Last Week on my Mac: Apple hasn’t really changed in 25 years

At the time that I bought this iMac, just before Christmas 2015, I wanted to save the cost of concurrent purchase of AppleCare. It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford it, just that it was more convenient to defer it. Christmas is a financially demanding period when you have your partner, children, and grand-children to buy for, so deferring the £100+ gave me a bit more latitude in catering for their expectations. I’m sure that they appreciated it.

In any case, Apple’s warranty gives the same level of hardware support through the first year after purchase. So there was nothing to be gained by paying for AppleCare from the day of purchase. Or so I thought at the time.

Through the summer, I kept saying to myself that I should purchase AppleCare now, but it wasn’t until this autumn that it started to become more pressing: I had until 13 December 2016 to buy it, or this iMac would never be so covered.

There’s a neat, simple route to buying AppleCare, which starts in the About This Mac dialog. Click on the Service tab and the bottom section takes you into your browser, and along an easy sequence of screens in which your serial number is entered, and you read a Captcha check. Immediately after that, Apple’s servers asked me to enter my Apple ID and password, in order to view and consent to the AppleCare agreement. Only that page loaded completely blank.

I first presumed that this was a passing glitch in the servers, and left it for a few days before trying again. I got the same blank page, and could proceed no further. I went back and tried some other less direct approaches, with identical results. The only way, it appeared, that I could buy AppleCare for my iMac was to buy the generic ‘physical’ product, have it shipped to me, then go through the online activation process. I abandoned that as a stupid solution, and left it for a few weeks.

Last week, I determined that I needed to get this sorted now. If I was going to have to mess around with physical delivery and activation, I needed to get this done during November. I had a little time in the afternoon, while my wife was at work, so started the process yet again, and was stopped in my tracks as before. This was not a passing glitch: is was the normal situation.

With a little time set aside, I contacted Apple Support. As usual, they rang me within a few seconds of my online request. I explained carefully what I was trying to do, and where I was getting stuck. Unfortunately, the extremely helpful support person admitted that he was an expert on iOS, and as I was trying to connect using Safari on a Mac, he thought it best if he passed me onto a colleague, who is an expert on macOS.

The macOS expert listened to my account, and I thought then that it might be worth trying to complete the purchase on my iPad Pro, which happened to be beside me at the time. He patiently held on as I replicated the problem on that too. (I should add, in a suitably whispered tone, that I had even tried using Firefox on my Mac, with the same result.) He thought it best if he passed me onto a colleague, who is in customer agreement support.

She explained that Apple was aware that there seemed to be a problem with this process, and that she could send me an email with a link to complete the agreement and make the purchase. I gave her my serial number and email address, and within a few seconds the message arrived. She held on patiently as I completed the purchase, and my AppleCare cover was brought into force. After 33 minutes on the phone, between us we achieved what should have taken less than a minute, had Apple’s website worked.

All three support staff did Apple proud: they were immaculately polite, didn’t try to fob me off with anything else, were very patient, and passed me on to someone who brought me closer to resolution. As a support experience, it was exemplary. But knowing that this fairly simple problem had existed for at least a couple of months – and probably still occurs – it’s extraordinary that no one has fixed it.

It’s like this vastly profitable behemoth of a corporation still operates from a handful of devoted enthusiasts in a repurposed church hall. The lone web developer has been rushed off her feet for weeks, trying to cope with a backlog of site redesign and product launches. Attempts to recruit a second member of the team are under way, but you know what it’s like finding those skills in this rural backwater.

There’s something deeply reassuring in a little, slightly irritating bit of incompetence, patched over by genuinely caring support staff. Maybe Apple hasn’t changed so much after all.