Big changes coming to AppleCare

AppleInsider reports that Apple are preparing to make some serious changes to the AppleCare Protection Plan, the biggest changes they’ve ever made. These changes were supposedly announced at a recent Town Hall meeting and include the following:

“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.”

Jim Dalrymple raises his concern that it would be detrimental to the customer if they are told that they’ll have to wait a few days to get their device fixed:

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.

Stephen Hackett also raises a similar concern:

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.

I’m on the fence about the potential changes. At the moment, there are a small number of repairs that can be done to an iPhone 4/4S/5 (such as the camera, battery and vibrate motor), all of which are performed within the appointment time at the Genius Bar. For problems that can’t be resolved with a repair, the device is then swapped out.

Apple has built up a near-legendary reputation for customer service, especially with the Genius Bar. The iPhone and iPad are by no means as complicated to service as something like a MacBook Pro or iMac. The iPhone 3G brought Apple’s first iPhone repair in the form of display replacement. Once you got used to it, you could do screen replacements in a matter of seconds. The same applies with the iPhone 4 and 4S with regards to battery, camera and vibrate motor. They’re fiddly, but not complex. I’m not sure I could see any additional repairs that would mean customers would have to leave their device for a few days. At most, I’d expect customers to be told to come back later that day.

With the iPhone, Apple did set an unusual precedent of whole unit replacements. Apple had been performing them with the iPod ever since it was released and, even now, doesn’t perform iPod repairs. Many other phone manufacturers, even today, don’t do whole unit replacements. Over the years I’ve had phones repaired by Nokia and Sony Ericsson, both times it involved a loan device whilst my phone went to their respective repair centres. Perhaps we’ve been spoilt by Apple and expect a replacement as part of the service?

Apple has offered loan iPhones in the past, secured via a credit card authorisation. It wasn’t common, or indeed well-known, but I’d expect that if Jim and Stephen are right and that iPhone repairs would be a few days, loan iPhones might make a comeback. If you’re iPhone isn’t working, simply drop it off for repair, get a loan device, sign into iCloud in-store, and your loan device is fully set up. Once your phone is repaired, simply wipe it, hand it back and take your working device home.

My biggest concern isn’t for the customers though, it’s for Apple’s Geniuses. Should iPhone and iPad repairs come into effect Genius Bars will be swamped with yet more work. When I left Apple in 2011, the Genius Bar system was in the middle of a huge overhaul because they just couldn’t cope with the demand. Repair times got longer, repairs got sloppier and customer satisfaction suffered.

In addition to more repairs for iPhones and iPads, there’s the change of AppleCare from an additional (optional) package to a subscription-based model that would be tiered to cover all of your Apple devices.

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.

I’m not sure people would want to pay a subscription for something like this but for those with multiple Apple products then it might be extremely worthwhile. The problem with people like us is that we don’t represent the majority of Apple customers. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already pretty technically minded and know your Apple products pretty well. For the mum and dads, the grandparents, the teens and the technically-unsavvy, they’re the ones who’ll dictate whether this new service would be successful.

There’s a few other features of this new AppleCare and I encourage you to read the article over at AppleInsider.

One area Apple doesn’t cut corners with is customer service so whatever Apple’s plan is, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t at the benefit for the customer.