A support issue

Apple's support is an interesting thing. On the one hand, the company consistently wins plaudits for the general quality of its support, while on the other hand issues with specific designs sometimes go unsupported for months upon months at a time. Specific graphics cards issues in notebooks, battery issues in phones, whether or not iOS turns the average iPhone 3G into a shiny brick — that kind of thing.

I've worked support (not for Apple, or indeed a computer company that, strictly speaking, still exists) in the rapidly ageing past, and I know it's a tough job. Sometimes an impossible job under the circumstances.

I had the chance over the past week to test Apple's support, thanks to a failing hard drive in an iMac. I say "failing", but I honestly never would have noticed if the iMac in question hadn't been kind enough to inform me of the fact. I'd ducked into Disk Utility to format a flash drive and I noticed something that can only be classified as "not that good". The main drive in the iMac was bright red, and I didn't think it was because it had something to celebrate. Except perhaps its impending death.

So off to the phones I trotted, to chat with an AppleCare representative. Here I'll give 10/10; I didn't have to go through 20 boring scripted steps to make it clear that I did know what the problem was, and indeed, the most likely solution. It's feasible that the drive controller could be flaky, but much more likely that the hard drive itself was failing. There are, after all, to borrow a much-repeated phrase, only two kinds of hard drive: those that have failed, and those that will fail.

You have backed up your files today, right?

It quickly became clear that I'd have to take it into a repairer to arrange an assessment and replacement. Being in Sydney, that gave me the choice of a number of Apple Stores, or a third-party repairer. Figuring there's nothing like going to the source, I picked the Chatswood Apple store. The Castle Towers one is technically closer, but, well, if you've never been to Castle Towers ... then I envy you.

That involved another phone call, and a slightly worrying one. The first support rep I'd talked to assured me I'd be able to make a Genius Bar booking by calling the store. The automated response system that the store used assured me that I couldn't actually do that. I suspect the support rep I finally got through to was getting ready to state the same thing as well, until I pointed out I'd already jumped through one set of hoops and, so, a Genius Bar appointment was made.

It was at this point that I remembered the only other person I know of that readily identifies himself as a Genius. That would be Wile. E. Coyote, and I'm well aware of the success rate of his plans.

(Editor's note: Wile E. Coyote is not, technically, a person. — M.JC.P.)

Still, as wacky and interesting plans go, actually dropping in the iMac went rather well. It should be noted that any owner of a 27" iMac can throw away the weights bench and dumbbells right now, as the only exercise you really need is lugging the box through a busy shopping centre on a Saturday morning. My right bicep is still throbbing, and I'm hopeful once it finishes I'll be able to act as a stunt double for Schwarzenegger, if not his actual replacement.

Waiting for a Genius Bar appointment also reveals a startling number of people using "I don't have an appointment, but I have a problem that will only take one minute ..." as their opening gambit. While I'm not a big fan of waiting myself, take it from me: people, your problems never only take one minute. Also, get an appointment.

I'm still out an iMac for a week while they wait for parts and fit them in — if you've never seen an Aluminium iMac being taken apart it's a rather fascinating prospect, which you can watch here, and while I don't mind tinkering, just given the weight of the screen I'm glad I don't have to.

Now, speaking of waiting, I've got a lot of waiting to do, a five-year-old MacBook to configure to work on in the meantime, and biceps that need a lot of work if I'm going to pick up the iMac at the end of the week and not break something in my arms doing so.

Discuss this with me at MacTheForum!