A Quick Shout Out to the Apple Genius Bar

So there I was, the start of a four day training gig at a major government facility in the midwest. It’s a big job, with sessions on Final Cut Pro, Compressor, H.264, streaming media, the whole works. Day 1 setting up, the attendees are in the room, I click the On button to turn on my MacBook Pro – which had been running 30 minutes before in my hotel room — and all I got was the spinning wheel on the gray background.

A very big Oy Veh, I’m sure you agree. Fortunately, I had my HP notebook close by, so was able to sub that in for the PowerPoint presentation, which had lots of relevant screen shots of the applicable Mac programs. Sub-optimal, but doable, and the client-attendees, an experienced group of video producers who have seen it all before, took it in stride.

The HP wouldn’t run Final Cut Pro and Compressor, of course, and we were in deep discussions about a loaner computer as Plan B, when one of the attendees suggested – “take it to the Apple Store – they’ve got a Genius Bar where Apple techs will fix your computer right there.” While I’ve been to an Apple store many times, I never noticed the Genius Bar in the past, so this was news to me.

So, I called ahead for the suggested appointment, which I just made after getting lost on the way in a cold rainstorm threatening to turn into snow. I parked in a courtesy parking space for a different store in the mall (15 minutes only – then subject to tow) to get to the store on time, and then waited on line for 20 minutes, wondering if the car would be there when I returned.

I don’t wait on line very well, and it had not been my best day, and even if the computer got fixed, I was still looking at a couple of hours of preparation in my hotel before classes the next day. I’m sure my frustration was showing, because one of the Apple reps came over and asked if she could help. I explained the car situation, and she sent me off to find a better space, promising that I wouldn’t lose my spot in line.

I came back, and she was good to her word, and a tech was ready for me. Who are these geniuses? Here’s a bit from the Apple website:

The Genius Bar is home to our resident Geniuses. Trained at Apple headquarters, they have extensive knowledge of Apple products and can answer all your technical questions. In fact, Geniuses can take care of everything from troubleshooting problems to actual repairs. Want to speak to a Genius? Make an appointment ahead of time to guarantee your space.

My genius tried a couple of quick fixes, which didn’t work, then advised that he’d have to reinstall the operating system. I asked if I would have to reinstall my applications, and he said probably. He told me that it would take about 45 minutes, but that I could leave the store to shop or eat. I did, and when I returned, the computer was ready – I’m typing on it now.

What did this cost? Well, it was $.75 for parking, and the mall dinner cost about $15, though I would have had to eaten somewhere. But the repair was absolutely free. And, I didn’t have to reinstall any of my apps.

That’s the story part – here’s the commentary part. Back in the 80’s, Apple’s original raving fans were typically sandal-wearing anti-establishment types who adored a computer and operating system long before it actually become usable, much less useful. Apple rode that wave until the bitter end, when the oxygen was running low and the patient close to life support. Then the prodigal son returned, the iPod/iTunes revolution hit and the party hasn’t stopped.

Not that it’s important, but I never got the original iPod – I found it confusing to use, thought the flywheel controller sucked and that iTunes was a total pain in the rear. For me, the second wave of Apple fanatics – now sporting white ear buds instead of sandals – was as silly as the first, both chasing a product that was more sizzle than steak.

Then the iPhone/iTouch came and I was totally blown away – between the accelerometer, the gesture-based touch controls, and the amazing apps that followed, the combination was staggering. Along the way, on their computers, Apple dumped the PowerPC processor and converted over to a UNIX-based operating system, while consistently building hardware that seemed museum worthy in appearance. All of a sudden, Macs were fun to own — and truly worth owning for digital content producer types.

But I’ve never been more impressed by Apple than I was tonight. Not only as a user, with a great customer experience to share, but as an industry observer. Where most other companies charge for phone support by the minute, Apple puts their Geniuses in a bar, and makes them accessible free of charge. What a concept. Though not all repairs are free, just having an available Genius to quickly diagnose your issues is a wonderful service.

I’m not starry-eyed, clearly Apple does this because happy customers produce a subtantial return on investment. But if the rationale behind it is so clear, why isn’t anyone else doing it?

Clearly, I would have preferred for my Mac to boot and not to have experienced the Genius Bar at all. But all computers break, sooner or later — it’s how the company fixes the problem that matters. If I continue to experience problems with the 18-month old computer, this rosy glow will quickly fade. But for tonight, Apple deserves a hearty shout out for a truly brilliant concept, and a job well done.

Anyway, time to turn in and dream that tomorrow goes much more smoothly than today. It’s got to, right?

About Jan Ozer

I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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