The unfortunate tale you are about to read is a true story . Nobody wishes more than me that that wasn’t the case. It is the story about how one man, yours truly, purchased a defective iMac, and was betrayed, harassed, insulted, and bullied by a company he has been loyal to for many years as a result – all because of the actions of a single unpleasant Apple engineer.
I debated with myself for weeks over whether I should even write about my nightmarish experience – after all, Apple has been good to me for years, and my story (at least, I sincerely hope) is but a particularly unsavory exception to the general rule that Apple offers excellent, understanding, and considerate customer service. Exception though it may be, however, the events discussed in this report actually happened – and despite not wanting to cause trouble for Apple, and especially the one exceptional Apple employee who helped to right this wrong, I cannot help but feel that the truth must be told publicly, and without reservation.
But first, allow me to begin by providing a little bit of background.
I’ve owned a lot of Apple computers over the years, starting with an Apple II/e in the early 90s that I experimented with when I was still in elementary school. At some point, I took a break from Apple, and spent about a decade and a half mastering Microsoft Windows until I just couldn’t stand it anymore. Then came the college years. Apple knocked me off my socks when they released the MacBook Pro – an Intel Mac that could run both Windows and OS X! I saved some money and bought one, and my pilgrimage back to Apple’s fold began the very moment I turned it on and heard that satisfying chime. I never even ended up installing Windows on it.
Ever since I began using that MacBook Pro, which I think of as the first Apple computer that I could truly call my own, I have gained a great deal of respect for Apple, their hardware, and OS X. Recently, however, my enchantment with Apple has faded as I found myself increasingly concerned with Apple’s design ideals. The real turning point for me – the point at which I realized Apple was no longer the magical company that I once thought they were – was the release of the MacBook Pro with Retina display.
Inside that thin, shiny package, I saw a glaring beacon of anti-consumer thought – a MacBook Pro that could not be upgraded or repaired without Apple’s explicit approval, requiring users to choose Apple’s own high-priced hardware upgrades over more reasonably-priced third-party alternatives. Forcing the user to “future-proof” their purchase by spending extra money, simply because they could not upgrade them later (such as the RAM in the Retina MacBook Pro) – and to come crawling with their wallets back to Apple or an authorized service provider any time they wanted to perform previously user-accessible upgrades, such as upgrading the storage in their Mac. And all of this for the sake of making the machine slightly (unnecessarily, in my view) thinner. Form over function at its worst.
Shiny New iMacs
After the Retina MacBook Pro came Apple’s ultra-thin 2012 iMacs, and once again, I took issue with many of their design decisions – making the RAM in the 21.5-inch model inaccessible to the user, and sealing the case with a special foam tape rather than using magnets and metal clips, as with the previous generation iMacs. The initial lack of VESA mounting options also came as a disappointment to me, as I use a pair of monitor arms with my Mac setup. I was annoyed. I had considering an iMac, and waited for Apple to release new models to purchase one – but as soon as those new models arrived, I was immediately repulsed at their lack of upgradability, repairability, and hardware accessibility.
This was a pivotal moment in time for me. There I was, using a mid-2012 15-inch MacBook Pro as a desktop replacement, hooked up to a Thunderbolt display for added screen real estate. I had the disheartening thought that my MacBook may very well be the last Mac truly designed with consumer’s interests at heart- the ability to choose your own storage and memory upgrades or to try out new drives or SSDs, the ability to replace a faulty RAM stick or hard drive without taking your computer to Apple and waiting a week or more for a repair. This is especially painful for individuals like me who depend on their expensive computer to do their job.
Just as I felt that my mid-2012 MacBook Pro represented the death of an important era for the Mac , I also realized that eventually, it would become obsolete. I couldn’t use it forever – and as much as I disliked Apple’s design directions, I disliked the idea of moving back to Windows even more. Eventually I would have to embrace this new era of Mac design, or suffer regressing back to my Windows days. I couldn’t let that happen. It was at this moment that I decided I should give Apple’s ultra-thin new 27-inch iMac a try – step away from my current ideas and feelings, and really try to love the beautiful new machine despite its perceived faults.
This is where my nightmare began.
Apple’s new 2012 iMacs weren’t very easy to obtain at first. I didn’t place my order as soon as the new iMacs were available to order online. It took me a couple of weeks to decide that this was what I really wanted to do – give Apple a chance to show me that their new iMacs really were as great as they said, and that I wouldn’t miss not being able to upgrade my hard drive, or replace it with a third-party SSD. Finally, about one week into December, I placed my order, and prepared to wait until January (when Apple estimated my order would be delivered).
Just over two weeks later, I caught a stroke of luck – the local university bookstore had been keeping an eye out for me, and promised to let me know when the new 27-inch iMacs arrived at their campus store. That moment arrived on December 27, 2012. Needless to say, I was very excited. I hopped in my car, drove an hour in the snow to the campus bookstore, and purchased my shiny new iMac for $2000. I began setting it up as soon as I got home. I transferred my apps and settings from my MacBook Pro to the new iMac, and began my day’s work.
Three hours later, as I was happily typing away, something happened – something that would lead me into a nightmarish spiral of battling AppleCare representatives, spending hours on the telephone arguing with Apple engineers and customer service representatives, and unleashing every instinct I had to protect myself (and my rights as a consumer) from a mistake that I did not make. That something was this: My screen fell off of my iMac.
You read that right. After just a few hours of use, the beautiful screen on my brand new $2000 27-inch iMac simply fell off. It fell forward, and I had to catch it with my hands to prevent it from hitting me right smack on the noggin. I pushed the display back into the iMac’s case, and tilted the display backward so it would hold – but the damage was done. When the display fell forward, the cable connecting it to the logic board got damaged, and a permanent grey stripe appeared on the display. I was disappointed, to say the least. The above photos were hastily taken at the request of an Apple Senior Advisor – I apologize in advance for their poor quality.
Apple Store Antics
In response, I did what most anyone in my position would do in the face of such a disaster: I called AppleCare with the faith that they would understand my problem, and do everything in their power to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. I spoke to a very understanding AppleCare representative who was shocked when I told him what had happened. He advised me to go to an Apple Retail Store. Unfortunately for me, the closest Apple Store is about an hour and a half away. To make matters worse, it was winter in Utah, and the roads were covered with ice and snow. I explained my situation, and was transferred to a senior AppleCare specialist, who told me he could send an Apple tech to my house to repair my iMac. He filed a service request, and told me I would receive a phone call in a couple of hours to set up a day and time for the repair.
I was happy with that response – I felt that Apple had lived up to their reputation of exceptional customer service. Unfortunately, little did I know that my troubles were only beginning. About two hours later, I received a phone call from the manager of Apple’s off-site repair program. He informed me that an in-house repair would not be possible, as he did not yet have access to the necessary parts to send someone to fix my iMac. He explained that the new iMacs were so new that Apple did not have any replacement displays yet. He told me he would make a few phone calls and see what he could do.
When he called back that evening, he told me that my only option was to take my iMac into the Apple Store, which again, was over an hour away, over slippery, icy, dangerous road conditions. He explained that once I took it to the Apple Store, they would request the part, and Apple would send that part as soon as it was available. I waited two days for the roads to clear, and I followed his instructions – I took my iMac to the Apple Store, and explained everything yet again to the man behind the Genius Bar. The Apple Genius told me they did not have access to replacement parts yet, but that he would happily replace the entire iMac. He also agreed to compensate me for my trouble with $250 in credit at the Apple Online Store (which I ultimately never received). I quickly agreed, hoping that my disaster was finally almost over.
To my disappointment, it turned out that the City Creek Center Apple Store in Salt Lake City, Utah did not have any 27-inch iMacs in stock – but they told me that if I left my iMac with them, they would call me as soon as they got a replacement in their store, and would ship it to my home since I lived over an hour away, and the winter road conditions in the area were a force to be reckoned with. He handed me a business card, and told me that I would hear from him in no more than 3-5 days.
Five days came and went, and I still hadn’t heard back from the Apple Store. I waited a few more days in the name of patience. 8 days into my 3-5 day return call period, I called back in myself to ask how things were going with my replacement. The person I spoke to in the beginning wasn’t available, so I was directed to a store manager instead. Once again, the news that the store manager offered me was grim. He explained that they had sent my iMac back to Apple’s engineering department, as they needed to investigate what might have been wrong with it. That’s where my nightmare took a turn for the worse yet again.
The Trouble With “Tampering”, and The Unpleasant Apple Engineer
The engineer who worked on my case was convinced that I had tampered with my iMac. I listened to an Apple Store manager tell me that within a few short hours of turning on the machine, I had somehow managed to completely remove the display myself. I apparently did this without damaging the display, and apparently without altering any of the parts inside the case. I also did this without access to many of the tools that are required to perform such a task, and while somehow still managing to complete a full day’s work on my MacBook Pro, which I was now using as a backup until my iMac was fixed.
Not only did I not have the tools or knowledge necessary to remove the display on a new 27-inch iMac (which are now held on entirely with adhesive tape rather than magnets, screws, or anything sensible) – I also hadn’t had the iMac in my office for long enough to perform such a process. This engineer’s claim was not only ridiculous – it was insulting, and absolutely offensive. Rather than attempting to figure out what went wrong, this engineer decided to simply blame the customer – a customer who had spent $2000 dollars on a product which he expected to work, who had driven several hours in the snow to obtain that product, and who had nearly been smacked square on the head by a dangerously defective iMac.
At this point, the 14-day return period from the university bookstore had expired – so not only could I not get my iMac repaired by Apple under warranty, I also could not return it for a refund.
As a result of Apple’s “tampering” claim, my warranty was voided, leaving me with a $2000 iMac that I could not use, and that I could be forced to repair at my own out-of-pocket expense. I wasn’t about to just sit back and let this happen, however. I immediately called back into AppleCare’s support line, and was greeted by the first truly helpful person I had encountered in this situation so far. The representative, Kent H., could hardly believe what he was hearing, saying (and this is a direct quote): “It’s obvious at this point that there was no tampering”. He immediately went to work in my defense, and granted me an AppleCare “exception” for the repair, and informed me that my warranty would be back in effect once that repair was complete.
Interestingly, the representative also noted that the AppleCare exception would not be recognized at Apple Stores – instead, they’re only recognized at Apple Authorized Service Providers. I called the Apple Store to arrange to pick up my machine and bring it to an authorized service provider. I once again spoke to a manager – but this time, I was surprised to hear him offer to fix my machine at the Apple Store. Thinking it would save me time over taking it to another repair provider, I told him to go ahead.
Three days later, I got a call from the Apple Store telling me that my computer was ready to be picked up. I asked the representative what had been done to repair the machine, and was disappointed to find out that in fact my iMac had NOT been repaired. Instead, he told me that they had merely reattached the glass, but that the display was still broken. I wasted three days, and my iMac wasn’t fixed at all! I asked why it hadn’t been repaired, and he informed me that it was because my warranty was no longer valid.
After explaining to him that an Apple Store manager told me the store would take care of the repair, he raised his voice, told me he didn’t believe me, and that all I could do at this point was pick up the iMac from the Apple Store. So, that’s exactly what I did. I drove back to Salt Lake, picked up my iMac, and headed home.
The next day, I dropped my iMac off at an Apple Authorized Service Provider, who sympathized with the experience I had endured so far, and recognized the service exception. Finally, on January 22, 2012, 5 days after dropping my iMac off at the service provider (and a full 25 days after first reporting the defect), my repair was finally complete – it worked perfectly, and the warranty had been restored. Finally! At last!
Wrapping it Up
Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. My iMac was repaired under warranty, and I was finally able to use the iMac I had looked forward to using for so long. Even though the story ended well, however, I can’t help but feel betrayed. After all, I was accused of lying and intentionally damaging my iMac, had spent more hours than I wish to count on the phone with Apple, and had wasted several tanks of gas and many, many hours of my time in the process of fighting Apple in defense of my consumer rights.
The entire situation could have been avoided if Apple had taken responsibility in the first place. The issue also would have been resolved much more quickly if Apple had the parts available to repair my iMac when they initially offered to send a technician to my home. They’re inability to stock repair parts after the release of the new iMac is what ultimately caused the situation to begin spiraling out of control.
Of course, the situation also would have gone much smoother if the Apple Store staff had been more friendly and supportive, and if Apple’s engineering team hadn’t tried to blame the customer for a defect rather than simply take care of it, and if the management of that Apple Store hadn’t decided I was some sort of villain after hearing back from the engineering team. Maybe I should have sought legal advice at the first sign that the situation was beginning to turn against me. But in the end, the point is that the situation should have never escalated to the point where I even considered that.
From the defect itself, to the poor customer service at the Apple Store, poor planning on Apple’s part when it came to having repair parts in stock, and the fact that Apple decided it was better to blame the customer than fix the problem, the whole situation has left a bad taste in my mouth. It caused me to lose a lot of trust in Apple and the expectation that they should do the right thing, and treat their customers with respect.
Even though I never wanted to cause trouble for Apple in the first place, and despite the fact that Apple’s customer service is usually very, very good, the fact of the matter is that this whole incident actually happened – and it happened to me. My initial desire not to cause any trouble for Apple has transformed into a stronger feeling that consumers should be aware that situations like this do happen. It’s the truth – and truth is stronger than any desire I have towards respecting a company that fundamentally changed the way I think about technology.
On the upside, it also made me realize just how incredible some of Apple’s employees truly are. Kent H. was perhaps the best customer service representative and consumer advocate I have ever had the pleasure to meet. He went above and beyond the call of duty to right this wrong – and I was left impressed, astonished, and extremely grateful. If it wasn’t for Kent H., I’d likely still have a useless pile of metal and glass, and a hefty bill if I decided to repair it on my own.
Just as one fantastic employee can really make a difference in the customer service experience, it’s equally true that one “bad Apple” can spoil the whole bunch, as in the case of the engineer who accused me of tampering.
Hopefully this article will be of help to someone, somewhere who encounters a situation like mine, or will relate to someone who has already dealt with such an ordeal. If nothing else, I hope it offers some food for thought.