Feb 18, 2009
I use my Macbook Pro constantly. My freelance work demands having a computer available all the time (I’m a tech guy for hire – I used to do systems admin full-time). I had a desktop workstation at one point which I built from scratch and I also had a Dell Inspiron 7500 way back. What a back-breaker that was. The MBP is a great machine – solid, powerful and decked out with plenty of peripheral ports (it’s a 2007 model). Since I knew I’d be using it so much, I wanted to minimize any risk of downtime. So I bought the AppleCare extended 3-year warranty. Yeah, I know…it’s a questionable move. But I had a similar extended warranty with the Inspiron back in 2000 and I didn’t regret it. Like, what do you do when the keyboard falls apart? Or the optical drive stops working…
So, I haven’t had to use the AppleCare really – not quite true: at the same time I purchased the MBP I got a wireless Mighty Mouse. The scroll-balls on those things are notoriously finicky and I could have opened it up and cleaned it myself but I didn’t want to be bothered to go buy crazy glue to put it back together. Instead, I put a call into Apple support and they gladly shipped me a replacement.
However, recently, my optical drive (the CD/DVD drive, for the non-Mac folks) started refusing to burn discs on occasion. I’d get a pop-up window with a hexadecimal error code and the burning would abort. I tried different media brands. That didn’t work. I tried other software. That didn’t work. I tried other things which I probably shouldn’t mention here…which also didn’t work. So I put the call into Apple support. Having done repairs like this before at my former job, I knew if I could convince them to ship me a replacement optical drive I could have it fixed in 15 minutes (in case you’re curious, Ifixit.com has great pictorial guides on how to do a whole bunch of things that will void your warranty). It’s not a layman’s job so, of course, they classify this part as a non-customer serviceable part. Makes sense that they wouldn’t want n00bs unscrewing their computers and completely destroying them (there are about 20 screws to get through to the optical drive, by the way). So they refused to send it to me. They recommended I try either bringing it into an Apple Store or to an Apple-approved service tech. Hilariously, the support guy on the phone listed one-by-one all the techs in this link and I had to keep saying “no” (I don’t have a car), and in spite of me saying I’d already seen that page and nothing was appropriate. I suppose maybe he was reading a script. None of the places he listed were anywhere near where I live and he kept getting farther and farther away. I kind of hoped he would eventually leave the country and start recommending dropping by Manhattan. Or Cupertino.
The town I live doesn’t have an Apple Store, but the nearest service tech said their process (which was contractually an obligation to Apple) was to take the problem computer and put it in their queue, wait for the part, wait for an available tech, and fix it – a process which they said takes 10 working days on average and they would have to hold onto the laptop for the duration. So basically, I’d be without income or any way to communicate with clients for up to 2 weeks (clients, who, remember rely on me for tech support). I tried to explain how this was unreasonable but there wasn’t anything they could do, other than rent me a replacement machine. I tried to explain how this was a completely useless idea but his lack of empathy at why a replacement machine wouldn’t work was perplexing.
The other option – to bring it into an Apple Store, the nearest of which is in London, over an hour away – was less of a hassle…believe it or not. About a month ago, I was in London for a weekend and I did what they call a “Quick Drop” which entails leaving the computer with them and picking it up in the hopes that in that time frame they’d be able to resolve the problem, assuming they had the replacement part…which they didn’t. So I picked it up 36 hours later and went back home, optical drive unreplaced. One of the concierges in the store said that there was another option that didn’t involve surrendering my income-earning computer: book an appointment online with the Genius Bar, come back into town, have the Genius verify the problem and order the part and I could leave with the computer until the part arrived. So I did this a few days ago and was told yes, but there are 2 caveats: (1) when the part arrives, I will have 7 days in which to return to have the repair done, and (2) when I drop the computer off for repair, there would be no guarantee how long it would take their techs to get around to fixing it. It could be a day, it could be 2. This a 15 minute job, remember, but their store and techs are very busy. I can understand that…but it doesn’t make it any less of a pain in the arse.
It’s not so much the expense of travel at this point as the amount of time travelling I normally would be doing other stuff. But it’s also infurating to think that if, instead of buying the AppleCare I could have bought a new optical drive off the shelf for a 1/3 of the cost and done it myself and not had to jump through these hoops to get to this point. And not had to deal with all the obtuse “support” people along the way. On the other hand, if the motherboard dies, I’d be way better off not trying to fix it myself.
Which brings me to a possible 3rd option: getting certified as an Apple-approved tech. It’s only a grand or so, right?