Three weeks ago, my 15-month old 12" PowerBook began having problems. I experienced my first system crash in which the entire machine stopped functioning, not just a wayward application. This occurred 4-5 times over the next couple of days and since it was accompanied by odd sounds coming from the harddrive, I decided to have it checked out.
We are blessed to have two Apple Stores within about 30 minutes, so I took off for the one I am most familiar with - Willow Bend. Before I left, I took advantage of the handy feature Apple offers where you can get in line, virtually of course, at the Genius Bar even before you arrive.
I arrived at the store and my name was listed on the beautiful store screens as the third person in line. I found a spot near the Genius Bar and just observed for about 10 minutes as I waited.
It quickly became obvious that the original Genius Bar concept does not scale. The support desk was not built to handle millions upon millions of iPod users. As Apple's sales have increased over the past year, I'm sure they are struggling just to keep up with their computer customers, but iPod buyers are overwhelming the system. Most people see the Genius Bar (specifically not called Support Desk or Technical Support) as a friendly, free place to get your questions answered. The store I was in (during the middle of a work day, no less) had two competing groups of users: those with expensive machines with major problems (why else would you go to the inconvenience of bringing it in) and people with very quick questions about very minor inconveniences. Let's face it, going without your iPod for a week is a bummer; going without your computer for a week is a major problem.
Unfortunately, they are all waiting in the same queue.
My two suggestions: First, Apple needs to have someone who greets people before they reach the Genius Bar, someone who can explain that there is indeed a line for a support even though you can't see it, can answer very basic questions and perform simple triage. Many customers simply walk up to the counter and start explaining their issue (a reasonable idea) only to be told that there are 10 people ahead of them and it will be approximately 90 minutes before they can get help. They generally walk away feeling both stupid and frustrated.
Second, Apple should seriously consider providing a separate area dedicated to iPod support.
Moving on...since I was somewhat familiar with the process, my experience was generally positive. I only waited about 10 minutes and was helped by a very knowledgeable person. We performed some tests (they do a good job of involving the customer in the process) and determined that the harddrive was in the process of failing. The recommended solution was to replace the harddrive. Unfortunately, the machine was no longer under warranty and they were going to charge what can only be called Apple prices to repair it. Having no desire to investigate other solutions and, of course, trusting Apple, I left it without hesitation.
It has now been two weeks and the machine is still at my local Apple Store. There were only three steps in the repair process: order a harddrive, install it, and move the existing data. The new harddrive arrived nearly a week ago and still the PowerBook sits there, awaiting its turn. The original estimation was 5-7 days.
During these two weeks, I have had a couple of unsatisfying experiences. I first called the store after four days because I was told when I dropped it off that they may have a harddrive in stock, which would reduce the repair time. The person I spoke with suggested I was being impatient by calling so soon, since the estimate was five to seven days.
I tried to track my repair status online without success. I called the 800 number and was told that you can't track in-store repairs online. I called the store and, you guessed it, was told I really should check online (you can, in fact, track in-store repairs online, if you have your secret-encoder ring on). Since the harddrive arrived, the only estimate has been, "Well, there are a lot of people ahead of you. It's going to take awhile to get to it."
Now, I'm extremely blessed to have access to other machines, so this has not caused a significant disruption in my day-to-day activities, but I'm amazed at Apple's casual approach to this. I'm confident that for the majority of people, and they have no reason to not include me in that group, going without a computer for 2+ weeks is a significant problem. My assumption is that Pro customers and warranty customers take priority over losers like me with 15-month old equipment, but I was certainly not told when I dropped it off that my machine will always have the lowest possible priority.
Hopefully, I will get a call this week letting me know the machine is ready. I'm still unsure of the lesson involved - it's either always purchase 2-years of AppleCare or buy a Dell.