I admit it: I’m addicted to my iPod Touch. I love having a tiny computer in my pocket. I love having the ability to check baseball scores, surf the net, watch YouTube videos, monitor my e-mail, plus listen to music and watch video any time I want. If I’m bored, I can fire up a game of Fruit Ninja and I’m good.
A couple of weeks ago, I awoke to find my beloved iPod dead. It wouldn’t turn on at all. The battery was at 75 percent the night before, so I was surprised, but not alarmed. I figured the battery had drained overnight. No big deal. I plugged it in to charge, took my shower, got dressed for work. But when I went to grab the iPod, it wasn’t charging. It was still dead, though now hotter than blazes from being on the charger for the past hour.
I tried charging it in the car and at work. No dice. It wouldn’t do anything. It was a brick. The computer didn’t even recognize that anything had been plugged in. Heartbroken and frantic, I went online. I googled. And googled. And I found that I wasn’t alone…the web is teeming with iPod Touch issues. And no solutions that I could find.
So I checked Apple’s website. I tried everything it suggested. Still no luck.
I’ve heard for years the talk of Apple’s legendary customer service, so I figured I’d give it a try. Maybe call someone, find out if it’s a known issue with a quick fix. But after logging in, I was informed my iPod was no longer under warranty. A phone call from a “Genius” (the supposedly know-it-all help desk folks) would cost me $29 — not to fix the problem, but for the phone call itself. That’s $30 just to talk to someone, with no guarantee that they can help at all.
No thank you. I decided to go to the local Apple store and talk to a real-live “Genius.” It’s not far from my office, so I figured I’d drop by on my way home from work. I talked to a polite young man who informed me I had two options: Wait an hour and a half for the next appointment or schedule an appointment for later. Now, all I wanted was for someone to listen to the symptoms and tell me whether it was fixable. But, alas, they wouldn’t talk to me unless I waited or scheduled an appointment. I left.
On Monday I made an appointment. I got there early, and again was met by a nice young man. As I expected, the appointment lasted fewer than five minutes. He plugged the iPod in. He shined a flashlight into the ports. He cleaned the ports and plugged it back in again. The verdict?
“It’s fried,” he said. “We can’t do anything with it.”
He told me the problem is not uncommon. And since it’s three months outside the warranty, he offered me two choices: I could buy a used one for $100 or I could buy a new one, and they’d happily give me 10 percent off.
Ten percent? My iPod Touch is the 16 gb model, which Apple no longer makes. If I buy a new one, I can get the 8 gb version for $199 or the 32 gb for $299. So I save either $20 or $30 — a small (very small) attempt to make up for a product that failed long before what I considered life expectancy. I told him I’d think it over. See…I’m not about to spend $300 on a device I know will be outdated this fall, when I expect Apple to release a new iPod Touch that comes with a camera or two and supports all the bells and whistles of the new iPhone.
I also remembered that the iPod was a gift from my parents, who wisely purchased it with an extended warranty from the store (not Apple). I made a couple of phone calls and was put in touch with a CSR. She took down some information, but couldn’t find a record of my warranty. What she said next, though, surprised me.
“I’m sending you a UPS label,” she said. “Just send the iPod in and we’ll have it back in seven to 10 days.”
“I’m sorry…what?,” I asked. “I thought you didn’t have any record that I have a warranty.”
“That’s okay,” she answered. “We’ll take your word for it.”
“So…I send it to you and you tell me what it will cost to fix it?”
“No. You send it to us and we send it back when it’s fixed.”
At that point, it seemed like my last best hope. So I mailed it in, free of charge. Four days later, it was returned. I plugged it in. It came on, charged up and worked…almost.
I noticed trouble connecting to WiFi, and the battery seemed to be draining quickly. The next day, I called a number they’d provided. They didn’t put me on with a CSR this time…they put me on with the guy who actually did the work. We chatted briefly and agreed I’ll send the iPod back. His promise? He’ll have it in perfect working order before I get it back again. But he told me a lot more than that.
He told me he’s surprised at the number of iPods he fixes after Apple Geniuses tell customers they’re beyond repair. In one such recent case, and Apple Genius told a customer they’d need a new iPod because music would only play through one side of the headphones. Corey fixed it in minutes, just by soldering the headphone jack.
So here’s what I learned about the Genius Bar: It’s a sham. Apple Geniuses aren’t really there to fix your problems. They’re certainly not real technicians who, as Apple claims, know your product inside and out. In fact, they’re the Apple equivalent of the Geek Squad. And their goal is to fix your issue by selling you something else. Sure, while I was at the Apple store, another Genius was helping an older man sync his iPod with iTunes and led him through the process. But that’s simplistic help. It isn’t the line we’ve been sold.
Apple’s customer service model is pretty easy to dissect: It’s based on marketing, not talent. Like Best Buy, Apple markets Geniuses as highly trained technicians who can help with any problem. If you’re under warranty, that’s easy — they give you a new one. If you aren’t under warranty, that’s easy too — they tell you to buy a new one. There’s nothing technical about that. But people leave the Apple store feeling content anyway. Why? Because they believe they had no choice but to spend $300 on a new iPod. A Genius told them that was the only solution.
In my case, the Genius was either lying or flat-out wrong. Not only was the iPod not fried and not beyond repair, it only needed one simple part — a battery. Apparently, that simple fix took more than a Genius to figure out.