A Happier Hour at the Genius Bar

by Terrie Miller

I'm not much of a phone person...perhaps my former jobs in tech support have ruined the phone for me forever. But when my iBook started making an ominous clicking noise before locking up, something had to be done...so I decided to take it to the Palo Alto Apple Store directly.

The "Genius Bar" you'll find in Apple Stores is just that -- a bar-like area in the back of the store, staffed with smart support folks who can service and support Apple products (and who have access to a "hot line" in the rare event that they're stumped). I was surprised how much like a real bar it could be -- during my time there, I saw two Apple Staffers handle up to six customers at a time. While they had me running diagnostics, they helped other customers troubleshoot battery or video problems. But like any good bartender, they were calm, cool, and collected -- and back over to me as soon as I needed them.

My Genius Bar experience was really pretty optimal, but as I watched others come and go, I realized that part of that was because I was well-prepared. If you're having hardware trouble and you're thinking of taking your machine in, here are some tips that might help:

  • You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: back up regularly, and if the problem doesn't prevent it, back up immediately before leaving for the Apple Store. If you can't, there might be options to get your data back, but having a good backup makes you free to try more drastic solutions like reformatting a drive.

  • Take your operating system CDs and the CDs that came with your hardware with you. You may need to reinstall the OS under the watchful eye of a Genius, and you'll need your own copy to do it. It's also handy to have the hardware test CD that comes with your machine, so the genius doesn't have to go searching thru their stash to find the one that corresponds to your particular model.

  • Take your AC adapter. There will be adapters you can borrow, but its easier to just bring your own, and if you need to boot or install from a CD, you will be asked for it.

  • Arrive early, especially if you know your store is a busy one. My particular problem was a bit time-consuming to deal with, so I spent almost two hours in the Palo Alto store, and was glad I'd arrived early -- the line didn't getting any shorter. In other stores, I've seen empty bars during mid-day.

  • Do make some short notes to take about the relevant details of the problem, but formulate a concise one- or two-sentence description of the problem. They call it a Genius Bar for a reason -- despite the slightly hokey name, these folks have seen just about everything and will be able to zero in on a solution for you quickly if you let them.

  • Plan to spend some time at the store. You may have to wait for a bit in a busy store, and you almost certainly will need to go through some diagnostics. To put it in "bar" terms, think "going to the pub", not knocking back a couple of beers while you do something else. It's a participatory exercise. To be honest, I found it sort of enjoyable to hang out with other Mac users (despite fretting over the fate of my iBook), but if this doesn't suit your personality, you may prefer calling Apple Support by phone from the comfort of your own living room.

  • Have realistic expectations -- the Genius Bar isn't a replacement for Apple's repair service, and they can't fix everything on the spot. For example, they can't replace a hard drive. But they can take care of shipping your unit to repair, which is a real convenience. (Be sure to get your AC adapter back!)

  • You can't go wrong with AppleCare. I almost never buy the extended warranty offered with most electronics and appliances, but I think AppleCare is an excellent option, especially for laptops. They couldn't solve the problem at the store, but my hard drive was replaced and the unit shipped back to me within a week at no additional charge. It's true that I probably could have replaced the drive myself for less than the cost of AppleCare, but I still have over a year to go, and that's a lot of peace of mind.

The staff members on duty in Palo Alto on October 22 were really first-rate, and I'm really glad to have the option of dealing with the problem in person rather than over the phone. Hardware problems are never pleasant, but I'm glad the Genius Bar is there just in case. And if you have the misfortune of taking your own machine in someday, maybe some of these tips will help.

Do you have other tips for making the most out of a trip to the Genius Bar?


2003-11-05 10:26:48
Just because I'm picky like that...
But shouldn't that be "peace of mind"?! ;)
2003-11-05 10:34:21
Just because I'm picky like that...
Heh -- thanks. I corrected that. "Piece of mind" indeed....
2003-11-05 13:23:54
Not been my experience
I have found the service at Apple stores to be terrible. Since I travel a fair amount I have been to Apple stores all over the country and I have always found it hard to get help. Uusally there is no one at the Genius bar. The store I go to the most is in Chandler, Arizona and it is just awful. Try finding help from anyone there much less a "MacGenius". The few people around stand around and talk to each other all the time and act annoyed if you ask them anything. It is rare to see anyone at the Genius bar. One time I was there at 4:30, there was one employee avaialbe and she said everyone else was on lunch break. At 4:30 in the afternoon? I complained to the Manager once but he obviously didn't care. I find it realy odd that Apple is so image concious about verything they do yet the stores service is awful No wonder their not getting many switchers. If I was a PC person and went into an Apple store I would feel like an outsider. Whoever runs these stores should be fired. He or she clearly has no idea what customer service is or what kind of customer service is provided by these stores. I'm not alone on this either. Many people on various web discussion boards have the same complaints. They are opening an Apple store in Tucson where I live (I work in Phoenix) but I'll keep going to the local retailer who has been here for years.
2003-11-05 14:27:09
Genius Bar is hit or miss
I went to the Apple store in San Diego, waited 30 minutes to talk to someone at the bar. I was watching their presentation on Panther, so I didn't mind the wait. I wanted to restore iDvd after a Panther clean install, and the restore cd didn't seem to have an option to selectively restore just iDvd and OS 9.2.2. I asked how to do this, and the "Genius" answer was to spend $49 on iLife, because that was the only way. Either that, or blow away my hard drive restore Jaguar and then do an archive and install of Panther.

What a crock! Luckily, I searched the web later and found that using terminal there is a hidden directory, .images that has individual disk images of iDvd and OS 9.2.2.

Why Apple didn't make the restore cd installer more flexible, I don't know, but most Genius bar staff are worthless.

2003-11-05 15:51:31
Genius Bar is hit or miss
Ditto that for the San Diego store. I bought a memory upgrade for my iBook just before leaving for a business trip to San Diego, and didn't try to install it until I'd already left home.

To get at the memory slot, you need a tiny jewler's screwdriver, and I didn't have one small enough. I figured I'd try bringing the memory and my iBook to the friendly folks at the Apple Store in San Diego.

While the girl at the "Genius Bar" admitted that they did, in fact, have the right screwdriver, she wouldn't let me borrow it. She said that if I gave her the memory upgrade and my iBook, they might be willing to install it for me at $40/hr. Pfffffffffffffft.

So I went across the mall to an optometrist's office, and the nice lady there helped me upgrade my memory. It's the last time I set foot in an Apple Store.

2003-11-05 17:41:09
RE: Genius Bar is hit or miss
Just because you can walk in to the Apple Store and get free advice and assistance at the Genius Bar, doesn't mean they should help you do hardware upgrades for free. Apple does need to make money, after all. Try asking CompUSA or Radio Shack to borrow a tool, you're just as likely to be refused. Get real.
2003-11-05 20:03:54
RE: Genius Bar is hit or miss
Hit and miss describe my experiences with the Genius bars. Positive results at the Palo Alto store, okay not great at the Houston store. It figures that Palo Alto might rate a real genius -- after all, Steve Jobs could walk in at any time and he wouldn't suffer a fool gladly. Perhaps he should make random inspections outside California...
2003-11-06 08:58:10
The people at Valley Fair (San Jose) seem reasonably together and reasonably attentive, that's where I bought my iBook. OTOH the people at Palo Alto didn't seem very interested in making a sale. I'd called ahead to see if they had any dual G4 boxes and one guy said "yes, we have seven". When I got there no one seemed to have ever heard of G4s and they said "the dual G4 is out of production", never mind that you could find it that day on the Apple Web site.

So, although it's a little more work I'll keep going to Valley Fair.

2003-11-06 11:59:14
RE: Genius Bar is hit or miss
I agree, expecting someone to "help you do hardware upgrades for free" is silly.

But loaning a screwdriver for 30 seconds to someone who's doing his own hardware upgrade? Back in the old days, we used to call that "neighborly."

If I went into a CompUSA or a Radio Shack and got the same treatment, I guess I wouldn't be going there, either.

So if borrowing a tool isn't it, what exactly is the kind of "free advice and assistance" that you can expect from an Apple Store?

2003-11-14 12:10:06
Rockingham Park Rocks!
While I have no idea how great the store is now, when I lived in New Hampshire a year ago, the Rockingham Park store was definitely one of the best I'd been in. The Geniuses were extremely knowledgeable and the entire store staff was very friendly and accomodating. In fact, I've never been to a store and had so much fun. They were always ready to help customers and not once stood around talking when there was a customer in the store. I can only hope that is still the case as I heard a few of the guys were moving to different stores.

Perhaps it's the high turnover and low pay in of the retail world that's really taking its toll on Apple Retail Stores. Seems like the Apple Stores are getting worse and not better... at least that's my experience after having been to four or five of them.

2003-11-24 11:16:33
had my first experience at a genius bar the other night. had to return an iPod with a defective battery. i've got to say I think it's the greatest idea in tech support i've ever experienced. i actually left in a good mood, with a few new freinds, and my problem resolved. thought it was quite interesting watch the genius sling information like he was serving drinks (shaken not stirred).

I can see how the model wouldn't work if the genius wasn't out going or a genuis. but that wasn't the case in Palo Alto.

2006-06-14 14:41:36
I know this is an old thread, but I thought I'd comment anyway because my experience at the Pentagon City (Arlington, VA ->just a metro ride from DC) was great. One guy worked on my hard drive (which I though was dead since it couldn't get past the gray screen & had been acting wonky) for 3.5 hours & fixed it completely. To do that for free is amazing. Consider what you get from Dell & those guys. I didn't have Apple Care, wasn't under warranty & was not even the orginal purchaser of my Powerbook. I'm impressed more than I can express.