My First Terrible Experience at the Apple Store

I don’t like the term “fanboy” but I’ve had it applied to me many times due to my preference for and, admittedly, advocacy for Apple products among my friends and family. I switched to the Mac at work back in 2002 because our Mac person left, and within a few years, all of the computers I owned were Macs. I still prefer them today, although I work more with Windows on a regular basis, and I’ll admit that Windows 8 and Windows 10 appeal to me more than 2000/XP ever did.  All this is to say that I’m firmly grounded in the Apple ecosystem, both on the OS X and iOS side of the house.

I have always loved the Apple Store. I remember when ours opened up here in Knoxville, and it is still the only store I will gladly walk into at the mall. Over the years I’ve had occasion to visit the Apple Store a handful of times to have Macs repaired, and in one instance replaced – perhaps a story for another time highlighting how great Apple customer service can be. But today I want to briefly explain how bad the Apple Store experience can be, as I recently had reason to take my 5 days old iPhone 6S Plus in to be looked at.

PERSONALIZED SERVICE AT THE GENIUS BAR, RIGHT?

I made my appointment at the Genius Bar using the Apple Store app, for the first available slot, around lunchtime two days later. For the next couple of days I anticipated walking into the store for the same individual, personal attention I’d received numerous times over the years. I knew the Apple Store is crazy crowded these days, but surely, if I’m making an appointment, especially two days in advance, I’d receive the same type of customer service I always had. It is, after all, one of the things Apple has proven a real differentiator in its retail experience compared to its competitors over the years.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, although I wouldn’t realize that until about 10 minutes into my appointment. Because everything started out the same – check in with the traffic cop employee, who notifies someone via their headset that I’m here, then a helpful Genius showed up to escort me over, not the Genius Bar, as it was packed, but to the side of one of the tables across from the bar. And for a few glorious minutes, I received the kind of customer service and personalized attention Apple is famous for. Until it became obvious that my problem wasn’t going to be resolved in 10 minutes, and the Genius’ next appointment showed up. 

If you have a problem that can be solved in under 10 minutes, you may still be able to walk out of the Apple Store feeling like you received targeted personal service. If, say, you have to restore your iPhone 6S Plus from an iCloud backup (15-20 minutes, minimum), what you will experience is a sort of frantic, start and stop, hold on while I check on this person kind of triaging that can probably be OK to terrible, but simply can’t be great.

For longer than an hour and a half, I was juggled along with at least 6 (I stopped trying to keep up with them) other Apple Customers by one frantic Genius moving between at least 2 locations. He’d come over to me for a minute or three, try something, start a process that could take another 10-30 minutes, then move onto another customer he was helping. And with up to 4 of us at any one time, the squeaky wheel got the grease, or in this case the attention of the Genius, as he seemed to be caught by the couple of customers he had over at the Genius Bar several times while I waited (not so) patiently over at the table where he’d started with me.

THE GENIUS DID THE BEST HE COULD WITHIN A BROKEN SYSTEM

Even though I was and continue to be extremely dissatisfied and disappointed with the experience I had at the Apple Store, I realized then an now that the individual Genius working with me was not to blame for the situation. He was polite and seemed genuinely interested in helping me, but he is working within a system that simply doesn’t afford him the ability to truly focus on an individual customer or problem they may be having for more than 10-15 minutes. 

I worked on the HelpDesk early on in my IT career. I know how difficult and stressful it can be to help people who come to you with something that isn’t working. Imagine trying to do the HelpDesk job, but instead of answering the phone and dealing with one customer with a problem, if you don’t get the first customer issue fixed within 10 minutes, you have to start putting the first customer on hold at what is hopefully a natural pause point, to work with a second customer, then a third, and a fourth if necessary, all the while cycling between them. Every shift from customer to customer, problem to problem, must have an impact on efficiency, not to mention the inherent time to resolution increase while 1-3 customers sit there waiting to receive attention again.

Within the confines of this insane situation, the Genius did the best he could, and it was obvious either he’s naturally good at placating frustrated people, or Apple does a good job of training its employees to say the best words in this type of situation to try to mollify someone who, quite reasonably, is tired of being put off and juggled like a ball in a circus act. I don’t fault this young man for the environment in which he’s working and the decisions that someone above his pay grade made to turn the Genius Bar into a frantic, disjointed assembly line.

APPLE KNOWS HOW BAD THINGS CAN BE

The day after my terrible experience at the Apple Store, I received a request to fill out a survey for it. I did so with as much bluntness and perhaps a bit more brevity as you find in this post. I noted that yes, I was willing to discuss the matter further if Apple needed to reach out to me, and sure enough, a couple days later, I received a phone call from someone at the local Apple Store.

We had a good conversation. Not a happy conversation, but a good one. I explained my history with Apple and the Apple Store in particular, and how frustrating the recent experience was. More than anything, I tried to convey that the experience made me feel like I was just a box to be checked off. The guy I spoke with was very apologetic about that and said that wasn’t at all what Apple wanted, and I get that.

I told him that after thinking about how absolutely packed the Apple Store is nearly all the time, I don’t know if there’s a good way for Apple to solve this problem. They can’t just hire more Geniuses – there’s no room for them or additional customers. I suppose they could double or quadruple the size of the store (assuming they could get the space) but that may just be a bandaid. I suggested exclusive appointments of a longer nature by default, but realized that would necessarily extend the wait time for an appointment beyond the 2 days I had, and possibly as long as a week or more. The Apple employee noted that, especially given the critical role an iPhone and other Apple devices play in people’s lives, asking them to wait a week for an appointment would likely just result in even more walk-in customers who are unaware of or choose to ignore the appointment reservation system. He said they do their best to accommodate walk-ins, but increased wait times would make it even worse.

He asked if I was aware of AppleCare’s telephone support, and noted that many issues they help with in store can be resolved over the phone. I told him I was, but as someone with a lot of years in IT, I rarely called any type of support because for nearly anything phone support could help me with, I usually find those solutions myself on the web. I also noted the Genius had, perhaps later in the process than I’d preferred, punted and simply swapped my iPhone 6S Plus for a replacement unit – so assuming that was actually necessary, phone support would’ve done me no good.

I thanked him for calling and I’d say our conversation was cordial and wistfully hopeful, but grounded in the reality that today, Apple has so many customers, especially iPhone customers (as I was in this case), that there is only so much that can be done logistically to improve this situation.

Moments of Awesome in the Midst of Frustration

Even while I was growing more dissatisfied and frustrated with the situation at the Apple Store, I paid attention to what was going on around me. It’s not like I had anything else to do other than get hungrier as my lunch hour came and went, after all. I observed a couple of really great interactions that helped then and now to remind me that Apple really does try to do customer service better than anybody.

The first involved a customer I’ll call Extremely Rude Old Dude. This guy was mad because his iPhone 6 (maybe 6S) wasn’t sending email from his Gmail account. His tone and demeanor were really off-putting, so much so that just as an observer of the poor Genius doing his best to help him, I found myself wanting to just say, “Hey buddy, how about you dial back the attitude a bit and cut this kid some slack while he’s trying to help you?” Being raised in the South, however, I didn’t say that to one of my elders, although I did keep thinking it. Through it all, however, the Genius kept his happy Apple game face on, and never once reacted to the rudeness he was dealing with. And you know what? By the time Rude Old Guy left, his problem was solved, and he even had Reachability explained to him so he understood it was there to help him, not a problem with his iPhone. I’d like to think if this guy had been a customer of mine, I could’ve been as nice and patient as the Genius helping him.

The second involved a customer I’ll call Tech-Savvy Grandma. She walked in with a white plastic MacBook and said she was giving it to her grandson and would like to have it wiped and have a fresh OS put on it. I just checked and this model of MacBook was discontinued in 2011, and her’s could’ve been older than that. So there’s no way it was under active warranty. But this is where Apple really shines. The Genius (the one helping me, in fact) just nodded, asked her to confirm there was no data on the MacBook she needed, and went to work. He connected the MacBook to the Apple Store network via Ethernet (I assume they have to use USB/Thunderbolt adaptors for newer Mac laptops), did a NetBoot, and installed the latest version of OS X that supported that device. She left happy with service I know she couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

Will It Get Any Better?

I don’t know. I kinda doubt it. If Apple had remained just a computer company, this wouldn’t have happened. Of course, Apple might not have survived or at least thrived as it has on the basis of the Mac and iPod alone, so who knows? But given the truly enormous customer base the iPhone has, not to mention the iPad, and continued growth on the Mac side while the rest of the PC industry declines, I don’t know that Apple can fix this problem. I just know I came away from it feeling reluctant to risk returning to the Apple Store to ask for help unless I had no other option, and that is not how I want to feel about it, and I know that’s not what Apple wants its usually very happy customers willing to pay a premium for its awesome products to feel.

iPad Pro – Not For Me

I may end up regretting this, since some folks in my life revel in reminding me when I declare I’m not going to buy [name of Apple product] that I often later do purchase it, but I just don’t see the iPad Pro in my near future, and maybe ever.

That’s a screenshot of our university Apple Store pricing for the iPad Pro and accessories. As an aside, I think it’s hilarious that Apple knocks $50 off the price of a MacBook Air, but only $20 off the price of an iPad Pro, even though they basically cost the same amount of money.

There’s no way I would buy an iPad without AppleCare+, especially having endured the pain of dealing with a shattered screen on an iPad 4 without accidental damage coverage. So the least I could spend on an iPad Pro would be $1028 plus tax. Since I can’t see the point of going with something as large as the iPad without getting the accessories to make full use of it, at a minimum I’d need to add the Smart Keyboard for an extra $169, bringing the minimum to $1197. 

I can’t draw, but I do like to write notes and sometimes doodle, so that’s another $99, bringing the pre-tax total to $1296. And since the state of TN isn’t going to give it to me tax free (outside of tax-free weekend, but that was back in August), my real out-the-door total price would be $1,415.88.

If that makes sense to you for your use case, I am very happy for you. For me, if I’m going to spend $1400+ on a device, I’m going to need it to do more than an iPad currently can do for me. I own a 13″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display and love it, and I didn’t pay too much more for it than I would this iPad Pro.

I’m not sure who the iPad Pro is really for – artists maybe, or maybe folks who can live fully on an iPad but would like a bigger screen than the iPad Air 2 offers.  Even though it isn’t for me, I’m sure it will appeal to a lot of people, and I wish them well.

Apple TV 4th Generation – Early Impressions

 

This will not be an exhaustive review of the Apple TV.  If you’re looking for that, I suggest you read one of these:

Here are my early impressions of the new Apple TV. Full disclosure – I registered for and received an (essentially) free Apple TV through the Apple Developer Program, so I’m not coming at this from the perspective of someone who just spend $149 or more on the device. I also had the device for about a month before it came out, but considering the App Store wasn’t available until launch day, the Apple TV only served as an iTunes media extender for that period of time.

Unboxing & Setup – Some Good, Some Terrible

The out of box experience with the new Apple TV is a mixed bag. Of course it came packed in a box that made it seem like a Christmas present and of course it’s physically well-made and easy to connect – this is an Apple device, after all.

Powering the device on for the first time and setting it up with an iPhone (6S Plus in my case) via Bluetooth was outstanding, as it should be. The Apple TV sucked in my home network security information via my iPhone and connected to the Internet without a hitch. And that’s when the fun stopped.

First the Apple TV wanted my iCloud password. I’m not sure why since it had already magically gotten other information from my iPhone, but OK, maybe Apple means for it to be more secure. No way I’m going to willingly try to type my password on a remote, especially since my password isn’t short and simple, so off I go to the iOS App Store on my new 6S Plus to download the Remote app.  This app is awesome because it basically lets you use your iOS device’s keyboard when paired with the Apple TV and I’d used it with both the 2nd and 3rd generation Apple TV’s, so I was good to go, right? Wrong. The Remote app doesn’t work with the 4th generation Apple TV. No problem, I can also pair one of the many Apple Bluetooth keyboards to it just like I had on previous Apple TV’s, right? Wrong.

Here’s the interface you get to use while entering your (hopefully complex) iCloud password and any other password you may have to enter using the new Apple TV.

Have fun with that, I guess, if your password is complex, and especially if it jumps around on that crazy horizontal line for the alphabet. And if you happen to mistype your password, you get this.

So let’s review. Apple released the new Apple TV without support for Bluetooth keyboards, something previous generations supported, and did not update its own Remote app to work with the 4th generation Apple TV. This makes for a truly terrible and frustrating experience, and I can only imagine Tim Cook and Eddy Cue either have minions to do all this crap for them or have simple passwords. 

Major UI / user experience fail in my opinion.

The new Siri Remote – Not a Fan Yet

So i’m not a fan of the new remote, at least not yet. It’s too small for my hands, although it’s better than the old style that I never used anyway. While I suppose I will need to keep the remote handy if I want to take advantage of the integrated Siri functionality, that will be a bit of a pain as it will still be a secondary remote. On our main TV in the bedroom I have the following devices connected to a Sony soundbar and our 40″ TV:

  • Apple TV (4th Gen)
  • Roku 3
  • Tivo HD
  • Xbox One

I drive all that with a fairly middle of the road Logitech Harmony remote, which thankfully still works fine with the new Apple TV. Given that, I haven’t even picked up the Siri remote in a few days, and may only use it moving forward for apps/games that require the touch pad or to use Siri itself.

I will say I don’t find the touch pad to be particularly precise, although I’m willing to admit I haven’t put much time into using it or tuning my movements to whatever it requires. Still, swiping and clicking on an iPhone or iPad has never been something I could describe as imprecise.

What’s to Like – Apps

While I am pretty annoyed at the frustrating experience for entering passwords into the Apple TV and I’m still not used to the new remote, there is a good deal to like about the new Apple TV.

First of all, the device is much faster than my 3rd generation device. It’s doing more too, but even moving from app to app or app to video player, it feels so much quicker than previous Apple TV’s. Second, there are real apps now, not just those janky pseudo containers Apple worked with some companies to provide bland video experiences before.

While the app selection on launch day was fairly light, I was able to find a couple of gems on day one. Touchpress is an app that combines classical music, video of it being performed, and interesting visualizations like the notes falling onto a piano keyboard or an orchestra map with sections of instruments lighting up to the beat of the music. Star Walk Kids is a Apple TV version of the popular iPad kids astronomy app. Haven’t done a ton with it so far, but in the few minutes I showed it to our 3 year old, he really enjoyed it.

There is an enormous selection of games already, but I’m going to wait a bit before trying any of them. Mostly because I want to give it some time for the best ones to surface either via store reviews or review sites, but also because I can’t really see using the remote as a gaming controller.  Once I know there are several games I’ll like, I’ll check out reviews of Apple TV-compatible game controllers and buy one.

Siri – more than just a gimMick

To prepare to write this post, I played with Siri on the Apple TV. It does a number of the things we’re used to from Siri on the iPhone, so I’m not going to go into those.  What I will say, however, is that Siri is even better so far in actual use than I thought it would be based on the demo during the Apple event keynote a couple months ago.

I did a quick test, asking Siri to show me movies with Harrison Ford in them.  It did, with a list of movies scrolling off the screen. So I said, “just the action movies” and the list got smaller. Then I said, “from the last 10 years” and Siri showed me the ones from 2005 to 2015. Then I said, “Show me the ones from the last year” and there was only one left – Expendables 3. So that’s neat.

What’s even better, though, is that all of the voice controls for moving around during a video are not just limited to Apple’s video playing apps. I just bounced around a movie in Plex by just pressing Siri button on the remote and saying things like, “Jump ahead 5 minutes” or “What did he say?” and everything worked exactly as expected, either moving to the point in time I specified, or jumping back 15-20 seconds to replay what I had missed.

Plex – the killer app so far

I like Plex. I used to like it a lot more before the screwed their iOS app up so much that it transformed my 3 year old’s iPad from something he could use without any help from me into something that made no sense even to me. That’s a story for another time, though. I still have and use the Plex server, and for years, all I’ve really wanted was to be able to run Plex natively on my Apple TV without jailbreaking or any other hacking nonsense. Plex on the Roku 3 is great, and over time, the Roku 3 became my primary set-top box (we ditched cable nearly 5 years ago) – with my old Apple TV being relegated to playing only iTunes content and HBO NOW.

While I’ve shifted our family’s media consumption lately to include more iTunes content, which would make it easier to shift the new Apple TV into the primary slot, the fact that Plex is not only on Apple TV but the best implementation of the Plex client yet makes it a sure thing.

So Plex looks great, works well, and feels much faster on the new Apple TV than it does on my Roku 3. While I will likely continue to get kids shows for our son via iTunes so I can make sure he has a kid-friendly movies & tv interface, I will happily continue to rip my physical media and store it on my Synology NAS so it can be served up by Plex server to the TV’s in our house.

Apple TV 4th Generation – a mixed but hopeful bag

I’m looking forward to using the new Apple TV. For what it does well, I am very happy. For the terrible, and I mean atrociously bad setup and continued UI mess with entering passwords, I am very disappointed in Apple. They can do better, and I hope they do it soon by either updating the iOS Remote app or by enabling Bluetooth keyboard support for the new Apple TV.

I’ll say again that I got this Apple TV via the Developer Program, so I only paid $1 for it. Would I pay $149 or more for one right now? Probably, although I’d be even more mad about the password nonsense. I will likely buy a second one to replace the Roku 3 on our living room TV at some point, mainly so our son would be able to watch Paw Patrol on either of our TV’s.

 

New Blog, New Platform, New Challenge

I’ve wanted to reboot my blog for a while now and the timing for the #vDM30in30 challenge couldn’t be better. I participated last year and had a great, if somewhat stressful time completing the challenge, so why not add some spice to the holiday season this year, right?

Just like last year, I’ll be distributing my writing across (at least) two blogs – this one and my food blog, Geek Food Critic. I’ll keep the food stuff there and everything else here.

Topics I have in mind right now for either blog:

  1. My review of the new Apple TV
  2. My experience as a new Giganto Phone User (iPhone 6S Plus)
  3. A truly terrible experience at the Apple Store
  4. Thoughts on Dell World 2015
  5. Upgrading SCCM 2012R2 to the latest Cumulative Update
  6. A review of The Salt Lick, a BBQ restaurant
  7. A look back at our first year using Zoom video conferencing service

I’m sure there will be more, especially once I look at the backlog of food and tech posts I’ve meant to write for a while.

So why the blog reboot?

Good question. I started Single Malt Cloud in June of 2011 because I wanted to document a large VDI project I was spearheading and also (I thought) our university’s “journey to the cloud” – whatever the heck I thought that really meant at the time. I enjoyed writing about VDI and related technologies for quite a while, but I’m not working directly in that arena anymore. Over time I branched out and wrote about other topics, including consumer technology, IT conferences, my favorite podcasts – you name it. But it always seemed a little odd to be writing about that stuff on that blog.

The other reason is I was recently asked by a colleague what my blog name meant, and why it was named “Single Malt Cloud” and I realized two very important things:

  1. There was no reason for him or anyone else to “get” the little play on words I thought was so clever when I registered that domain name late one night, and explaining it stopped being fun a long time ago.
  2. I’m a father now, and while I am far from a prude, if I’m still blogging when my 3 year old son is old enough to read something his dad writes on the web … well, I’d rather it be under my name (or as close as possible given domain-squatting jerks), not a blog with a type of whiskey in the name.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the content over at SMC. I’m paid up through WordPress.com for a year, and it all lives at a free blog underneath the domain redirect anyway. I may leave all or most of the content there, or I may selectively pull some posts over here for continuity’s sake.

I’m trying out Squarespace for real this time. I’ve done a 30 day trial before and wasn’t pleased with the way mass imports from WordPress worked and I also didn’t like the idea of having to pay for an account for every domain on which I might want to host a blog, instead of just directing a domain to a subfolder on one account. That doesn’t bother me so much anymore, because as the father of a 3 year old I don’t have enough time to actively write for more than 1 or 2 blogs anyway. I’ve also played with podcasting a bit over the last year, and I like what my Twitter pal Keith Townsend has down with his CTO Chat podcast at Squarespace.

So that’s why I’m rebooting the blog, why I’m building it here, and what I’m doing for the first 30 (now 28) days. Wish me luck!

 

This is post #1 in the 2015 #vDM30in30 Blog Challenge