Apple’s army of Geniuses are a quiet but undeniable force in market penetration and customer retention. This is not breaking news, but I just experienced this firsthand, in very unlikely circumstances. And though there’s no real technical meat here, I feel compelled to tell an unusually happy service story, because that doesn’t happen very often.
Here’s the skeleton of the story: Just before getting off a plane in Des Moines (and just after putting in several hours of work on a writing/development project), my MacBook Pro had an anuerism. It thought its disk was full (not even close), apps started locking up, then it seized up entirely. The faulty machine was sent in to Apple Service (thank you, AppleCare), and promptly returned to me (well, 5 days is relatively prompt). Two days later, the exact same thing happened. AppleCare had simply replaced the hard drive, without diagnosing the source of the problem. The machine had to go back, and was eventually replaced. End-to-end downtime was over two weeks.
Typically, this would be a reason to be frustrated and furious, and to think hard about railing publicly against Apple and then switch to a nice reliable ThinkPad. But no, I’m standing here today singing Apple’s praises. No, I’m not a hopeless fanboy (well, not in this case, anyways). The Genius’ at the Jordan Creek Apple Store and across the US are the Secret Sauce here.
I brought in my machine after the first failure, hoping desperately that I could at least get my code and other files off of the drive before sending it in for repair. The Genius on staff, Rachel, quickly determined that the machine wasn’t bootable. All the magic incantations (force-boot, safe boot, etc.) had no effect. At that point, I would have expected a typical service person to say, “Well, I put in my 5 minutes, and we’ll have to send it in”. But Rachel took the time, during a busy evening (she dealt with 3 or 4 other appointments while multi-tasking with my machine) to try several different things, including mounting the disk as a firewire drive on another machine, and eventually pulled out the drive (!) to try mounting it via a SATA enclosure. To no avail, sadly, but she gave it a try, and spent way more than my alloted 15 minute appointment.
Off goes my machine to Apple, they “repair” it and send it back, and on the flight back to Des Moines the following week, deja vu sets it. Back to the Jordan Creek store, but this time Chad is on duty. Oh dear, I think, Rachel was the exception to the rule, and now I’m sure we’re back to status quo, and I’m looking at another repair cycle and crossing my fingers. But no, Chad is also of the True Genius breed. He also juggled numerous bad iPods and toasted laptops while checking out my machine, putting it on the bench to see whether they could pull any data off (no dice). A few other Genius’ were brought in on it as well (sadly, I didn’t get all their names), on an even busier evening than the previous visit. And it wasn’t a case of me getting special treatment over everyone else. Everyone at the Genius Bar was satisfied - several iPods were promptly repaired or replaced, another woman with a dead laptop was set up with a demo machine to pull family photos off of her drive, a father and daughter were given advice on how to (legally, of course!) get their music off of their home Windows machine onto another Windows machine using the same iPod.
In the end, Chad recommended getting a full replacement, since it was likely that the logic board was bad and the repair would take longer than a replacement. Less than a week later, they had replaced my machine with the latest Core 2 Duo model (mine had been an original Core Duo). Happy ending? Absolutely.
I’ve had my issues with Apple as a company before, as many of us have. Screwed up shipments, unexplained delays, etc. But I’ve dropped in on Genius Bars in Boston, San Francisco, New York and now Des Moines, and they left me with an impression that would make it very hard indeed for me to ever switch to another development platform. If I factor out the age-old Windows vs. MacOS polarization, and just consider service experience for a minute: I owned ThinkPads for several years - great hardware quality, but the service is only as good as your local authorized support guys. Sometimes great, sometimes sucks eggs. I owned Dells for several years as well - hardware quality was pretty random, and I’d rather not stir up memories of their service, lest I need to find some aspirin. More intermittent experiences with Microns and Sonys and Toshibas, nothing terrible, nothing to write home about, either.
No doubt, Apple Geniuses aren’t perfect, either - I’ve had a few, er, incidents along the way, and others I’m sure will share their bad Genius experiences. But there’s something comforting about the fact that, if I’m in a pinch, I can get an appointment within 24 hours and have someone that cares (on average) and actually knows something (on average) lay hands on my machine. And even if I’m screwed, I don’t have to pay anything to have them tell me that. And they’re really *nice* while they tell you you’re screwed. Breakthrough Service indeed.
Lots of developers of different stripes have found a home on MacOS for various technical and aesthetic reasons (Unix platform, user interface, multi-OS support, etc., etc.). At the moment, I’m hooked by the Geniuses.