Apple and the 3 week video card swap

Three weeks ago I was working on my iMac on a Saturday morning and the display went crazy, forcing me to restart. I did some searching and discovered that this was a known issue, and that Apple were replacing cards exhibiting this problem free of charge. Great!

I called Apple Care and they confirmed that even though my machine was out of warranty they would switch the card. I just needed to pop the machine into the local Apple Store and, “it should only take a day or two” and they had an appointment available that day. I looked at my schedule, figured that even if it was two business days and I wouldn’t get the machine back until Tuesday, that would be fine so said yes.

Never assume it will take a day or two.

Dropping off the Mac

We took the iMac to the local Apple Store, where a member of staff looked it up on the system, tested it to check it was the issue I thought it was and then checked it in for the replacement. The part was in stock, so she expected it only to take a day and I should have it back. We went home feeling very happy about Apple, swapping this part for free and so quickly.

I phone the Apple Store

By Monday we hadn’t heard anything, so I gave the store a ring. To find out that things “hadn’t gone as planned”. They needed to order a cable, but it was in the delivery today and my Mac would be first on the bench, and they would give me a call. No call.

I call back on Tuesday, explaining again that this is a machine I need to run my business, and that I would just like some idea of when we might get it back. At this point things get weird. I’m passed around various people and eventually hear from someone who says that the cable didn’t fix the problem, it now looks as if the logic board is damaged as they can’t get the fans to turn off.

I point out that there was nothing wrong with this machine – as checked out by Apple Store staff when I brought it in. The only issue was the known GPU problem. So what has happened to it? They don’t seem very sure about what might have happened to it but it is going to take a couple of days to get a logic board ordered in.

The Apple employee I am now dealing with, Tim, makes a suggestion. He suggests I take advantage of Apple’s 14 day returns policy and buy a new Mac then return it. This seems ludicrous and I tell him so. Is this really Apple policy?

I pick up the iMac

I need the machine to run my business. I have my Air however it isn’t great for running multiple VMs, and I also have my iMac all set up with my crazy split keyboard and arm rest that I need to be able to work for reasonable periods. So after confirming that it booted, but was just really noisy as the fans were stuck on, we went to collect it while we waited for the part.

At the Apple Store Drew and I quizzed Tim the Genius about how my Mac had come to be broken while in their care and were treated to an explanation about static. Static broke my iMac. What my friends in the Apple Store didn’t know is that prior to switching to Mac I built all my own machines. I know about static. I also know that you need to be being fairly careless for it to be a real issue, and I wouldn’t expect it to be an issue in a supposedly professional workshop situation. I’m not convinced they have any idea what they have done to the machine, and static sounds like a good bet.

We take the Mac home, it works although I can’t work on the videos I need to record or do our podcast as the fans are on full. It sounds like it might be readying for takeoff.

Back to the Apple Store

The new logic board arrives and so back to the Apple Store we go. I am promised that it will be “first on the bench”.

I call the next day for an update, and am given the runaround by yet another Apple employee who claims to know nothing of this and while they are very sorry they broke my computer that doesn’t mean it gets to jump the queue. I tell him I want to speak to a manager. I get a call back, they are very sorry, yes my Mac is top of the list but they are having some problems.

The replacement

It is Saturday, a week since I took a business critical machine in for a simple component swap. Tim calls, he sounds worried. They don’t seem to know what they have done to the machine or what to do to resolve it, they could try ordering some more parts in but they don’t know if that will help.

They decide that they had better replace the machine. However, because it wasn’t a standard build it needs to be a custom build at Apple so could take up to 2 weeks to come. I remind him that I’m trying to run a business on their hardware, can I not just have the nearest equivalent stock machine? No, it has to be a like for like swap. He suggests again that we buy a machine to use for the next two weeks and return in. Faced with needing to hire a computer otherwise, we decide to do that.

I am promised an email to confirm the replacement has been ordered. No email arrives. So I spend more time going through the voice automated system that doesn’t understand Northerners to chase that up. Speak to another employee who tells me it will take 10 days to 2 weeks, I explain that yes, I know, I was just chasing the email confirmation I was promised. I have little trust in this Apple Store at this point and don’t want to wait 2 weeks to find they never ordered the thing!

The new iMac arrives

10 days later I get an automated email from Apple saying that my product is ready to pick up. Naturally collecting the thing was not going to be straightforward. At no point during this process had I been asked for ID (and I must be fairly well known down at that store now) but when I turned up I was blocked by a fairly rude chap demanding photo ID. Despite my wallet full of cards, the fact I could tell them in detail the history of this case, log into my Apple account etc. he was demanding I return home through the Bristol traffic on the hottest day of the year to get my driving license. I am very grumpy at this point and not about to do that.

I asked to see Tim. Tim was on a break (or hiding from me, I’m not sure). While this is ongoing Drew is returning the “borrowed” iMac.

Eventually the Genius team lead shows up, at the same time my phone is ringing. He is identifying me by calling my phone. Common sense at last, you can see why this one is the leader of the Geniuses.

Having found a Genius with common sense I finally am presented with a new iMac. It’s very nice, although somewhat annoyingly the original Mac had upgraded memory and this one is just as standard. However at this point I just wanted to get out of there with a machine I could work on.

The outcome

Ultimately, after just under three weeks I’ve ended up with a brand new iMac. That is obviously very nice however I’ve lost several days work in the process. I would be wary of taking a Mac into store for repair again.

I get the feeling that Apple employees are working very much to written guidelines for each procedure. They are mostly very friendly and pleasant, even when dealing with a cross and frustrated me, but have no idea what to do when it all goes wrong. Hopefully that is indicative of the fact that breaking a customer’s computer is a massively rare exception.

Communication relied on getting to speak to the same person each time, despite all of the systems they have to track things. If I couldn’t get hold of Tim then I would be given the brush off or having to explain the situation again. This was just incredibly frustrating and I know I was the grumpiest customer on the phone, but after battling the automated system and then having to explain the sorry tale again and again, by the time I got to someone who could help another 20 minutes had been taken out of my day.

Two employees – the phone support and the person who initially checked my Mac in gave me an estimate of a couple of days. It would have been better had they stated their standard 5 to 10 days initially. I would have limped along with the thing until the next time I was away traveling had I know that, as the error was intermittent. So the stress of the issue would have been stopped with a proper estimate from the outset.

Why do Apple Stores not have easy access to common components? I would have thought Apple, with their set number of configurations, could manage that. The delays were caused by them replacing one thing, testing, scratching their heads and ordering the next thing it could be. Another day or two to wait to try that next thing.

I’ve heard from other people that the advice to buy and return an item under the 14 day money back guarantee is common. I now know where all those refurb machines come from!

I’ve learned since this that Apple have a business programme, paid entry, that does entitle you a loan Mac in these situations. When I handed in the iMac at the start I mentioned it was a machine I used to run my business – at that point you would have thought they would try and sell the business programme to a customer.

I would have liked Apple to have been more clear as to what they do with the data on machines they are taking in and swapping. Had the machine booted the leader of the Geniuses would have reformatted the disk in front of me, it didn’t boot so he couldn’t. I was assured the drive would be securely wiped but that really is something that should be given more attention by Apple.

This is the first time I’ve taken anything into an Apple Store for repair. Prior to moving to Bristol we used a local authorized repair centre who were fantastic. Ultimately the resolution of getting a new iMac is great, it’s just a shame getting to this point was so stressful and time-consuming, especially as many of the issues were just ones of communication.

I’ve really just written this up for anyone following the ongoing saga on Twitter. However I’d love to know if this is a bizarre exception, or whether staying away from Apple stores for repairs is a good plan. The positive thing is that ultimately, and perhaps because it was an official Apple Store, they were able to just replace the machine. So that might be a reason to use an Apple Store over an Authorized Repair Centre, however I do wonder if more care and attention is taken at a Repair Centre as their reputation relies on not destroying customer equipment.


Nick Bramwell July 25, 2014 Reply

I sounds like an issue that varies between stores.

A few years ago I took my MBP to the reseller I bought it from due to an issue with the fans. They told me it wasn’t the fans but the hard drive, so they replaced the hard drive as it was still under warranty. It didn’t fix the fan problem though which I ended up doing myself.

A few years later I needed to replace the battery. I went to the Meadowhall Apple Store to buy a replacement. I was initially told it would take a few days, so I asked if it could possibly done any quicker. The genius went away and came back to say as it was quiet he could do it now and to come back in an hour. It was all done perfectly.

I’d expect Apple to be more consistent, but it does seem like the member of staff and the store still make a difference.

Andy Davies July 25, 2014 Reply

My daughter’s got a 2012(?) MBP that’s got a habit of getting very, very hot.

We took it to the Apple store at Cribbs, they had it for a while but decided there was nothing wrong with it but were so patronising about it both to my daughter who’s a software engineering student and to me.

I think the genius of the Geniuses is much over stated

Alex Older July 25, 2014 Reply

I had issues with my old MBP purchased and repaired in the Cabot Apple Store, Bristol. Popping it after work at around 6pm.

Shortly after I purchased it the pixels started dying. I know from past experience there are rules around the number of acceptable dead pixels in a screen (in 4 or 5 monitors at over there is 1). The screen had 1 dead and there were 4 or 5 that were fading. I had to explain myself 3 times to people that I needed a repair.

I was finally told that as a ‘gesture of good will’ they would replace the screen and it would be 1-2 days. It had taken about half an hour to get to this point. So I left my MBP for repair and headed home, I then got a call at 7:55pm (5 mins before they shut) saying it had been repaired and I could pick it up.

Once it was in for repair it was great, the Genius on the phone was polite and even joked about me getting to the store in 5 mins. The staff leading up to it seemed a bit up tight and not willing to admit a fault with the machine after 1 month and the ‘gesture of good will’ was just annoying. I’ve worked in retail and it is normally used as an excuse to get rid of a customer, not something I’d expect from Apple at all. I wasn’t angry or making a fuss in store.

Jemima July 25, 2014 Reply

I’ve never had to leave anything with the Geniuses, but have often found them to be a combination of patronising and slightly misleading in their technical explanations (possibly through their lack of understanding). What they know, they really know, but as a breed they seem very disinclined to admit when they don’t know, which makes it hard to deal with them. A decent relationship with an honest Repair Centre sounds very appealing!

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