Apple Knows Best…

Last week my 17″ MacBook Pro, now only a year old, suffered the “expanding battery problem” and I took it in for repair, and ended up replacing it because Apple’s diagnosis and repair service is so backed up (they quoted 200+ machines to service at the University District store) that they couldn’t tell me how long I’d be without a machine. Since basically everything I do is on the computer, this wasn’t going to work for me, and since I religiously back up my data, new hardware can easily get a “brain transplant.” So after an evening of playing Dr. Frankenstein and bringing the new machine to life (Target Disk Mode rocks, by the way), I took the old machine in the next day for repair.

Since the expanding battery was pressing the logic board up onto the keyboard, I figured a bit of refurbishment wasn’t a bad thing. In addition, my machine had a manufacturing defect where the right-hand speaker was soft unless you wiggled the mag-safe power adapter (who knows why THAT worked). So might as well fix that at the same time, since the machine will be in the shop for awhile. Once it’s back, I’ll probably sell it on eBay as a refurbished model, recouping some of my costs.

Naturally, things haven’t quite turned out to be simple. Because the MBP originally shipped with fairly small disk drives, I’d modified the system a couple of months ago by moving the SuperDrive optical drive to an external enclosure and adding a second 160GB drive into the old optical drive bay. Of course, this is a non-standard configuration, we discussed this, before I left the store, and I was clear that such modifications might involve extra repair charges. Fine.

Today, the Apple store called and informed me that the speaker had been fixed, and that they’d decided to make an exception from usual policy, and not remove my second drive and restore the SuperDrive to factory configuration.”

Yep. You read that correctly. They decided not to remove third-party hardware I’d chosen to install in my own laptop. I suppose they were expecting me to be grateful for this exception from “usual policy” but in fact, I’m horrified. Horrified that such a policy, and thus the need to debate an exception, would exist in the first place.

As I pointed out, I had not asked them to reconfigure the laptop to factory spec, nor was I expecting them to do so. And given that the laptop is my property, not Apple’s, it would seem like the relevant wishes in this case are mine, not Apple’s. The technician who phoned from the store hastened to add that they hadn’t removed my second drive, and had granted the exception. And naturally, he didn’t understand why I’d even be upset — after all, it’s just Apple policy to restore every machine under repair to factory configuration. I suspect he wasn’t too happy with the way our phone conversation went — perhaps expecting gratitude on my part for the exception since I’d done something “naughty” by adding a second hard drive.

Of course, there might be some fine print in the “Genius Bar Work Authorization” I had to sign in order to turn over my laptop for repair, but I really don’t know whether I authorized them to do so or not. I was provided with a single-sided xerox of the work order which notes “The terms and conditions of this agreement can be found on the reverse side of this page.” Naturally, since my copy is a single-sided xerox, I have no copy of the terms and conditions. So I may have agreed to allow them to gut my laptop and reconfigure it as desired, or do virtually anything else with it, but I have no way to know that. Of course, given that I wasn’t provided with a copy of the full agreement which I signed, it might not even be enforceable by Apple, but I’ll leave that to any lawyers that wish to leave a comment.

The net result is that once I pick up this laptop from Apple service and settle my bill, I’m done with letting them touch anything. I like their hardware, I like their operating system, and I’m a lifelong Apple Computer customer (Apple II+ through Macbook Pro, apart from the Apple III and Lisa). But I’m sick of their overbearing, overly rule-bound, overly paternalistic repair policies, covering everything from how far one must live from an Apple store to use mail-in repair services (I live 75 miles away from the store on an island in the middle of Puget Sound) to Apple’s notion that they, not you, get to decide what configuration your machine returns from service with.

No thank you. My laptop, my property, so it’s my wishes that should count. And I’m betting there’s a third-party repair company out there which agrees. If you know of one in the Seattle area or a good one anywhere that does mail-in service, leave me a comment.


6 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Mark,

    Wow, if you’re wearing dresses to get your Mac serviced then I guess I really have nothing to complain about. My experience was mild in comparison.

    Clearly, I was willing to “pony up and pay for my repair” as indicated in the original post (end of paragraph 3), so the “free versus paid” distinction isn’t the issue I was irritated by.

    I will note that the Apple store did a fine job servicing the laptop, it came back with the speakers fixed, seal of approval on functionality, and they did it quite quickly.

    They did, however, proceed to give me another lecture when I picked the machine up about putting a second hard drive in. This second little lecture, however, didn’t quite have the punch of the first one, because the Genius Bar guy did finish up by saying, “that’s kind of cool how you fit another drive in there.”

    Thanks for stopping by – given your experience clogging for repairs I’ll be sure to read the fine print more carefully next time.

  2. Troll,

    Apple authorized service providers have a lot more power as far as servicing modified macs. The Apple Store can do whatever it wants if it’s covering your product under warranty. If they had a clause in there that said you needed to clog across the genius bar in a dress to get warranty service and you bought that agreement and registered it and clicked “yes, I understand,” you better shave them legs and get fitted for wooden shoes. Or just pony up and pay for your repair.

  3. Mark,

    Yeah, I know what you mean about the hardware issues. It would be easier to take if Apple had a bit more service-oriented attitude toward such things. I certainly understand their attitude toward iPod service — it’s a relatively low-cost item and you can eat the margin quickly by endlessly swapping out drives or headphone jacks for people who drop or otherwise damage their devices.

    But at $1500-$3500 for the laptops? You expect better, more flexible, more understanding service, especially from a company that is trying to *gain* market share.

    Yeah, I’m lucky that Target Disk Mode worked in this case — had the expanding battery expanded a bit more and damaged the logic board, that might not have worked. Fortunately, I also do use SuperDuper (a terrific backup program) to my Infrant NAS for full, bootable disk image backups…would have taken longer to recover but at least nothing would be lost. I recommend SuperDuper – it’s about the best simple backup system I’ve tried for the Mac.

  4. Gerr (Jeremy),

    Wow, you’ve got a troll reading your blog. You must have made it big.

    We have a Mac Book Pro (I) and the new Dual Core (II). (I) suffered two failures causing the logic board to be replaced; unfortunately, each failure was separated by several months. The second failure prevented us from connecting (I) and (II) together to do TargetDiskMode transfer. (II) is working fine, but appears to have a problem with the down arrow (gotta hit it just right). It seems that purchasing the extended warranty plan was the best thing we could have done. However, Apple surely can’t sustain existence with this many failures; 200 in the University District?

    We love our MBP units, but the hardware failure and sending it in for repairs periodically is annoying.

  5. Mark,

    Thanks, “You’re a Dumbass”, for that perspective. I’ll assume for the moment that you’re not just a flame-happy troll and will respond as if your comment was serious.

    If you’ll note from the beginning of my post, the MBP suffered from two manufacturing defects — one the relatively serious “expanding/exploding” batter problem. Certainly I could have had a third-party deal with this, but since the defects are both known and Apple fixes them, I figured I’d let them replace the battery, check for damage, and replace the right speaker. None of these items involved my extra hard drive in any technical sense.

    Clearly, if I’d gone into this process with the level of wisdom you evidently possess, I wouldn’t have relied on Apple even for these simple tasks. But I didn’t, and now I understand how the process works. Hence the paragraph toward the end where I say that I’ll use third parties in the future.

    If having a learning experience makes me a dumbass, that’s fine. Clearly you sprang into the world with your wisdom and knowledge fully formed and don’t require the learning experiences the rest of us do.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  6. You're a dumbass,

    If you’re going to mod your computer, then don’t bring it to Apple to fix. Go to a third party.