Apple Manufacturing Issues and Apple Store Frustration

I set out to buy 2 brand new Apple products this past weekend. Simple enough, right?

First up was a 4th gen iPad that was on promotion at Target with a $40 gift card. I had just sold my original iPad and returned my iPad 3 (the reason is further along in this post). I went to my local Target and purchased an iPad 4. I got out to the parking lot and opened the unit. I noticed the protective plastic over the screen was very marred and scratched which struck me as odd. I was surprised it would have come out of the factory like this.

Once opened, there was quite a bit of dust and particles on the screen that I had to wipe away. Once I did, I found a sizable white particle trapped underneath the screen. No amount of wiping made it go away and once turned on, it was worse than the size of a bad pixel. There was no way I was going to be satisfied with this unit. Whether it be my OCD or future resale value, I could not let this stand.

I went back in and explained my issue. The customer service representative did not fully understand and could not see the particle. Regardless, I was requesting a new unit to replace the defective one. A different sales rep walked a new unit down to the sales desk for me and after a bit of confusion, I walked out and proceeded to open this new unit in my car.

To my grand dismay and surprise, this unit's plastic sheath was marred and scratched the same way and also had dust and particles all over the screen. In a different spot on the screen, a white particle was trapped under the glass. Are these units not assembled in clean rooms?

I was absolutely amazed and frustrated and so was the Target rep at the service desk who rolled her eyes at me in disbelief as I walked towards her. How dare I return another one because of a white dot! She immediately mumbled something about security and a manager. Several minutes later, a manager came out and I explained the issue. After consulting with someone in the back, he agreed to open one more unit together, with me. Both reps reminded me that these units had to be returned to Apple as if it were an inconvenience. These were defective units. What else did they think should be done with them?

Lo and behold, this unit seemed fine. I thanked Target for their time and gave my opinion that they seemed to have received somewhat of a bad batch. This comes only weeks after I had purchased an iPad 3 at a different Target and returned it because the aluminum bezel edges were not fully machined and even had aluminum dust and chips on some of the edges. 

At the very least, my opinion is that there is something going on with Apple's manufacturing process in addition to their quality control. I cannot be the only isolated case.

Or can I? On Friday night, I purchased an iPhone 5 at full retail price on Apple's web site, but used the feature that allowed me to pick it up the next day at the Danbury Apple Store which is about 30 miles away from my house and even further from the Target I had just been to, but it was the closest store with stock. I made my way to the store the next morning and was helped within 15 minutes. By 11AM, I was almost done with my transaction. As I left the store, I began fully inspecting the body of the phone. Once more, to my great dismay, I discovered a some defects in the form of a handful of scattered white dot chips on the back of the phone. Unbelievable!

Some customers must be overlooking this stuff. I guess you really do have to look for it, but at the premium prices we pay for tech products these days, we SHOULD be inspecting each and every device (investment) with a fine toothed comb. I headed back to the Apple store to immediately exchange it. That is where the quality control story ends and my Apple Store frustration begins.

I was put back in a customer queue which meant I was to stand next to some Macbooks for another 10-15 minutes. I thought this would be a quick and painless exchange but I stumbled onto a new limitation of ability of Apple Stores. (On a side note, when I went to buy an iPhone 3GS at an Apple Store, I was not able to purchase it because Apple did not have the ability to process the orders of AT&T customers who happened to have a company discount on their account). 

As the helpful Apple employee deactivated my scratched up iPhone 5 and attempted to activate a new one for an even exchange, he began running into errors. Something no one in the store had seen before. After about 20-30 minutes of consulting and trying, the employee then called Verizon who instructed him to try a different sim card. Still, no dice and they refused to let me leave the store with the phone unactivated. I was then told I needed to allow Apple to credit me back for the phone and charge me a whole new amount. I reluctantly allowed this which meant that i would have $1382 tied up on my debit card until the refund came through. I was assured this would work. After a few sim card swaps, the new unit appeared to activate and I left the store.

I went to have lunch and as I was eating, I noticed there was no Verizon label in the top left of my phone so I rebooted. An error came up saying my phone could not activate. Beyond frustrated, I went back to the Apple Store and was helped again. A manager suggested the employee walk me down to the Verizon store to see if they could help. I was then put in the Verizon queue and the Apple employee left.

About 30 minutes later, Verizon was able to go in and change the sim ID to what it was supposed to be and I was activated. Apparently, this was not something Apple has the power to do. This was one of the most frustrating experiences I ever had. What should have been a 15 minute trip to the Apple Store turned into literally, a 4 hour affair. All of the humans at the Apple Store and Verizon Store were very helpful and understanding. 

Between defects in manufacturing and Apple's limited ability to offer full service when it comes to at least one of their carriers, this customer experience was less than stellar. Both of these issues could and should be addressed. Maybe the manufacturing defects have something to do with Foxconn trying to keep up with demand. I honestly do not know, but what I do know is that I had a very difficult time buying 2 Apple products in November.

The most important take away from this story though is: Always thoroughly inspect your gadgets and devices before leaving the store. We pay way too much for anything less than flawless devices at this point.

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