Apple seems to want us to have nice things, but only for so long.
In January, I grudgingly upgraded my cell phone for the first time in nearly five years. I had bought my first smart device, an iPhone 4, in March 2011 shortly after moving to Houston. And the thing served me well — though I had to take it in two months after purchase because of a faulty hold button (the one on the top right that turns off the screen).
But technological obsolescence caught up with me, as it does to everybody, and my phone, which could barely make a phone call, needed to be replaced.
I was obviously eligible for an upgrade, so I hit up a local AT&T store, and a friendly dude hooked me up with an iPhone 6s, released to the public on September 25, 2015, for under $40. Though I never care about the newest, sexiest devices, I was pumped about my new phone. Somebody would call me and could hear me talking!
The thing didn’t even last three months.
One day, I upgraded the operating system to iOS 9.3.1, then spent the rest of the afternoon and evening doing normcore activities with the phone like pulling it out of a jeans pocket, checking e-mail and sending a text, and putting it back in the pocket.
Before going to bed, I plugged the phone into the charger. Wouldn’t charge. In the morning, I tried three different chargers — at the time, I was staying at an all-iPhone 6/6s household in New York City. Still no juice.
The only fix, according to various online forums, was to visit an Apple Store Genius Bar.
As I was still on a trip in NYC, I went to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue and West 59 Street near Central Park. You may have seen it before, the overgrown glass cube entrance that seems to speak, without words (the ubiquitous Apple logo is the only identifier), everything folks love about Apple: Sleek. Mysterious. Hip. Hyper-minimal. Future. Powerful. Transformative.
I arrived on time for my appointment and explained the problem to a woman at the Genius Bar (the dorky name for Apple’s tech support station). She took my phone, scraped the inside of the charging port with an implement resembling a paper clip and then disappeared for five minutes.
“I’m sorry, but a technician has determined that this phone has sustained accidental damage,” she said after returning. “Unfortunately, it can’t be repaired.”
“The only thing we can do is replace the phone. It will cost $300 plus tax.”
“But it was charging fine before I updated the OS.”
“Even if it was, the port is damaged.”
I explained that nothing unusual had happened — not once did the phone thud against the pavement or become drenched in liquid. All I did was use the phone like a phone. Besides, how would I, or any other human, even be able to screw up the tiny, inconspicuous port? Are new phones so sensitive that they go into the fetal position if they are plugged in too many times? And if it was damaged, how come the phone charged normally until the OS changed?
“It has sustained accidental damage, and that’s something that isn’t covered,” said the associate, who added that a shattered screen also falls under the politically correct-sounding qualifier, a term that made me want to ralph after I heard it for the fifth time.
“But I didn’t damage the phone.”
“That might be the case, but the port is damaged.”
This went on for 20 minutes, and she refused to replace the phone or even acknowledge that Apple’s defective technology could’ve caused the problem. The next day, I decided to get second and third opinions.
“It's not even three months old,” said a guy at an AT&T store while inspecting my phone, adding that the store could replace my insured phone, but that the deductible, which included free overnight shipping, was $199. (But unlike Apple’s fee, no tax!) “It’s obviously a defect.”
He also referred me to a cheap "five star" repair shop down the street. “If that doesn’t work, take it to the Apple Store in SoHo. They’re cooler there. They once replaced my phone simply because I had to wait an hour for my appointment.”
Unfortunately, the repair shop told me that it doesn’t fix iPhone 6s charging ports, but that the phone had to be a clunker since it was so new. “They should replace it for free.”
In the end, it may have been a different store, but an employee and a manager took me on the same frustrating un-merry-go-round.
I told the manager that the first iPhone 4 I had bought, back in 2011, was defective and that Apple replaced the phone for free.
“That’s because the button was still there. This phone is missing parts.”
“What does it matter? It’s under three months old and I didn’t damage the phone.”
“I’m not saying you did, but this is accidental damage and the solution is that we’ll replace the phone for $300 plus tax. Since it would be a replacement phone, it’s covered for 90 days.”
“What happens if it breaks on the 91st day?”
“That’s unlikely to happen.”
I nodded at my busted phone, a model that’s supposed to be the best of the best but had instead been officially pronounced dead. “Because it’s not likely to last more than 90 days, like this one?"
He didn’t respond to that.
Instead, as we stared at each other, each of us waiting for the other to break down in the uncomfortable silence, I was left to wonder: Apple can build a glassed Taj Mahal, and fight the FBI over privacy rights, but it can’t construct phones that will last months? Or even replace an under-three-month-old phone, which two cell-phone specialists examined and called defective, at zero cost?
Eventually, I called it quits on the four-day ordeal. Defeated, completely pissed off and with a basically brand-new broken phone in hand (but with $300 still in my name), I retreated to a mini-theater inside of the store, where an employee on a wireless headset presented a lecture debunking the “scary myths” (he actually said those words) of the Apple ID.
I copped the store’s free Wi-Fi from my laptop and sent a friend an e-mail, saying I was ready to hang out for the evening. When she showed up 30 minutes later, I asked her where our destination was located. “Somewhere that way,” she said, pointing somewhere vaguely north and west.
She didn’t know exactly where we were going because she couldn’t look up directions. That’s because her new iPhone had broken recently, too.
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(Updated 4/25/2016, 7:50 a.m.)
After reading this piece, Apple's corporate office called me, and decided to replace my busted phone. At no charge.
Over the weekend, I went to the Apple Store, the third one I've visited over the past week and a half, and had the phone swapped out, no problem. When I returned home that evening, I took a deep breath and plugged it in. It charged.
It's the small victories in life.