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Guest post: Getting smart with a Genius

This guest post is written by Restart Volunteer Coordinator David Mery.

About a year ago, my sister in law got a free iPhone 5 from her network. She had no use for it, so she gave it to me. Recently I noticed a couple of problems: the top power switch is becoming harder to operate, and more annoyingly the pictures taken with the phone show spots and dust marks.

I didn’t have any paperwork for the phone, but believed it was still under warranty as the first photo I took with the phone is dated February 28th last year. Even counting a week in the post, my sister in law was likely to have gotten it less than a year ago, so I booked an appointment with an Apple Genius at the Covent Garden store.

My Genius ran some remote diagnostics and declared that the phone was five days out of warranty. He explained that there was no grace period. He was happy to ‘fix’ as long as I didn’t mind contributing a flat fee of £209!

Photo by Flickr user Wade Tregaskis used on CC license
Photo by Flickr user Wade Tregaskis used on CC license

He explained that the spots were inside the lens of the camera, that they don’t have camera modules anymore so they just replace the iPhone. The difficulty with the power switch was caused by some rubber disintegrating. He offered to get rid of the dust on the lens for free and disappeared with the phone for five minutes. When he came back, there was a bit more dust! The Genius stated that he found there was a lot of residue in the phone and that could be part of the problem.

Both the power switch issue (documented here and here) and the camera one (documented here) are widespread among iPhone 5 owners and considered by all, but Apple, to be manufacturing defects that tend to manifest themselves after about a year. There’s even a small petition about the power switch issue.

As I was unwilling to part with this much cash for fixing manufacturing defects, and the Genius suggested I check with my sister in law for any paperwork showing the phone was still in warranty. I had a frustrating discussion with him, asking why Apple won’t fix what are widely known issues that are not caused by the user. He explained that he has no discretion.

No paperwork could be found, and nine days later I was back in the Apple Store, this time joined by Ugo, co-founder of The Restart Project. We went through a similar process, but also showed that older photographs taken well within the warranty period already exhibited spots, and some just before the warranty expiration also showed dust marks.

We then mentioned to him that according to Apple discussion forums, Apple has in other occasions accepted such evidence to provide a replacement.

Our clear awareness of the issue at stake and of online evidence in support of our claim, as well as the polite persistence which we used, convinced the Genius that he could have a chat with his supervisor, who approved a replacement.

The ‘Problem Description/Diagnosis’ in the ‘Work Authorisation & Service Confirmation’ is as follows:

Issue: Spots in camera

Steps to Reproduce: Issue has been observed and verified on the bar
Proposed Resolution: Replacement in warranty as customer has proof of issues existing from time of purchase.
Cosmetic Condition: Light wear and tear to enclosure

The Genius explained that when they discontinue a model, they manufacture some more parts for warranty purposes. The extra ‘part’ that had been manufactured was a whole phone.

When asked what would happen to the phone with the damaged camera module and power switch, the Genius volunteered it would be “destroyed”, his exact word. A replacement rear camera module is available online for a tenner and the power button cable for two, but not from Apple.

The true cost of mobile phones is high as Gaia Foundation’s Wake up call shows. Manufacturers must take responsibility for manufacturing defects for the useable life of their products. Externalising such costs on the consumer creates a perverse incentive for planned obsolescence.

6 responses

  1. Ruth Rickard

    If you are in the UK you are covered by consumer law for 6 years defects in manufacturing.
    I had an out of warranty iPhone 4S which began to malfunction (couldn’t access wifi – a fault afflicting many users) following the big update from iOS 6 to 7. Apple knew this and in fact information about consumer law was on their answering message, which clued me up. After going through the stuff with the first technician on the phone I asked politely to speak to a manager and was quickly put onto a very dynamic and helpful person who advised me to go to the nearest Genius Bar with the case number they gave me, and sure enough, a few quick checks and I was given a new phone. It doesn’t have the same warranty as my original but it works.
    It was a hassle because of all the backing up and re-installing done a few times, and I absolutely dislike the throwaway aspect to this, but I am very glad to be protected by British consumer law.

    1. janetgunter

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Ruth. Interesting about the malfunction caused by the iOS update because that cannot be considered a defect in manufacturing, can it? UK consumers are covered by EU law for 2 years – and Apple has run into problems with this. More here: http://9to5mac.com/2013/06/12/apple-changes-warranty-policy-in-belgium-to-offer-two-years-protection/

    2. Ruth, thank you for your additional information. My understanding is that what you refer to applies when you purchase a product in the UK (i.e., being in the UK when the fault becomes apparent is not the relevant point) and ‘the goods do not conform to the contract of sale at the time of delivery.’ (Sale of Goods Act 1979). For the first six months after purchase, the retailer has to show the goods did conform, but from six months until six years after purchase, it is for the consumer to show the lack of conformity. This is about the relation between the consumer and the retailer. (More at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://berr.gov.uk/whatwedo/consumers/fact-sheets/page38311.html and http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/england/consumer_e/consumer_common_problems_with_products_e/consumer_what_you_can_do_about_faulty_goods_e/faulty_goods_-_if_you_want_a_repair_or_a_replacement.htm)

      The EU regulation Janet mentions, as far as I understand, is about warranty from the manufacturer, but according to a forum post ‘the consumer has to prove that the failure was due to an error that was already present at the time of manufacture.’ which is difficult if the manufacturer has not acknowledged the fault. (See https://discussions.apple.com/message/24365291#24365291)

      However this is moot for my iPhone 5 as it was initially received from an Asian network operator. The replaced ‘part’ came with a 90 days warranty.

      1. Here’s Fairphone’s interpretation of the EU directive and how they implement it: https://fairphone.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/201851136

        You’ll notice in that Fairphone article that there’s apparently a two months notification period from discovery of the defect.

        Also, the current Directive 97/7/EC (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/en/ALL/?uri=CELEX:31997L0007) is to be supplemented by Directive 2011/83/EU (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:304:0064:0088:en:PDF) in June 2014. This describes the right to withdraw from the sales contract for a device or a part within 14 days without giving any reason.

  2. Ruth Rickard

    I did not read up the law on this but I merely stated very firmly to the Apple Support people that it was clearly the update to the iOs that had caused the malfunction and that could not be my fault, a point which they accepted, obviously. I may have been wrong about the 6 years’ cover, of course.

  3. Apple has eventually acknowledged that the ‘sleep/wake button [a.k.a. the power button] mechanism on a small percentage of iPhone 5 models may stop working or work intermittently’.

    To find out if you can benefit from a free fix, check if your iPhone 5 was manufactured before March 2013 and is affected at https://ssl.apple.com/uk/support/iphone5-sleepwakebutton/ (If you already had this button replaced and paid for the fix, you may be eligible for a refund so check that page as well.)

    Apple remains mum about the camera issue.

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