Working Through Apple's Channels For A Simple Plug

It wasn’t until I lost the power adapter to my MacBook Air that I came to understand the control Apple exerts over its customers and suppliers, got a topic for this week’s Insider, and a spontaneous excursion into the full beauty of the Hudson Valley countryside on Friday morning.

I’m working more remotely than usual this month and the office doesn’t have state-of-the-art computer equipment — let alone a current model Air. (In that way Apple has of continuously upgrading to force you to buy new, the power adapter for my first MacBook Air, purchased in 2012, doesn’t fit the newer laptop I bought in January this year.)

I wanted to order a new adapter online, but wasn’t entirely sure which size adapter I needed. I just never paid that much attention. My usual go-to guy for tech questions is traveling and because I had multiple deadlines to meet, it was important to get the right one the first time.

So I turned to the Apple Web site, which did not pair adapters intuitively to the right models. This drove me to online customer support through the chat function on the Apple site, but it kept shutting down every time I started to ask my question. I ran out of time to wait for a customer service person to call me back and decided to go old school by visiting the store.



The nearest store coming up in a search for where to buy Apple products was a Best Buy that would open at 10 a.m. So I set out for the closest Staples, which opened at 8 a.m. right across the street, to get a jumpstart on the project. I had to be somewhere before noon.

In Staples, the accessories aisle for Apple looked picked over and barren. Only one power adapter was in stock and I took it to the Staples in-store tech center to find out if it was the right one.

That’s where the fun started.

The tech manager, a joy to behold at 8 a.m., had no clue if the adapter would fit my laptop or not. “That’s why I like PCs,” he said. “They all use the same cord. People ask why we don’t sell the Air. Apple won’t let us. Sony used to do that. Do you see Sony TVs anymore?”

As I allowed him to rant, I cajoled the tech guy to cut the cellophane packaging to open the box to see if this was in fact the correct size. Once unpacked, it looked wrong to me. It was. The PC advocate didn’t care. He said he’d throw the adapter in the return pile and suggested I head for the Apple store near Albany, N.Y. — an hour’s drive away straight up the New York Thruway.

I could wait for Best Buy to open and cross my fingers, but given the scarcity of much of anything in the nearest Staples, I wanted to go where I’d be sure to find the product I needed. So I hit the road and found my bliss.

60 Miles Down The Road …
About 60 miles later, I arrived at Crossgates Mall and found my way to the Apple store inside the sprawling retail complex with 10 minutes to spare before opening. There was no sign in front, but I was pretty sure I’d found the spot when I approached and saw 15 people already waiting outside with their various devices. Inside, the Apple retail team was enjoying a morning scrum.

A clerk soon came out to start the check-in process — using an iPad to log our various needs. There would already be a one-hour wait for a repair appointment. I was lucky. The power adapter I needed could be picked up on the spot once the doors opened.

Further behind me, however, was a very unhappy — and vocal — customer. He was a business owner who came in to get his phone looked at, arriving before the store opened, only to be told he would have to wait an hour or else book an appointment for later in the day.

He had no time, he argued. “That store is full of people (clerks),” he said. “Why can someone go right in and buy something and I can’t go right in and fix something that I already bought right in that store?”

The set-up clerk tried to explain that the entire Apple retail team — now doing stretches and clapping — were already all assigned to someone else. “Is it better to tell you there will be a 15-minute wait when we already know it will be an hour?” the disgruntled man was told.

Suddenly, the gigantic plasma screen behind the Genius bar started to pulse and the glass doors that had no name slid open. I slipped through, went to my appointed table, learned how to find out which adapter is compatible with a MacBook Air (although now I’ll never forget), and made my purchase.

I bought two. 

2 comments about "Working Through Apple's Channels For A Simple Plug".
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  1. Christina Ricucci from Millenia 3 Communications, July 18, 2016 at 3:41 p.m.

    I feel your pain, Laurie. I’ve been through similar Apple scenarios countless times in the last 13 years. I’ve fought with their personnel over issues which should have been an easy fix yet ended up involving a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and phone calls or trips to the Apple store an hour from my house. The issue of Apple’s "upgrades" (funny how that word suggests something better though so often with Apple it isn't better at all) is the most frustrating. (That sound you hear is my wallet opening again.) Our company is all Mac, so I guess for now Apple has me by the scruff.

  2. Gay Gordon-Byrne from The Repair Association, July 20, 2016 at 10:21 a.m.

    Laurie -The Staples clerk made a very key point - that companies such as Sony, Apple, and many others do not want anyone, including you, fixing or even buying important accessories to keep older models in use.   Its obvious that if you can't fix something -- you will be forced to buy a replacement.  

    The same applies to service parts.  If you can't find parts --manufacturers hope that you will give up and buy a new machine.  California has a spare parts statute that requires availablity for 7 years after end of production -- but they left it to the manufacturers to control distribution.  So when Apple et al don't want to supply parts to Staples or Best Buy they push you to deal exclusively with them.  

    This is the tip of a very big iceberg.  Everything with a chip can be very easily turned into a repair and parts monopoly by manufacturers for purely profiit.  We have members that cannot repair a huge variety of equipment ranging from refrigerators, microwaves, thermostats, forklifts, HVAC, hot-tub controls, plus coffee pots, TVs, games, and anything internet.  

    We believe the solution is legislative.  Massachusetts passed the first Automotive right to repair law in 2012- and by 2014 the auto industry had adopted those terms as an industry standard. (voluntarily)  Commercial trucks followed in 2015 and adopted the same terms.  Its an incremental step to apply the same terms to electronics not on wheels -- which is the framework we have presented in multiple states. 

    NY, MA, MN and NE are all considering Right to Repair or "Fair Repair" legislation.  (Repair is not the same thing as tinkering with software -- which is a federal matter.)  In addition to visitng out website googling "right to repair" reveals hundreds of articles on the topic ranging from cars and trucks to tractors and cell phones.  

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