A Good Apple Experience


If you are familiar with any of my past stuff, you are probably aware by now that I have long had a love/hate relationship with Apple. I still have great respect and admiration for their obsessive focus on UI/UX and design as well as their clean software architecture and technical achievements, but sadly, that love/hate teeter-totter has fallen more toward the “hate” side in the last couple of years, mostly due to their (also) obsessive control-freak, my-way-or-the-highway nature and the corporate culture they foster internally which I believe engenders that attitude. This is not just an academic thing that happens to rub me the wrong way…in the case of iOS, it became an active impediment to my use of the product, where the promise that “it just works” utterly failed for me, and with Apple engineering, there is no court of appeals. So I was forced to switch away from iOS to Android. Since that switch, I haven’t made any new Apple hardware purchases for myself: the last product I bought was the Retina MacBook Pro that I ordered in the summer of 2012, which was shortly before I tried to go toe-to-toe with Apple over my frustrations with my (not-so-) “unlocked” iPhone. (I do still use the MBP, if you are wondering.)

However, I recently had cause to make a purchase from Apple again, when some friends of mine conspired to get their son an iPad as a college graduation gift. I helped them order it and we had it shipped to myself so that it would be a surprise. Long story short, Apple botched the order, but the way that they finally responded and came through for me in the end is absolutely something worthy of public praise. I don’t want to be known as someone who only airs one’s grievances publicly and fails to give credit where it’s due or expend similar effort to get the word out when someone does something right, so I want to acknowledge and thank Apple for the way that they handled my case.

We started with a budget of around $300, and we were pretty sure that the recipient would prefer a 10” model instead of a Mini. This pretty much meant we were looking to buy an iPad 2, which is still available new from some retailers (subject to local stock on hand) for $299 and from Apple’s refurb store for $279. But I was concerned that with the iPad 2 recently being discontinued, there was a risk that the next release of iOS would not support the iPad 2, and thus the gift would end up being obsolete very shortly after it was given, which is no good. The product that replaced the iPad 2 in Apple’s line-up, the 4th-generation iPad, was also available on the Apple refurb store for a few dollars more, so I decided it would be best to spend just a little more than we originally intended and get a much newer, much superior, and still guaranteed-to-be-supported product.

The problem is that snagging the product you want off of the refurb store is easier said than done. Many models seem to always be available, but other, much more popular models sell out almost as soon as new stock is posted. And Apple does not accept backorders or rain checks for refurbished products, so if they are out of stock of the particular one you are looking for, you can’t place an order. You have to be at the right place at the right time to get what you want.

We were looking for a black one. I had seen the base-line (16GB WiFi) 4th-gen iPad on the refurb store recently in both colors (black and white), yet when I finally went to place the order, only the white one was available (of course). So I waited. I spent several days monitoring the site, and the deadline by which we needed to have the gift in-hand was getting dangerously close. And during that time, the remaining stock of white models also ended up selling out. But I visit the Apple refurb store from time to time for kicks anyway, and the impression I had going into this was that these models are stocked with decent frequency — and since these are still current models that Apple continues to crank off of the production lines, this didn’t surprise me — so I was fairly certain I would be given the opportunity to order one and have it here on time.

And finally, my patience paid off…or so I thought: both the black and white models reappeared on the store. I started to place an order for a black one, but before I got to the end, somebody had apparently beaten me to the last one, and the web site told me I had lost out just after I had finished typing in my credit card number. With the clock ticking, I decided I should probably go ahead and order a white one and get it on its way here, so I did. This was on a Tuesday, and the white iPad was shipped out the very next day on Wednesday and was on my doorstep by Friday, which is truly remarkable.

The same Friday that I took delivery of the white iPad, the black model was restocked. I was pretty sure that if he had the choice, the recipient of the gift would prefer the black color, and so not wanting to miss another opportunity, I placed an order for a black one, and the order was accepted by Apple. Finally! We gave the white one to its new owner that weekend, but informed him that a black one was on its way, if he would prefer that instead. As we guessed, he said he would prefer that, and was willing to wait. The shrinkwrap on the white iPad box wasn’t even broken when I took it back to an Apple store the following Monday to return it.

It turned out that returning the white iPad before we had received the black one was a mistake, because by Tuesday of the following week, the black one had not yet shipped out. I thought this unusual given how quickly my previous order had been dispatched, and the delay was made all the more unusual because I had even seen the black model reappear at least once on the refurb store while I was waiting for the one that I had ordered to ship. The next day, I logged into the Apple Online Store to check the status of the order once more, and indeed something had finally changed: rather than being told it was still “processing”, I was greeted with a notice that the order had been “cancelled”. No explanation given on the web site, no e-mail waiting for me from Apple in my inbox, no missed phone calls or voicemails on my phone…nothing. If I had not logged in to check, I would have had no idea that the order was no longer valid.

To say that I was frustrated at that point, given what I had gone through to try to secure one, and also given that I had already gone ahead and returned the white one that I did manage to get, is a huge understatement. I tried to keep my frustration in check as I picked up the phone to call the Apple Store’s customer service department in order to find out what was going on. After being bounced around between a couple of people, I finally reached someone who said he could take a look at my order, and the answer I got from him about what had happened almost beggared belief: he claimed that a note had been added to the order on his end from the “warehousing company” (the name of which he had trouble pronouncing…he started to spell it and said it began with “Axx”) stating that upon closer inspection, a hardware problem had been found with the refurbished iPad I had ordered, which meant it no longer met Apple’s standards. And because this item was no longer in stock, the order was automatically cancelled…never you mind what I had gone through to get it, or that because the web site had accepted my order that I felt it was safe to return the other one, or even that it had shown up as being in stock again at least once during the time I was waiting for mine to ship out. I was informed that if I wanted this product, I would have to start all over again at square one. Neither the white nor black model were in stock at this point, so I was now effectively at the back of the line again.

I pondered what to do for a while. In the end, given the experience I had just had with their phone agents, I assumed that avenue was a dead end and that calling them back would be a waste of time. I looked for an e-mail address I could send a complaint to, and of course, just like with their product support department, their store customer support department has no e-mail address…you can only reach them by phone. So I did the only thing I knew to do, even though the last time I had tried it, it also turned out to be a dead end: I e-mailed Tim Cook.

2 days later, on a Friday, I got a call from Apple Online Store Executive Relations. I don’t know if the gentleman who called me would appreciate me giving his name out (and if he is willing to be named, I will happily update this post later), but…Mr. X, if you are reading this, you are the MAN. I cannot thank you enough for taking care of me the way that you did. You were completely professional, you dug deep into the details of my case to try to understand it, even going so far as to review call recordings between myself and your other agents, you were apologetic about what I went through and the way that the previous agent I had spoken to handled things, you took gobs of your own time to talk with me at length about what had happened and didn’t try to hasten the conversation to get me off the phone, and you provided me with a very generous solution to my problem. Over the course of the 2 days between when I sent my e-mail and when I got the phone call from Executive Relations, the black base-line 4th-gen iPad was not restocked (and hasn’t been since, at least as of the time that I am posting this), but the white one did show back up again and was still showing as available while I was on the phone with Mr. X. Even so, knowing that ultimately I was looking for a black one, he went out of his way to come up with an even better solution: he offered, on behalf of Apple, to sell me a refurbished Space Gray base-line iPad Air instead, for the same price I had ordered the black 4th-gen iPad for. And, true to his word, that iPad shipped out that weekend, and showed up on my doorstep yesterday.

Now THAT is customer service. Mr. X, my hat is off to you. I can’t wait to tell the recipient of this iPad that he is actually getting an iPad Air instead. You went well above and beyond, and have managed to nudge that Apple love/hate teeter-totter of mine back a little more towards the “love” side.

Now if only somebody could do something about my iOS complaints…

A Good Excuse


It’s true: I have, through my negliect, allowed this site to collect a modicum of bitrot. But it’s not like I have nothing to show for this “lost” time:


It’s all about priorities.

The Pat Metheny Unity Group


I don’t intend for this to be an “anything goes” type of blog, and I don’t really feel qualified to do reviews of art, but I do feel the need to say something — even if brief — about this. I had the distinct privilege of seeing Pat’s latest band, dubbed the Pat Metheny Unity Group, live last week, and boy…what a show. What I got to witness that night were guys who are all at the top of their game. This was also one of the few times that I went to a show of his without having heard the new record that he was touring in support of, which actually turned out to be a fun experience. I really had no idea what to expect, and I was in no way disappointed.

The thing that struck me both during and after the show is that even though this is not the PMG as we have previously known them, there are a lot of striking parallels. It’s almost like we are witnessing the birth of PMG Part II. The addition of keyboardist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi to what was the Unity Band quartet of last year definitely makes this feel more like the old Group we know and love: piano solos, wordless vocals, synths, and lush orchestration are all present and accounted for. But in a way, this new musical setting goes above and beyond the old, thanks to the presence of the orchestrion in the mix. The orchestrion came to be after the last record bearing the “Pat Metheny Group” name was released, so it has never had the chance to join the original group on-stage, but how Pat is using it in this new context is not entirely unprecedented: it seems to me that he’s using it with this group in much the same way that synthesizers have always been used in the context of the PMG for almost its entire existence. Pat has always loved experimenting with new sonic possibilities, and his use of synthesizers has (arguably) never been gratuitous, and was certainly never about trying to replace or find acceptable substitutes for traditional instrumentation. Lyle never played synths “instead of” carting his Steinway around with him, and Pat never played the Roland “instead of” acoustic or electric guitar, or “instead of” calling for an actual trumpet in his compositions — he wouldn’t have brought guys like Ledford or Vu on board if that was his goal. It’s always been about finding and using the right tool for a given job…the instrument in service to the music.

This orchestrion is something that was not possible technologically-speaking until relatively recently, and it is serving much the same function that synths have always served in the context of Pat’s larger, orchestrated band projects. That’s not to say that it will replace the use of synthesizers for him, but it does give him yet one more tool in his musical toolbox. It was very telling, I think, that this time around, over the course of the entire 3 hour (!) show, Pat never did a solo with just the orchestrion accompanying him. It was never the main attraction, front-and-center, drawing attention to itself. Rather, the orchestrion was folded into this quintet subtly and tastefully. Much like with the Synclavier before it, it has taken Metheny a little while to explore this new tool of his and to figure out what it is capable of, what its limitations are, and how he can use it in the context of an ensemble, but now I think we are really beginning to see the fruits of that. This is Pat’s second act in a sense, and I can’t wait to see where he takes it from here.

The new stuff was definitely a highlight of the concert, and “the new stuff” is what I always look forward to hearing the most whenever I go to one of his concerts, but there were also a few very nice surprises for long-time fans mixed into the playlist that night. I was honestly surprised at my own reaction to hearing some of these songs played live again, and I’m sure the emotional intensity of the moment for me was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting any of it. Before diving into the new material, they played a few songs from the Unity Band record, including Roofdogs, which is just absolutely *killer* live. (Chris Potter is really something else.) At one point, they played a really great version of James. Metheny broke out Jobim’s How Insensitive again as a vehicle for showing off bassist Ben Williams, who played it with Pat as a duet. And then they officially ended the show with Have You Heard. Needless to say, that brought the house down. The encore piece was Are You Going With Me?, followed by a second standing ovation. The second encore piece (!!!!) was an amazing solo medley of past Metheny tunes (I counted 7) on the acoustic. It was a love letter to his fans. Absolutely sublime.

If the Pat Metheny Unity Group passes through your area, you need to go. This is not a tour to be missed.