Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Genius Bar

I am going to give you my feedback about my recent visit to the Genius Bar, but you need to know something right off the bat. None of those people in the picture look anything like the people who work at the Genius Bar we visited. In our determination to get our two MacBooks working again, we had plenty of time to observe the geniuses at the bar (and, yes, "genius" is the job title Apple has given them).

While I am sure they are all very nice people - and certainly the guy we ended up with is - I don't think Central Casting could have done a better job of getting the cast ready for Revenge of the Nerds, Part 14. It was quite amazing to see the variety of looks. Although each person was quite different from the others, somehow they all had managed through haircut, facial hair and clothing to convey to the world that yes, indeed, they are geeks and proud of it.

But that was all a distraction to the main reason we were there. Our Macs wouldn't start and we wanted them fixed.

The main problem this night was that lots of people's Macs weren't working, and at one point probably a third of the people in the store were unhappy Mac users hanging around (and around and around) near the Genius Bar. It's an interesting phenomenon. From the outside, and even from just inside the doors, the Apple Store looks incredibly busy. But if any customer were to actually pay attention to what is going on, they would soon realize that most of the people aren't really looking at new products to buy but were hanging onto old ones to fix.

(And in hindsight it probably wasn't a great idea to have two tables at the front of the store full of iPhone 4s, since no one was looking at them following their well publicized performance problems. That had the effect of dividing the store into thirds: potential customers stood in the middle third, sandwiched between displays of a product that doesn't work very well and people with products that weren't working at all. And they say Apple is brilliant at marketing.)

We had gone online and made appointments to see a genius about our problems. As the clock ticked past the designated time, we started to get more and more annoyed. Especially because their overhead displays show the list of who is next and my name went from third to second to first to second to first to second.

Nothing makes you more territorial than feeling like your place in a queue is being stolen by someone else, but I couldn't really see any evidence of that. I assume that like so many things by Apple they simply didn't have a very good computer system running their information sign.

We did observe lots of the staff moving from here to there and back again without seeming to accomplish much. We were jostled. We were tired, having driven all afternoon to get to this store from our starting point in Vermont. "I am close to going postal," LK said at one point. But unless she planned on attacking people with her MacBook Pro, I didn't think any of us were in serious danger.

I did, however, briefly fantasize how Apple Marketing would handle a news story in which an angry customer injured several people with her MacBook Pro. "Proving again its great versatility, the sleek, lightweight MacBook Pro can be easily and accurately thrown . . ."

Finally Mark, a very pleasant young man, called my name. When I described my problem to him, it turned out that he had been the pleasant young man who had spent so much time on the phone with me two weeks ago. At first he seemed more interested in finding out if he had actually been successful in getting Apple to ship the operating system disks to me, but then knuckled down to the task when I explained that I had received the disks within a couple of days but they still had not helped me get the laptop to boot.

After doing the computer doctor's equivalent of telling my laptop to cough, Mark then hooked up all sorts of stuff that brought loads of data onto the screen. "Hmmm," he said. It was a Hmmm like you hear when you tune in to hear the day's news and get Glenn Beck instead. He hooked up more stuff, Hmmmed some more.

Finally Mark looked up and said, "This is quite embarrassing, but apparently when they installed your new hard disk they forgot to format it." He explained how normally they do all this stuff and load all this software, but I wasn't listening. All I was hearing in my mind was "I'm going to get my laptop back! It's going to be healed! I can play poker without LK wanting her laptop back!" Somewhere in the recesses of my mind Gloria Gaynor was singing "I will survive."

It was just about at this point, though, that LK looked up at the screens and said rather angrily, "Hey my name was third on the waiting list and it's not there anymore!" It was like those moments in the movies: I was no longer aware of any of sound in the room and as I turned toward my bride everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I looked not at her face but at her hands, desperately hoping she had not somehow acquired some Apple-logoed weapon.

But no worries. Mark eased the tensions immediately. "Oh, don't worry. When you said you two were together, I just put you down on my list. While I load the software on his MacBook I will take a look at yours." We were both growing very fond of Mark. And Linda discreetly put something short and sharp-looking back on the counter.

LK's MacBook had stubbornly refused to start up a few days ago. You could hear the drive chugging away, but the screen remained dark. I tried every recommendation at the Apple web site support section. I even tried it a day later in case the computer had just been tired and needed a little lie-down.

When Mark returned a moment later, he opened LK's MacBook and pushed the power button. The screen sprang to life, as if it had not a problem in the world. "Oh," I said, "it's fixed. There's nothing wrong anymore." When Mark gave me a skeptical look, I was reduced to telling him, "I swear it wasn't doing this before."

I then explained how I had reset PRAM and SCM and booted from OS disks and all the other things I had tried. I was starting to sound like a desperate (failed) wannabe nerd and Mark was just smiling benignly.

"It healed itself," LK said. "We believe that a lot of machines just need a little rest and they heal themselves." I know I put this theory forward in another post, but I must admit it sounded a bit (quite a bit) airy fairy sitting there at the Genius Bar with a guy who fixes computers for a living. But actually the theory is from our friend Andrew, who also happens to fix computers for a living, so I'm not positive Mark thought we were just another pair of Baby Boomer New Age nutjobs.

After our experience at the Apple Store, I talked about computers with Sandy and Dave the other night because Jordan is getting one as she heads off to become a university whiz.

I told them that I thought the Apples were the very best for pictures, music and movies but that PCs like Dell were probably better for word processing, spreadsheets and databases - the sort of stuff that you really need a computer for in college.

Jordan listened to her parents recount my opinion. She then replied, "Of course he would say that. His Mac isn't working." It says something about the power of Apple's brand - trendy, cutting edge, sophisticated - that this very intelligent young woman failed to see the irony in that statement.

I can only hope that she gets Mark when she ends up at the Genius Bar.

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