Is Apple Getting Too Big For Its Britches?

by Stephanie Rewis on March 31, 2006

Here's the deal. I love Apple. I've used Apple products since I started using computers (about 14 years). I really don't want to quit (I have a new video iPod, complements of a dear friend of mine, coming this week). But lately, Apple is starting to look, and act like, a big company. That makes me sad. Yes, I want them to make money and stay in business. But good grief, can't we keep the cool things that make them individual as well? The things outside their great usability/advertising?

I've had a problem — you've seen that if you read my blog. My gorgeous baby (17″ 1.67GHz PowerBook) has narcolepsy. The trackpad sensor is screwed. It's whacked. It believes it's freezing and then burning up. Of course, my fingers, since they live there regularly, would know if that were true. It's not. As soon as the temperature (erroneously) hits 220-something farenheit, it goes into auto-sleep. Shut down. Narcolepsy. G'night.


Due to that, my sad saga begins. This all began in January. At that time, Apple didn't seem to know what was happening or hot to fix it. I work a ridiculous amount of hours and couldn't afford to send the computer in for 7-14 days and risk it coming back with, “We can't reproduce the problem.” There's no WAY I can go back to my Quicksilver. It's nearly 5 years old and way too slow to really get anything done. My 14 year old would also be very, very upset if I kicked him off it. I decided I had to figure out what was wrong myself, share it with Apple and thus, get it fixed when I sent it in.

About a month ago, after much blogging and testing with other people, I finally had it figured out. Anyone with narcolepsy needs a topcase (without a doubt) and most likely a logic board as well. I know what it is; I've documented it; I'm ready to send it to Apple now. But the people at AppleCare made me nervous. It didn't seem they were really listening to, or understanding, what I was saying.

I finally got escalated to a PowerBook specialist (thanks Scott). I emailed my compiled info directly to him so he could attach it to my record and pass it on to the engineers.

The box to send it in for repair arrived. I tried to calculate how I would work without my computer (with 18 web projects happening concurrently) for at least 7-10 days. There never seemed a good time. I kept delaying (and getting more annoyed at my computer). Last week, we had opportunity to go to Chapel Hill. There's an Apple store in Durham.

I call the store and find they repair PowerBooks on site. If you have ProCare ($99 per year) you get the repairs done priority. I buy it.

I have a plan to drop the computer as we arrive into town. They can have the parts ready since I know what I need, and I'll be all set by the time we leave. Cool beans.

Roadblock One: you can't find out what parts are in stock before you're in the store (hello Apple — what about those of us that don't live in a town where an Apple store will ever exist). I get an idea. I have a box Apple sent me for my warranty repair. If I call AppleCare and tell them I'll be getting it repaired in-store instead of mailing it in, they'll be sure the parts are sent to Durham for me. After all, I'm a good, long-standing client who's purchased numerous Apple products. I have a business to run. Apple wants me to be successful, use their computers, spread the good news, and keep on going. Right? Hmmmmmm… Seems not.

Roadblock Two: The gentleman at AppleCare really didn't seem too concerned that I would be going to the Raleigh-Durham store for repairs. He really had no desire to attempt to do anything outside the ordinary way they're done. Think different? Not here. He didn't escalate my case to someone that could help me. I have him pull my case to prove I know what I need. This might impress him. None of the info I so carefully compiled is appended to my record. I'm told, “There's nowhere to put customer comments. That was just sent to the engineers.”)

Steve should know about this

Steve's a cool guy who cares. He would hate the fact that his computers have a defect that is causing his customers to lose productivity and money. I wrote him at all three addresses I could find for him. No, I didn't honestly expect him to read them. But perhaps someone would reply.

They didn't.

So I head to the Durham store. I'm at the mercy of whatever happens to be in stock that day.

I enter the store, fingers crossed, and wait for my pre-booked appointment at the Genius Bar. When they finally get to me, I explain the problem, show him the history on my track pad sensor, give him a print out of the information I'd sent to AppleCare. I explain in detail how I know I need the topcase and logic board. He tells me they still have to test and reproduce. In his defense, he does order the parts for me right then. He says they're usually in by the next day, or at worst, the day after (that would be Thursday, the day we were heading back to Wilmington). I leave my machine.

I get an email from Adobe Wednesday saying that an article I wrote for the Devnet center is going live on Thursday. Now I need access to the original one on my computer so I can compare the edits. I go into the Apple store and ask Justin (a great Apple worker) whether I can get access to my computer if it's not disassembled (it's easy to find — it has “Talk Nerdy To Me”, Creative Commons and Technorati stickers on it). He finds my parts aren't there yet and brings my computer out. I was standing in front of him finding what I needed when my computer kicked into narcolepsy mode. YES! As annoying as it is, I was just thrilled to have him stand there with his mouth open — and report back to the engineers that he'd seen it with his own eyes. He recommended I call at 11am the next morning since the part shipment would be there by then.

Thursday, 11:00am

I call. My parts are not in. I don't want to leave the computer unless they'll be in the next day. The person on the phone says she'll check. But what she finds is, though there's record of them being ordered, there's not a record made by the Parts Dept as to WHEN they'll be shipped. “They may be in tomorrow. If not, they should be here by Saturday.” Well now, that's reassuring. Apple won't ship to you from the store either. So since it's unlikely it will be repaired over the weekend and there's also a day of testing the repair when complete, I take it back home with me.

I might as well have shipped it off to Apple. The purchase of ProCare is worthless in my opinion. If I can't have the part waiting, what good does “priority service” do for me really?

If the part arrives, the saga will continue on Monday. I have a friend that lives in the area who will take my computer back on Monday after her visit here. Then, it appears I'll be driving 2.5 hours each way to pick it up on Wednesday or so. Great service Apple. Let's make it as difficult as possible to get a machine, that has problems I did not cause, fixed. I'm miffed.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Karen March 31, 2006 at 3:50 pm

Your repair saga is disappointing and frustrating, but for me the real issue is how can we who buy shiny expensive new computers figure out they are lemons BEFORE we invest the hours and often DAYS setting them up, transferring files, tweaking our power programs, etc etc? I too am struggling with a NEW machine with issues.. but my experiences with repairs have been equally horrific.. Apple, HP, Sony.. you name it. Plus, like you I NEED the computer to continue work in progress. So my tendency is to just live with the imperfections rather than send my computer away to a fate where the only thing certain is that it will take too long.

Which brings me back to my question. Surely there must be a way to ID the lemons minutes after opening the box? And if not.. Why aren’t we sent ‘loaners’ when their machines don’t work so that our work can continue?

Stef. March 31, 2006 at 3:57 pm

My exact thought, Karen. Why is it when you get your car repaired, you can get a car to drive? The car companies know you have to drive even when the car’s in the shop.

What about we who “have to work?” If the problem is self-inflicted, that’s one thing. But when it’s a lemon from the factory issue, we should be compensated in some way.

And as to “how can we tell?” I’m guessing if we could, then the computer companies would try to tell as well. Sometimes parts are just faulty. And I give them that — they can’t always know that they’re faulty. But good grief! Help us get this done quickly.

I just spent about 25 minutes on the phone to find out that A) My parts didn’t arrive today (thank gawd I took the computer with me) and B) that they don’t know when they’ll be in. “Should be in by Monday.” (Famous last words)

Frustrating to put it mildly.

Jesse March 31, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Ahem. Stef, you should have just sent it in by mail.

…but ya, its not *great* service.

John Dowdell March 31, 2006 at 4:37 pm

Bummer, but, it could be worse….. ;-)


Stef. March 31, 2006 at 4:47 pm

Jesse: Ya, hindsight’s 20/20, eh? :P (And I SO thought I could “make it happen”… Orchestrate it… Control issues? Not me!)

JD: Leave it to you to make me LMFAO! Yes, a typewriter would DEFINITELY be worse. None of you could hear me and I couldn’t hear you. ;)

Happy weekending… :D

Jo March 31, 2006 at 8:41 pm

Ya know… not hearing people might be a good thing… too much Willy Wonka going around there… then you would have to worry about what to feed them and are they making a mess in there ;) (sorry, Stef, could not make a serious comment at all)

Gabe da Silveira April 1, 2006 at 12:23 pm

Even worse is that without AppleCare you can’t talk to Apple on the phone or send it in by mail. I had to take it into a an authorized service location which is a local shop kind of like a low-budget Best Buy. Very shady. Nevertheless I put my documentation together online, printed a copy, and dropped it off.

Yes, computer service sucks. I don’t think there’s really room in the market for a company that provides good service. It doesn’t seem economically feasible since people buy computers on price. Apple probably is the one company that could afford to offer better service, but would it be enough of a selling point to make it worth it? Probably not.

As a freelance web professional this issue finally made me get off my ass and set up a robust and redundant work solution. I bought an external HD and a new Intel Mini, then set up some rsync scripts so that I can synchronize my work to any Mac. I spent probably 20-30 hours on this whole thing, but it’s definitely been worth it. Not only can I work on any 10.4 box with fast syncing, but I can also automatically backup offsite to a service like Strongspace (my account is pending). I definitely sleep a lot better at night. A couple months ago a hard disk crash would have been catastrophic. These days I could lost at most one day’s worth of work.

I realize this would be hard for non-unix-heads to get set up. The dilemma is that you need something like rsync to make the transfers speedy and decentralized. But without actual version control you have to be very careful to always sync on both ends before switching machines. Research for this turned up an astonishingly small amount of published material in blogs. I’m thinking about doing an extensive writeup in my blog.

Brian S Radford April 2, 2006 at 1:28 am

I can truly empathize with your dilemma Steph. I could have had the part I needed for my PowerMac sent to me but instead Applecare insisted that I send it away to be tested and repaired. I cost me over $80 dollars in shipping, and almost two weeks downtime to discover that my diagnosis was right in the first place. To top it off Apple wouldn’t reimberse me for the shipping charges. I keep hearing how great Applecare service is but to be quite honest their becoming another Dell. Dell had awesome tech support when I bought my first computer from them. They even let me install a new motherboard myself wihtout voiding my warranty because I was out of their onsite support range. But now I understand that they’ve gone majorly downhill in the support department. Apple seems to be going the same way. Your case just confirms what I’ve been suspecting all along. Apple is becoming just another “PC” manufacturer.

paul April 2, 2006 at 11:19 pm

I wasn’t aware the stores repaired things on site.

even so, i would still send it out to get repaired. 99% of the time, they have a 72-hour turnaround — mail it monday, get it back wednesday. they, of course, don’t guarantee it’s that fast, but it pretty much always is, unless there’s some sort of backorder.

if you call on monday, you get the box tuesday, and get it back thursday. (or, go to the store monday, drop it off, and get it back wednesday.)

and, unlike the store, they have parts in stock because they’re the darn repair depot. :)

my repair experiences with my powerbooks have been very positive.

Tom April 3, 2006 at 9:18 am

Despite my own rants about Toshiba and the horrible laptop they sold me, the service was great — I have a Toshiba authorized service center two blocks from my office, and I usually got the machine back in 2 days with new hard drives, motherboards, P4 processors, keyboards, etc. I was never without my computer for more than a few days, and it was always free (the $200 3-year service plan paid for itself many times over.)

Sara April 3, 2006 at 4:06 pm

Okay, first of all, a company that calls its employees “geniuses” is still operating like a dopey little start-up, in my opinion. “Geniuses”. Please.

You sound smart and able to cope with the fix you’re in. But, you expect too much of this company and its employees, at whatever size and level of bureaucracy. You need to spend some dough on a second computer if all your data is so gosh-darned important and you need access to it 24-7. And on backup drives. And on high-capacity portable storage.

You have to be responsible for your own data and your own computers. Apple has a responsibility to fix these thousands-of-parts, quirky, high-performance machines in a reasonable amount of time, and it sounds like they made all reasonable efforts to do so. Your 48-hours-where-and-when-I-please-or-the-whole-thing’s-off demands are not reasonable. They’re crazy-talk.

Let us know how it turns out — I hope you get the computer fixed and that it all works properly when done!

Gabe da Silveira April 3, 2006 at 4:28 pm

When you think about it, the fact that tech support never listens to the customer makes sense. I mean, sure, those of us commenting here probably have done our research and no what we’re talking about. But 99% of customers don’t have a clue.

So would it be reasonable for Apple to trust their customers opinions about problems? Don’t get me wrong, they should have a way for power users to get escalated to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, but I’m afraid support manuals and canned responses are really the best frontline support.

Stef. April 3, 2006 at 6:35 pm

Gabe: I’d love to have the info on how you backed it all up. If you write it up, send me an email, K? (

Paul: I wish other’s repair experiences had been like yours. Perhaps you live very close to a repair center. Most don’t, however (reference Brian’s post right above yours — 2 weeks and he knew what he needed)… I read many of the same stories on the Apple forums as well.

And actually, the Durham store is the largest repair center in that region (or so they told me). They do have parts in stock, but they’re electonically ordered by a machine, not a human, and you can’t get something done ahead to have it there. Even if you can PROVE that’s what you need — which I had.

Tom: Lucky you to live in a big city. If I could have taken my machine in, proven my point, gotten the parts ordered and then taken it back when they were in, it would have likely been a similar story to yours. (and yes, mine’s free as well)

Sara: I do have my “stuff” on back up — you can bet your bippy. :) But the computers I have available to RUN the back up are old — and difficult to work on. Would that I were a big company and had a myriad of laptops lying around for my finger’s pleasure. But for now, that’s not to be.

And 48 hours shouldn’t be a big deal (according to Apple) — that’s why I paid for ProCare ($100 to have a guarantee of priority service — usually 24 hours) … if they had ordered the part when I made the appointment — and I had a myriad of data proving that’s what I needed) — then I could have dropped the PB off and had it back in 48. I frankly don’t believe that’s too much to ask. Is the service on a faulty part they gave me to be done at MY convenience or THEIR convenience. I would hold that everything should be done to make it easier on the customer (they call that customer service)… but evidently, Apple no longer believes that.

Gabe: I do understand that most people that call in to customer service probably need to plug the machine in. ;) But when the customer has literally documented, by emails from others with the same issue, blogs and Apple threads, the exact issue and the exact fix — yes, there should be a way to escalate and take care of it. I did a lot of work to get it figured out so I wouldn’t have my machine sit for 10 days to 3 weeks (as happened to others with this problem since Apple seemed to never have heard of it and denied it existed — even sending some machines back after all that time unrepaired)…

So my hope was to put it on a platter for them… help them help us if that makes sense… I guess I thought that would make them want to help me as well…

< shrug / >

Gabe da Silveira April 3, 2006 at 7:12 pm

At least you can get to an Apple store in a couple hours. The nearest Apple Store for me is 6 hours away in Denver. Since I don’t have Apple Care I am forced to go through an “Authorized Apple Dealer/Repair” who add another layer of misinformation and ignorance. Not only that, but I can’t talk to one of their technicians, only a $7/hr clueless sales guy.

Sure enough I got a voicemail 5 days after I dropped it off that they have to send it in to Apple (duh!), they think the mainboard needs to be replaced (TOPCASE TOPCASE TOPCASE!) and they want to ask me some questions (I send them a 4 page document with every detail they could need). Of course I dropped it off before going on vacation for 10 days so they would hopefully send it in to Apple and maybe get it completed in a reasonable amount of time.

Of course that’s impossible when you have 7 or 8 middlemen muddling everything.

Steg. April 3, 2006 at 7:38 pm

Gabe: At least you HAVE an Apple auth dealer there. I have ONE and he’s not authorized for PBs… :-

Hey, if you want the email I compiled and sent to the engineers — in fact if any of you want a copy to include when your machine goes in — email me at stephanie AT … I’m happy to share it.

Also, if you have Temperature Monitor, keep it on for a couple days and make sure the history is on — it will show them the spikes in temperature. And then you can go to the system.log and show them it goes to sleep at the same time.

The info plus those parts from your own machine SHOULD take care of it. They’re smart dudes…. they’ll get it.

Tracer Hand April 6, 2006 at 6:47 pm

All I can say is – thank God for Tekserve, and thank Goodness I have a friend who works in the repair dept!

Bruce Gilbert June 27, 2006 at 10:36 pm


I live in RDU and have been to the Durham many times. The wait at the genius bar is a pain and they didn’t fix my problem the times I went. The good news is there is an Apple store in Raleigh now so you won’t have to go quite as far :-)

Wolf Schweitzer August 30, 2006 at 5:00 am

I had the same problem on my Powerbook G4 1.5GHz – but that aside, I had fixed up my Powermac G4 Quicksilver with massive amounts of cooling (mounted fans whereever I could) and now run a dual 1.4 GHz “Encore Duet” processor card.

That machine, while not blazing, surely is sturdy and fast, it runs modern synthesizer software, and currently my wife has it and like it. It keeps temperature down to a minimum given that I put an industrial strength fan setup in, and thus I hope it’ll keep running for the foreseeable future.

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