Apples Fail


There are two sad things about owning many Apple gadgets the way I do. The first is me owning many Apple gadgets. The second is that once one owns that many, one is likely to encounter failures. Lucky for me, I got to test what takes place when an Apple turns rotten first hand.
It happened the previous Saturday. I woke up and as usual reached for my iPhone to check on the state of the world around me. All was well, as it usually is; or so I thought. Eventually I noticed that while the wifi was working well, the phone was stuck searching the Amaysim (Optus) cellular network. I checked my wife's phone (an Android), and that one had good reception. So I moved on.
I reset my phone to no avail. I switched it on and off to no avail. I took the SIM card in and out, to no avail. I recovered the phone from backup, to no avail. I reset the phone's network setting, at the price of having to redefine many a setting, but it didn't help me either. It looked like my new iPhone 5 was broken.
I went to Apple's website and followed the not so clear support path it offers. Eventually I got them to activate a support call on my behalf and a nice Apple representative to call me. The first thing she said, however, was that support calls cost $40 unless the phone is less than 90 days old. I politely explained what I think of this extortion: my phone was 93 year old, as she should know - I bought it from Apple's own shop and they took the all of its details from me already. Also, given that my problem is clearly covered under warranty, I cannot see why I need to pay them anything. Now, support me if you will, or tell me where else I should go.
She turned over to her supervisor who approved of her talking to me without charge. Alas, She could not offer me any workaround I did not already try; hers was a repeat of all the steps I already took. What she did do, however, was book an appointment for me at the Apple shop nearby. My appointment time was less than 90 minutes away.
I packed my iPhone 5, its SIM extractor pin, its cable, and my Mac Air (with the phone's backup) and made my way to the shop. As with everything at an Apple shop things are crowded but very well orchestrated - indeed, the best orchestrated consumer affair I am yet to witness. I went in to my appointment with one of them "Apple Geniuses" a few minutes ahead of my slotted time.
The guy was very nice and professional. His iPad listed everything Apple knows about me and my iPhone as well as the steps to address my problem with. He also knew what went on during the previous support call and did not waste my time trying to repeat it.
The first thing he did was try a different SIM. That, indeed, is my main quarrel with the iPhone 5: with it using esoteric nano SIM cards, one cannot just switch SIM cards to check whether the phone is alright or not. One also cannot easily switch between SIMs even when all is well and the sun is shiny.
Alas again, the SIM wasn't the issue. So he went to try a different thing called a DFU reset (Google it if you will; it is, essentially, a stronger reset performed by resetting the smartphone while its connected by wire to iTunes. It is important to stress that the iTunes version used by Apple at its shop is incapable of copying over stuff that's on the phone. Nice to see Apple looking after its customers' privacy!). While the reset was taking place, he told me that in his opinion it wouldn't help; without saying another word he went to the side and got a box containing another iPhone 5 to replace mine with. I don't know if that replacement iPhone was new or used. It is, however, important to point out Apple was ready to replace my device.
Alas, I did not get my replacement; the phone recovered well from the DFU reset. I sat there as the recovery process from my backup took place for the next ten minutes or so (there was the suspicion the problem was with the data in the recovered image), but that was it - my phone was ready to go back home.
I noted two things while working out my phone's recovery. First I noticed the line of people by my side with their specific and esoteric iPhone problems: phones that revert to voice control for no particular reason, for example, or plenty of phones with broken screens (by my small sampled survey, that is the most popular problem around). It was interesting to watch because normally it's hard to encounter a faulty iPhone, yet here I was in the good company of many a bad iPhone.
The other thing I noted was the uselessness of the iPhone backup. It restores the data of all the apps and settings that I had at the time the backup was made, but it does not have the apps themselves. Thus, once again, I needed to download all my apps and have them installed. On the positive side, once I had them they seemed to "jump" to where they used to be at backup's time. Another quirck: while my personal ringtones were there and seemed to be in use, my phone was found ringing in its default Apple sound; I had to change the ringtone choice and change it back again for "my" ringtone to work. Obviously, an iOS bug.

What can I say in conclusion?
I will say that I had my phone up and running, with Apple's help, within less than two hours of me reporting the problem over the phone. One cannot expect to receive better warranty service. And were my phone not to recover, a replacement was already in the waiting. The comparison between that and my HTC woes less than four years ago is inevitable: HTC had me taking long drives to drop my phone and to pick it up, had me waiting two weeks in between, and in general failed to fix my phone altogether - I got rid of it while it was still under warranty. I will never buy an HTC again, but I will buy Apple.
Apple was not without fault, though. Its nano SIM is a pain in the ass, and it demanding $40 for support calls is a joke. Surely Apple can start talking to people first and only charge them money if the issue at hand is not warranty based?
Altogether, an experience I would have been better off not having, but an inevitability in this gadget probe era. An inevitability that was managed fairly well by Apple.

Image by Rego -, Creative Commons license

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