Strange Things Are Afoot at AppleCare

Mikey Campbell over at AppleInsider has an article about AppleCare that’s been making the rounds this weekend. Reportedly leaked from a Town Hall meeting at Apple’s headquarters, a lot of the rumored changes in the article seem insane.

Here’s Campbell writing:

“The biggest announcement, was the way repairs for iPhones will be handled soon,” the person, who asked not to be identified due to their active status as an Apple employee, told AppleInsider. “The way it is now, if almost anything is wrong with an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, the entire device is exchanged for a like-new re manufactured (sic) device, whether brought into an apple store or sent in for mail in repair. Now we are starting to actually repair the products and return the same device to the customer.”

Apple has been doing in-store iPhone repairs for a while now, but this seems like a far-more sweeping policy change is in the the works.

Peter Cohen chimed in on this earlier today:

As it stands now, if your iPhone or iPad doesn’t work right, they’ll swap it for a new or refurbished unit on the spot, but this suggests they’ll repair it instead. I’m not sure many customers will be happy waiting to get their iPhone fixed instead of just swapped out, especially if it introduces a wait of several days, as having your Mac fixed customarily does.

That’s my exact thought, too, and Jim and I aren’t alone in it.

To be fair, I’ve never taken apart anything but an original iPhone, and that was just for fun. While I’ve heard from Geniuses that the iPhone 5 actually isn’t bad to work on at all, I can’t imagine that it is easier or faster than just replacing the thing. While it may be cheaper for out-of-warranty repairs, I just want to go get my in-warranty iPhone swapped if the home button craps out.

Of course, cost is a huge issue when it comes to servicing products. Here’s Campbell again:

The new in-house repairs are to be rolled out across the U.S., with international support coming online soon thereafter. [Apple Vice President Tara] Bunch reportedly said Apple expects to save nearly $1 billion per year with the change in policy.

Historically, when bean counters get involved with Apple’s policy making, things don’t end well.

Speaking of money, the company is also rumored to be thinking about changing how customers pay for AppleCare.

In another huge departure, Apple will reportedly reconfigure its paid AppleCare service as a subscription model, or introduce a new tier, which will be attached to a customer rather than a specific product. Under the proposed system, a customer is entitled to in-store training similar to the One to One program available to new Mac buyers, with each device owned being covered by the warranty. The new AppleCare may also include “exclusive” 24/7 support, though that has not been confirmed as a full set of features and pricing is not yet etched in stone.

“In-store training” doesn’t make much sense to me as part of AppleCare, unless Apple is about to change One to One yet again.

Adding perks like “24/7 support” and better in-home support makes a lot of sense as a “new tier,” but people already balk at the somewhat expensive AppleCare warranties. In my time at Apple Retail, I would very often share with people that even the cheapest repair on their Macs could easily be more expensive than the warranty — even the $349 coverage for MacBook Pros.

Changing AppleCare from a one-time purchase to some sort of subscription would ease the sticker shock, but I think people are also weary of paying yet another monthly bill for something they don’t see tangible reasons for owning.

However, if I could pay a flat fee each month (or yearly) and have all of my Apple products automatically covered under AppleCare, I’d do it. I just think I might be in the minority there.

In wrapping up his article, Campbell brings up Apple Support Communities, the Apple-run support forums:

In addition, Apple personnel will begin to take a more active role in the discussion boards, helping to answer questions, consolidating threads and performing general maintenance.

In college (before my days as a Genius), I spent a lot of time on the then-named Apple Discussion Boards. It was very, very rare to see someone comment with the little “Apple employee” badge next to their name.

Out of all of these proposed changes, I see this one being the least likely. The beauty of things like the Genius Bar and Apple’s online chat support system is that the conversations are 1–1. On a (somewhat) public thread, all sorts of people can jump in and muddy the waters, opening the door to an interaction going south, leaving Apple Support holding the bag.

All in all, I’m not encouraged after reading AppleInsider’s report. While AppleCare and the surrounding services aren’t perfect, most of these changes — on the surface at least — seem like moves in the wrong direction.