Apple Pro Users in 2019—a Cautionary Tale

Look, a few members of the 1% about to get even richer. Doesn’t it warm the heart?

Look, a few members of the 1% about to get even richer. Doesn’t it warm the heart?

Apple Pro Users in 2019—a Cautionary Tale

Apple has been at best, a reluctant participant in the product market for creative professionals practically since the first iPhone’s release. Everyone is well aware of this, no real news here. Nonetheless, we continue to use the scraps they throw us for two reasons—

1. A lack of viable alternative (debatable, but this is my opinion).

2. And at this point, many media professionals are so dug into the Apple ecosystem that an extraction would be an excessively painful process.

With the March 2019 keynote, the company that once catered almost exclusively to creatives and education is essentially a consumer products company and now among other things, is additionally a bank, a content studio, an OTT video platform, a game developer, and trying very hard to elbow out any competitor in the already stiflingly crowded streaming media space.

So where do photographers, videographers, editors, colorists, audio engineers, graphic designers, et. al., fit into the Apple products and services paradigm in 2019? An afterthought at best. Despite Tim Cook’s continual lip service, where’s the new Mac Pro? Probably not going to happen when they can sell a lot more 5k iMac Pro’s cheaper at a higher margin because it requires less engineering, is easier to manufacture, and has a much larger market than a refreshed Mac Pro Desktop. Not saying we’ll never see another one but it’s been 7 years since the launch of the Trash Can. You’d be a fool to buy one new at this point unless your machine failed and you had no other choice.

This leads me to a short(ish) anecdote from a recent “professional” purchase.

Granted, I’m hardly what you’d call a Mac Power User these days. I’m not crunching dailies in Resolve anymore or using a laptop as a nerve center in a complicated DIT cart. I mostly do photo processing in Lightroom (in conjunction with an Eizo 4K ColorEdge monitor and Pusher Labs PFixer for keyboard mapping) as well as a lot of metadata analysis, colorspace testing, tweaking, and trying to break images. My computational needs are comparatively small and yet I still require what would be considered a professional machine.

Early this year my 2015 MBP shit the bed so I ordered a maxed out 2019 MacBook Pro complete with Touch Bar. Yes, I’m part of the small minority that actually likes this peculiar feature, emojis and all.

Because this was not an off-the-warehouse-shelf computer, it had to be custom built. I ordered online mid-January and there was about a 2 week lead time, with pick up at the Apple Store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn 1/30.

1/29 I received the computer, took it home, started plugging things in and immediately noticed the USB-C bus on the right side of the machine was dead. I took it back to the store where the Genius Bar confirmed that not only was right-side bus unresponsive but there were electrical problems on the logic board and that the machine, while mostly functional now, would likely be dead within the year.

What? A brand new expensive ass, custom built MBP, D.O.A.? That’s a first. For me anyway.

Ok, so how do we make this right?

Because I ordered online, the return needed to be handled through the Online Store. This is where I learned in painful detail the massive disconnect between the online and physical stores. They’re presented as a seamless entity but are in fact, operate like separate companies which in practice means exactly what you might think—total lack of inter-company communication, coordination, and logistics.

The next morning, I got on the phone with a nonchalant young gentleman in Cupertino, an “Apple Online Specialist.” I explained that I can’t be without a machine for 2 weeks while they build me a new one. He assured me that I have two weeks to exchange and that the replacement had already been ordered and would be in the Williamsburg Apple Store the day before the deadline for exchange. Seemed cutting it a little close but I had his assurance that this would leave me with a machine for the next few weeks while the new one was on its way. Done deal. Out of mind.

Cut to the day before my computer was supposed to arrive in the store. I checked my order status online and saw that it’s on hold because Apple never received the defective machine. What? I called the Apple Store in Williamsburg, spoke with several managers—no one had any idea what’s going on with this case. No record of anything other than their diagnostic results which were forwarded to corporate but then as I learned, hit a brick wall. This despite being assured by the online specialist that the store would be alerted that the replacement machine was on its way and that it would be as easy as, “Handing them the old one and walking out with the new one.” This guy was way too loopy and casual. Should have been the first red flag.

Went back home and did an online chat with another online specialist. I opted for the chat so that I would have a text record of the conversation this time. She told me the exact opposite of what the first specialist told me in that Apple can’t initiate the exchange until they receive the defective product. She said she had some good news though and that my replacement machine was already at the store in Williamsburg. Great, right?! I then told her that once again she was telling me the exact opposite of what the store had just told me. They know nothing and told me to contact you. Another dead end.

The 2 week return window had already lapsed by now and somewhere in the endless back and forth between the store and the online people (honestly don’t remember who), someone was nice enough to extend it for another two weeks because my order had gotten so completely fucked up. At least I wasn’t stuck with a machine that was going to die in a year now. Hooray.

I called the store back once again, this time barely able to contain my rage, talked to more managers who were very professional and apologetic but were effectively useless. I eventually was able to speak with the store manager who tracked my computer down to a warehouse somewhere in Pennsylvania. “That’s great news, right?! Because as soon as Apple gets your machine back, you’ll have the new one in a few days.” Unfortunately, this too proved to be inaccurate, at least as far as Apple’s order tracking system went because as soon as I initiated the machine had been sent back, it gave me a pick up date of March 18. Exactly 3 weeks lead time indicating that the machine had yet to be built. More than the first time! Needless to say, I was losing patience. That would have been almost the entire first quarter dealing with this mess.

Fortunately, at this point I had one whole day left to get it in the mail so I scrambled to FedEx, slapped the label on, and wiped my hands of it.

A few days later I get an email from Apple saying they had received the defective machine but due to an unexpected delay, my purchase will be available for in-store pick up March 8. Wait, I thought it was March 18?

My question at this point was, “Does anyone at Apple have a fucking clue as to what’s up with my computer?”

It ended up randomly showing up at the store on March 5, a pleasant surprise (maybe it really was in PA) so I was only without a computer for a little over a week. Not the end of the world but like I kept telling them, what if I was a freelance photo retoucher or graphic designer? I can’t do my work without a computer, so what am I supposed to do? You’re telling me it’s going to be 3 weeks before I have my computer, so what am to do, sit on the couch and go broke? 3 weeks without work can be financially devastating for many freelancers. I am not a freelancer anymore but was one for 12 years so advocate on their behalf whenever I can. Again, a lot of lip service and sympathy from them but mostly just confusion and internal miscommunication. Disappointing for such a respected brand with a long track record of at least acceptable customer service.

I guess the long winded moral of this story is Apple’s customer service is about as professional as the “professional” products they supposedly make. This was one of the most time consuming, irritating, and inconvenient experiences I’ve dealt with in ages. The first build of the pro machine was broken right of the box and from the original order date to having a fully functional computer took almost two full months and endless headaches along the way. To their credit, everyone I dealt with was extremely apologetic but I’m sorry, that’s totally unacceptable. They did give me a free battery case for my iPhone XS for the trouble though. How nice.

My advice to anyone who ever has this problem is don’t bother talking on the phone or in-person with anyone. No one knows what’s going on. Instead opt for the online chat with a specialist and them have them email you a transcript of the conversation so you’ll have a record of what was said and when.

Upon publishing this, I’ve already heard from several people with similar horror stories. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

Rant out.