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photos by Lara Shipley

Dammit, Apple

June 2nd, 2008 · 7 Comments

So, I know I’ve bitched about this before, but here’s a familiar scenario that’s starting to annoy me:

(1) Some minor physical problem afflicts my portable device—the kind of thing that just happens sooner or later when you’re carting around something meant to be used on the go. In this case, the top button on my iPhone had gotten jammed in, rendering it nonfunctional and making the phone refuse to boot normally unless plugged in.

(2) I make a pro forma trip to the putative “Genius Bar” at an Apple Store out in Virginia.  Naturally, they inform me that since this doesn’t appear to be the result of an internal defect, it’s not covered. But they’ll be only too happy to service/replace it for something like $250, at which price I might as well just buy a new one.  This is more or less what I expected, but I figure I have to at least give it a shot before tinkering with it myself.

(3) I ask the guy if he has any tips if I’m going to do it myself—any advice on opening it, that sort of thing. He’s got no idea.  I head back.  Round trip, door to door, a little over an hour.

(4) Pulling out a couple of tiny screwdrivers, I start in on the satanic puzzlebox casing Apple locks around all its hardware.  I futz with it for at least 15 minutes before cracking the top enough to get at the inner works.

(5) Once this is done, it takes approximately five seconds to execute the necessary repair by unwedging the jammed button.

I have two main problems with this. First, you’ve got what’s obviously a simple physical problem that can very probably be repaired in all of a minute flat with the right set of tools. But instead of letting their vaunted support guys give this a shot, they’re encouraging customers—many of whom presumably don’t know any better—to shell out a ludicrous amount of money to replace it and send the old one in. I appreciate that it’s not always obvious that a problem can be this easily remedied on site, but in the instance, it really seems like a case of exploiting consumer ignorance.

Second, the iPhone itself is pointlessly designed to deter self service. Sure, the large majority of users are never going to want to crack their phone open. Then again, most users probably don’t want to crack their desktops or laptops open, but we don’t expect manufacturers to go out of their way to make it difficult to do. Again, in the instance, this was 15 minutes screwing with the case for a problem that took literally seconds to fix. In a previous instance with the iPod, it was about the same amount of case-wrangling time and took maybe five minutes to fix. Is there really no way to make the internals more accessible without compromising the seamless UFO look? Because this looks suspiciously like another element of the whole “get consumers to shell out absurd sums to fix trivial problems” revenue model.

Tags: Tech and Tech Policy



7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Franklin Harris // Jun 3, 2008 at 12:16 am

    Based on the streams of profanity I heard when a friend of mine was performing brain surgery on her iBook, I’d say Apple’s computers are no better.

    Mac products are designed for people who want ease of use. Ease of use seems to imply not letting you fix anything when it breaks because it’s easier to just buy a new one.

  • 2 Wilson // Jun 3, 2008 at 10:57 am

    You’re absolutely correct on this one Julian, I’ve been through the exact same situation myself with my iPod nano. It’s pretty astonishing, because many people would trade it in under those circumstances.

    But I wonder if there is any company that produces high technology that lets their internal repair guys take a look at this type of problem at low cost? I doubt it. I don’t think this is an Apple problem. Could this be a problem with liability?

  • 3 Charles // Jun 4, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Between Apple and those GD kids on your lawn, you’re the crankmaster general.

  • 4 Wanderso // Jun 15, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    This has actually always been a part of Apple’s business model. Back in the day when I was a kid and Apple Computers were some of the first computers that had graphical user interfaces, you had to buy special tools sold illicitly in the backs of magazines to open the hermetically sealed cases.

    This is one of the reasons for Make Magazine’s motto, “If You Can’t Open It, You Don’t Own It.”

    (Google yourself up a copy of In The Beginning… Was The Command Line if you’re vaguely interested in this.)

  • 5 Eric H // Aug 7, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Good points on fixability.

    I recently read comments in a forum that went like this: “Apple’s service is great! Much better than Dell. [Sheesh, the thing costs 4x the Dell, the support better be good]

    “Why, my Macbook broke 8 times in the first year alone [really!], and they happily fixed it FOR FREE every single time. I love my Mac and APPLE’S SUPPORT IS THE BEST!!!”

    What can you think after something like that except, “Oh yeah!” (the Kool-Aid tagline).

    On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect LG or any other high tech phone company to do much better, and I do really like my wife’s iPhone better than this Crackberry POS.

  • 6 Center for a Stateless Society » Right-to-Repair Activists are Heroes – An Outsider's Sojourn II // Aug 24, 2016 at 9:12 am

    […] his iPhone and unjam a button, rather than take the Genius Bar’s advice and replace it for $250 (“Dammit, Apple,” June 2, 2008). Closer to home, my sister recently paid $200 just to have a technician run […]

  • 7 Right-to-Repair Activists are Heroes | P2P Foundation // Sep 10, 2016 at 6:04 am

    […] iPhone and unjam a button, rather than take the Genius Bar’s advice and replace it for $250 (“Dammit, Apple,” June 2, 2008). Closer to home, my sister recently paid $200 just to have a technician run […]