Caution! Genius at Work. Not.

Who, or what, you might ask, is rattling the cage of the Emu this week? In a week that saw yet more high profile senior church resignations, an indignant Alex Ferguson nearing physical combustion, and, apparently, our beloved monarch actually exploding at both ends, where would you best start?

Actually, I’m tempted to fill you in on a perspective on all the above. Firstly, I really think we need to stop this indignation that our senior public figures are anything but tarnished and corrupt menaces to society. We may as well face up to the fact that anyone holding down any position of authority in the last 30 years who hasnt been found out yet has just done an ok job of hiding their indiscretions. That way we’ll save a lot of future energy. We need to come to terms with the fact that lots and lots of people don’t necessarily enter the church, politics or show business with purely altruistic intentions.  There’s a trust thing there that we’ll return to another time.
Sir Alex complaining about referees not being fair is a bit like Alanis Morisette writing a song about being ironic, and calling it ‘Ironic’, without actually including any examples of irony in the lyrics. In other words, really ironic. Anyway, the sight of SAF pushing his way past one of his assistants in his hurry to get down to swear at the fourth official will stay with me for some time as a great example of quality people management at work.
As for Her Maj, I was intrigued at the way in which she was discussed on the radio. I was first alerted to her plight by Radio 5, where Alan Green gravely informed us of her condition at the start of the Arsenal/Spurs game, and reassured the nation that, should there be any change to her condition, that he would interrupt the match commentary to keep us informed. The next morning I tuned in to Radio 5 again, to hear the news team ask an expert what the Queen might be experiencing at the moment if the bout of gastro-enteritis was particularly debilitating. Honestly, I reckon I could be one of these experts if they want a straight answer on that one, although I’m not sure I would have quite spoilt so many breakfasts as the real expert they interviewed. The last word on this goes to the Emu family’s real medical expert, Mrs E, who, on hearing the news, expressed horror that HRH had been hanging around with the sort of people that carry such bugs.

So, we could cover all that this week, and we won’t. Instead, we are here to  explore the murky world of mobile phone engineering.

This started a couple of weeks ago, when #2, who bought an iPhone from the proceeds of his paper round three years ago, announced that it had gone, well, a bit HRH. So, off he went to the Apple store, to get it checked in for a repair. And back he came a short time later, noting that you aren’t allowed to go into such a shop and get a device repaired. You need to book an appointment, with (and we will return to this word later) a Genius.

So he booked an appointment. And went for his appointment. And the Genius told him that his phone was broken.* So he asked about getting it repaired and was told that a standard repair would cost £130, or as we might otherwise term it, about the price of a second hand 3 series iPhone.

We had the usual family conflab and agreed that we should probably go with this solution. So later that day, we trooped off to the Apple store to get a replacement…

Slightly Grumpy Customer : “Hi, my son came in earlier, and you told him that he’d have to pay to get his phone repaired out of warranty. So can we go ahead with doing that please?”
Apple non-Genius person: “Yes, ok, but I’ll need to get a Genius to talk to you about this. Can I book you in for an appointment?”
SGC: “No, we’ve gone through that, we just need to get the phone repaired. Can you get someone to help please?”
AnGp: “Well, it will be difficult, as you do need to have an appointment, but I’ll see if I can get Ed. He’s a Genius.”

AnGp returns, with Ed. Ed, disappointingly, seemed to have few of the trappings of Genius about him, unless you count being middle aged, slightly overweight and with stary eyes, in which case most of the blokes in my local pub should be up for Nobel prizes very soon.
Ed: “Yes, we can offer you our repair service on this phone. It’ll cost £130, and we can give you the replacement unit straight away if we have one in stock*”
SGC: “So, you’re not offering to repair it, you’re replacing it”
Ed: “Yes”
SGC: “With a new unit?”
Ed: “Well, these are termed ‘replacement units'”.
SGC: “So, they’re refurbished then?”
Ed: “Oh, we don’t use that term”
SGC: “OK, but they’re built from parts of other phones that have been returned?”
Ed: “Yes, so when you trade your phone in, it’ll be recycled as well in the same way”
SGC: “So, it’ll be refurbished?”
Ed: “Yes, I suppose so”
SGC “And then sold to someone for £130 as a replacement unit?”
And so we went on, examining the new model that Apple seem to have built for income upon income. I would bet money that all that was wrong with my son’s phone was a software error that a proper hard boot would fix, or possibly the replacement of a minor technical component. The sort of thing that you might sort out if you were in the repair business, for example.
SGC: “So, what’s the guarantee on this then?”
Ed: “It’s 90 days”
SGC: “Surely it should be a year?”
Ed: “Well, no, because its a replacement unit”
SGC: “And if it goes wrong on day 91, I have to pay you another £130?”
Ed: “Well, yes, but that won’t happen – these things hardly ever go wrong”
I ran out of energy some time after this, and gave in. I did ask Ed to look at my iPod, and he was good enough to ask the AnGp to book me an appointment for the following weekend, which is the soonest a Genius would be able to look at it*. In the meantime I asked if it would be the same story with the iPod, which had a dodgy on/off switch.
Ed: “Oh no, it’ll be much cheaper, let’s have a look in the catalogue* – it’s £75”

Which, for a two year old device that cost £120 and needs someone to look at a switch, also seems a little steep.

So, what do we conclude from this diatribe?

Well, for a start, there’s a new model in town for making money from kit that looks fantastic but only seems to be designed to last two years. To Apple’s credit, they tend to talk about being ‘beautifully designed’, but I’d quite like the stuff to be beautifully engineered as well. This is my industry, so, as the wonderful Claire Skinner says in ‘Life is Sweet’, allow me to know. The component parts are generally cheap to manufacture, and, if engineered properly, easy to replace.
Secondly, this economic model that supports Apple’s hilariously titled ‘repair service’, must be getting the Apple finance team super excited. I’ve met a number of finance teams in my life, and never seen them in a state even approaching super excitement. But I would imagine in Cupertino California, there are regular examples of team members achieving a shuddering climax over their final quarter spreadsheets.

Finally, I really really do have a problem with that G word. At a time when we appear to be dragging language through a very thorny hedge, you kind of expect some of the precious words in our lives to be, we’ll, precious and protected. And genius is one of those words. Genius should be reserved for Einstein,  Newton, Turing, and, if you only take into account his first six albums, Elvis Costello. I’m sorry Ed, but it really isn’t the right word for you.

* note, it really doesn’t take a Genius to do this.


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