Bellyin’ up to the Genius Bar

The power adapter for my MacBook Pro shorted out at the MagSafe connector yesterday. It was not a spectacular failure, but it did involve a wisp or two of smoke and a blackened hole in the insulation behind the plug. Time to get Apple to replace it, which brings us to the topic of Apple’s Genius Bar:

The Genius Bar

If you’ve never been to an Apple Store, the Genius Bar is where you take your Mac or iPod when it is misbehaving. The friendly (and uniformly young/hip/gen-Y) technicians will examine your machine, answer your questions, and run some diagnostic software to see what’s troubling it. It’s a busy place, and you have to make an appointment and get in line to see an Apple Genius. You can make an appointment via Apple’s website before you leave for the Store, or you can do it in the Store on one of the (surprise) Macs on the retail floor. Your name and place in the waiting list is then displayed prominently on one of several large plasma displays in the Genius Bar area.

This should clue you that This Is Going To Take A While.

Most problems with recent Macs arriving at the Genius Bar seem to fall into one of two categories: pilot error and abject hardware failure. The Genius Bar is ideal for the former, since it would seem that Geniuses’ education covers not only the technical workings of Macs, but also how to politely educate misguided Mac users. The educational process takes some time as the question and answer session between Genius and user moves from the original issue to unrelated topics. And why shouldn’t it? After all, when one has waited for three-quarters of an hour for an audience with a Genius, one wants to take full advantage.

Actual hardware failure is more problematical, since there’s little that a Genius can do on a retail floor to fix a hardware problem short of swapping the broken unit for a new one (a rare occurrence). Typically the customer is told to leave the computer, which is then returned to Apple for repair.

The trouble with the concept of the Genius Bar is that there’s no mechanism to prioritize the appointments based on difficulty. While I’m not a Certified Apple Technician, I’ve been disassembling Macintosh computers since the Mac 512, and have had the pleasure of completely disassembling a TiBook, white iBook G4, and more recently the aforementioned MacBook Pro (to install a larger hard drive). So I have a pretty good idea going in of how long a diagnostic session will take.

Let’s see — your computer won’t boot and the hard disk is making a clicking or grinding sound… your drive is toast. Ship it back to Apple for HD replacement. Diagnosis time: 8 minutes.

Your desktop randomly crashes after you’ve approved an automatic System Update… re-format the hard disk and reinstall OSX (hope you’ve backed up your data). Diagnosis time: 15 minutes.

Your Powerbook’s display flickers and shows horizontal lines, especially when you tilt it… the video wiring harness is failing. Ship it back to Apple for screen replacement. Diagnosis time: 10 minutes.

Your MagSafe adapter nearly caught fire… swap it for a new one under warranty. Diagnosis time: 30 seconds.

Of course the first three will include a fair amount of extra time for whining as the customer realizes that he or she will be without the computer (or the data!) for a week or two. But the last example clearly does not.

Why does the appointment procedure not require a brief description of the trouble, allowing appointments to be prioritized by estimated time and difficulty? More directly, why was it necessary for me to wait 45 minutes to swap out a toasted power adapter?

C’mon guys.