2 October 2006

Apple: the saga never ends

I’ve had—and am having—a really enjoyable experience with Apple support over the last month-plus. Here’s the low-down:

On August 16, my iBook G4 inexplicably begins to kernel panic, even when I attempt to start up from my OS install CD. After backing up as much data as I can between random kernel panics, the next day I bring the thing to the nearest Apple Store to get it fixed. Apple returns the iBook on August 23, having replaced the logic board—its fourth in three years—and some other stuff. My in-laws pick it up and bring it to the hospital on Friday so that I can organize all the great pictures of Zora, our new baby.

Over the next few days, the computer seems stable, though occasionally it seems to crash for no good reason. I do everything I can to diagnose the problem, finding none, although the symptoms continue to get worse: at random times, the screen would go black, and the iBook would become unresponsive unless I forced a restart. I bring it to the Apple Store on September 6, and they discover that the hard drive is in the early stages of failure. They ship it out, telling me that I can expect it back within seven to ten days.

I wait. And grow impatient around September 20. My impatience became closer to anger when I learned that the Apple Store didn’t even ship my iBook until Septemer 12.

After several phone calls trying to find out what’s going on with the repairs—Apple’s user-unfriendly repair status web page only informs me that repairs are “in progress”—I finally get the machine back on September 25. (So much for 7–10 days!)

The same day, I begin to restore my data to the new hard drive. During an OS upgrade, the problem that the hard drive replacement was supposed to fix shows up again. I call AppleCare directly and spend 45 minutes on the phone with a friendly, if flummoxed support person. During our conversation, the problem happens again several times.

The AppleCare representative transfers me to an “iBook hardware specialist” to resolve my problem. The iBook “specialist” attempts to blame my hardware problems on the RAM I installed and tells me to return it to its factory specifications. The problem seems to go away, and he tells me to call back if the problem returns. We end the conversation with me feeling like I’m getting the runaround and him (probably) happy that he avoided yet another repair on a machine whose extended warranty is just over two months away from expiration.

The next morning, I begin to work, hoping that the computer won’t crash as I attempt to get caught up with exam statements that are due in two weeks, a stagnating dissertation proposal, and some other outstanding projects. The iBook works fine for about two hours; then, within the span of fifteen minutes, the problem happens twice, again at random. I’m walking distance from the Apple Store in downtown Chicago, so I schedule an appointment at their Genius Bar and return to working by pencil and paper.

At my appointment with the Apple Genius, he notes that the iBook had undergone several repairs and that the machine has some impossible-to-diagnose hardware problem. He says that the iBook looks like it’s eligible for replacement—Apple would send me a brand new machine. I feel relieved, fill out the paperwork that he gives me, and say goodbye to my iBook, which served me pretty well during its first year of existence but has otherwise given me at least one hardware failure every six months. The replacement authorization, which would be filed on Wednesday, should take just a couple of days, according to the Genius.

So: Yesterday, I check Apple’s horrible repair status page, to find no record of the replacement request. I call the Apple Store directly, and the person I speak with informs me that the replacement machine should be in today.

Today (10/2): I check the repair site again, and find a “status unknown” message associated with my old iBook. I call the Apple Store, and they inform me that the machine won’t be in until the end of the week.

I’ll update this post as I get more information. At this point, though, I feel like I’ve been ignored by Apple; the quality issues I’ve experienced with the iBook—3 logic board replacements, 3 casings, 2 optical drives, and 2 hard drives—and the tremendous runaround I’ve been getting from AppleCare near the end of my extended warranty make me loath to recommend Apple’s machines to my friends and family, even though I’ve otherwise been a happy user of Apple products for around 20 years.

This couldn’t come at a worse time for me—my files are on an external drive, but I have no way to connect to it until I get my replacement—and deadlines are coming so quickly that I’m using the unreliable method of “memorial reconstruction” to get things done.

Normally I don’t like to complain on this site—or at least to this degree—but I’ve had it with this situation and am sick of stewing.

In other news, sorry for the lack of posts: I’m not teaching this semester, and updating the site has been far from my mind. Zora, Erica, and I are well and enjoying life as a family. Maybe soon I can get back to my usual routine.

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