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Why Apple computers suck for business

Liverpool Apple StoreI've been using macs in my business for some years now but the shortcomings of Apple's offering were never clear to me until last week when my iMac hard disk died. It's my main business machine and while my data was safely on external drives I still needed a powerful computer to actually do my job (mainly video production). I've had 2 iMacs and both have had internal hard disks die within 2 years of purchase. On the first iMac I fixed it myself - I'm originally a pc guy so I thought 'how hard can it be?'. Silly me. I got it done but for my next iMac, my current one, I bought AppleCare thinking it would be easier to get Apple to take care of any problems. I was very wrong. 

First of all I booked a genius bar appointment at my nearest store which is not all that near to be honest, in the Trafford centre in Manchester. I drove up there (40 mins drive) and they confirmed what I already knew - SMART was reporting that the disk was failing. They told me they didn't have the part in stock and that it would take 5-7 days to get the work done. Not good - I have customers waiting on me to deliver. So we called around and found that the Liverpool One store had the part in stock. Ok I say, let's go. It's another long drive and Liverpool traffic is a bitch but finally I get there and I'm politely dealt with - even being taken up to the inconveniently located genius bar in the staff lift because I'm carrying an extremely heavy and sharp edged 27" iMac. No surprises - they can't fix it there and then. 3-5 days I'm told.  Disappointing when you consider they have the part, the tools and my computer all in the same place. It crosses my mind that if they'd give me some desk space I could just do it myself. But no, I am well behaved and I go home. Another long drive in heavy traffic - nearly 2 hours. I hate to think how much I've spent in petrol up to his point. Nearly as much as the cost of a new hard drive. Considerably more if you factor in the cost to the environment and a whole day of my time. 

I leave the Apple guys alone for the whole of the next day, Tuesday, only occasionally looking at my empty desk and fretting about the lost work time. But on Wednesday the lack of productivity and a weird sense of responsibility towards my customers forces me to call Liverpool to ask where they're up to with my machine. You have.. 5.. calls ahead of you in the queue. The girl who eventually answers is polite but resolute in her unwillingness to give me any idea when the work will be complete. Her best estimate is the same 3-5 days I was originally told. Here's the thing, though. When I was told that, I was hoping Apple liked to under promise and over deliver. I needed my computer and I needed it NOW. I literally had nothing I could do without it except hassle the Apple store folks. So that's what I did. After being cut off and calling again (you have.. 4.. calls ahead of you in the queue) I speak to the same lady and she tells me that she's spoken to the staff the back and my computer will be fixed today. Great! I tell her I'm driving up and I'll wait in the store until it's done. Yes I know that's going to put pressure on the store staff. That's the idea.

So I make the long drive to Liverpool again.. More petrol, another lost day of productivity, more high blood pressure. And I deal with the guys in the store. The chap running the genius bar is annoyed with me but keeps his cool and after some cajoling he nudges the guys in the back.  They promise they're now working on it. I drink coffee in Starbucks - getting out of his hair for 30 mins is my little reward to him for his compliance. Eventually I go back to the store and almost another hour later my computer is brought out. I force a smile, thank the staff for putting up with me and head home. It's another long drive and I arrive only just in time to pick up the kids from nursery. Another day is lost and all of that night and half of the next day will be taken up reinstalling but at least my destiny is back in my own hands. I resolve never to give away that control again. 

So here's the problem. Apple are rightly proud of their customer service. The staff interpersonal skills are superb. That makes dealing with Apple a very smooth ride but where the rubber meets the road is getting the damn computer fixed. Apple performs very poorly indeed on this point. What matters to me as a business when my computer has failed, especially when I've paid extra for AppleCare (my colleague jokingly suggested that perhaps I'd inadvertently purchased AppleDontCare) is that my computer is fixed fast so I can get back to work. 

I lost most of Sunday, all of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and half of Thursday to this failure and it was only that quick because I bothered and cajoled the Apple staff. If I'd not done so I would have waited even longer. I also paid a crap ton of money in petrol and invested a lot of my own time driving around. Compare this experience with how I would have handled this failure in a PC. All I would have done there is driven to PC World, overpaid for a new SATA drive and then replaced it myself. Total lost time - 1 day tops. Even with AppleCare paying for the drive and the manpower this was much more expensive than simply swapping a drive in a PC. 

Consider that business proposition again - if I had a PC I would have paid less for the computer, less for the drive, less for the petrol and I would have been back to work in 1 day instead of 4. Tell me again how great your premium price Apple solution is?

What I've described here isn't extraordinary - a disk died, they replaced it. Nothing went wrong particularly aside from the disk itself. If anything they went faster than they typically would - because I nagged them. And yet I still consider their performance apalling. Apple don't seem to be aware of what matters to business. Paying extra for AppleCare gets you no special treatment. They don't appear to have anything like the necessary infrastructure for repairing stuff quickly and getting businesses back to work. As a result I'm considering switching away from Final Cut and onto to Premiere so that I can use PCs again. Premiere is way too expensive but the overall risk to my business is considerably less than sticking with Apple.