Carlos, from Apple Care

apple-logoSo those who know me well, fully appreciate that I am not an Apple Fan Boy. I’ve written obliquely and directly on this issue.

My experience of the iPad over the past 12 months has certainly not endeared me (as a previously committed android tablet aficionado) to Apple, continually frustrated by a device and an operating system that tries hard, and continually falls short of expectation.

Neither has the events of the past 4 days endeared me to the hardware, or the software. But yet again – dropped firmly in the sh!te by the Apple “system” and perhaps my own efforts to do things my own way – I have subsequently been subject to a phone line support experience truly unparalleled in the annals of computer technical support. Let me start now as I will finish – Carlos, of Apple-Care (and the other two people I spoke at length to over the past 4 days) – I salute you.

TF101A year ago, after months and months of persisting with my old, steam driven Android tablet (an ASUS Transformer TF101) in the knowledge that certain doom was impending in the form of a “forced” company ” iPad – once it finally came, I decided to jump in and take it on as best as I could. I bought a Zagg Pro Folio+ keyboard for it (which instantly endeared itself to me by allowing me to cycle through the 7 different keyboard colors in front of Paul Halpin, my co-manager who’s logitech keyboard only has one backlit color). I searched out the iPad versions (or equivalent) apps to try and achieve a similar level of utility as I had enjoyed on my Android tablet. Still, my Samsung Note 2 was so much more flexible and versatile tool than the iPad – we were not a happy match. The Zagg keyboard has been great, however – at least until IOS 7, after which the bluetooth connection has become unreliable.

NYAppleStore1Deciding to start fresh, I abandoned my previous Apple account (which dates back to my 3 day flirtation with an iPhone bought from the Apple store, New York a few months after the initial release) and instead registered anew with my gMail address. Against this I used a US address and a US credit card to ensure I’d have access to the US App Store (good thinking, 99). I used my company e-mail address for recovery and carefully noted down the three recovery questions/answers.

This all seemed to work well until mid last year when I went chasing the ABC News App, Radio National and iView and discovered they weren’t accessible on the US App store – after some research, I registered a new Apple ID with the two e-mails reversed and an Australian address/credit card, entered the details into my iPad and downloaded the desired apps. Once installed I returned to my gmail AppleID and life went on. All of this is (as always) clearly recorded in Evernote, for later retrieval.

Now roll forward to the end of last week and the spanking new iPad Air replacement to my current iPad arrives. I took it home over the weekend to set it up – mirror-like beside my current iPad. Clearly lighter, quite a nice “iteration” into the next generation. (You can run Windows on Apple Desktop/Laptop hardware – why can’t you run Android on the Air ??) Now, of course, I need a new keyboard. Amazon beckons …

Unwrapping the new toy (which is the best part of any Apple product as far as I’m concerned), I entered my gMail AppleID and password, downloaded and configured all my apps. Almost complete – I noticed I was missing my ABC/RN apps; and at this point had a complete brain fart and could not remember how I got round this particular problem last time. Eventually I stopped Googling a solution, and entered my wife’s AppleID into the Air (she has an Australian account), and downloaded the apps. It’s all going swimmingly well at this point.

Then I entered my gmail AppleID and password back into the Air – and this is where the problems began …

The Air then rejected my AppleID/Password (“either your AppleID or password is incorrect“). Now I have a fairly complicated password, so I had a couple of goes at it – but eventually became convinced that it wasn’t going to work, no matter how many times I typed it in … “keep pressing that Altitude Selector – even though you’re not in VNAV, I’m sure if you press it harder/often enough the aircraft will climb eventually …

Speaking of passwords – I am getting fed up with the degree of complication passwords are requiring these days. Numbers, letters of both case, punctuation, avoid recognisable phrases/names, not one you’ve used in the last 12 months – all enforced on you by software – we’re rapidly approaching the point where I’d rather give them blood or a hair follicle for DNA analysis than to have to construct yet another successful password. As it is I have a system for creating passwords that meet all these requirements, but simultaneously avoids the requirement for passwords so obscure that you have to look them up each and every time – but even that is getting to be a challenge.

So I diverted to my laptop and tried to log into my Apple account. No success. Fruit!?(not what I said, but you get the idea). So I used the password reset, sending myself a link to generate a new password. This required me to enter my gMail Apple ID and click the reset button. Done – but no email arrives. 20 minutes – another go – another empty inbox.

Method two – armed with my security questions, I tried this method of resetting my password. Surprise Surprise – it didn’t want my questions, the first thing asked was my birth date. Which I entered. Which Apple rejected (not only was my account being rejected, but now my birthday is invalid). So I sat back on my heels for a few moments and tried to remember if I’d lied about my age to Apple; why I would have done that – and more importantly – what would I have used instead. While considering this I trolled through Apple support (nothing live available on a Saturday night unfortunately, clearly these people have lives to live, unlike me).

At this point I gave up. Not counting the iPad Air setup time – I’d wasted about 4 hours on a Saturday afternoon trying to fix this thing, making me grumpy for the rest of the weekend. I found the Australian Apple support page and booked a support call for Monday morning.

WakeUpMonday morning started with a 4Am wakeup for a 7Am flight to Sydney for the week. Pulling into Sydney and collecting a car from Hertz (who are still totally unable to add to my very regular bookings the acquired-through-great-difficulty Hertz Gold account card, which was supposed to remove me from the peak hour queuing for service; and the same inane questions I’m asked every week – “No Tolls, Standard Insurance, No Petrol, No GPS, Phone Number on my Card”) – and I’m in the car with blue tooth connected, waiting for Apple to call.

Which Apple did (great system). At this point I’m talking to a very nice woman with a particularly thick Kiwi accent and we explore our way through my weekend of iPad Air trials and tribulations. After 30 minutes of questions and answers and fruitless searching, she has become convinced that I never had an Apple account registered under my gmail account; or at least, I definitely don’t have one now.

Even better – she had me doubting that I had one (she was that good). All told she found about 5 accounts that were in some way registered to me (two of which I had completely forgotten about; one of which I swear I had nothing to do with, even though it was under an old e-mail of mine) – which is kind of impressive given the obscure nature of some of these accounts. I’m under-equipped for this assailment of my logic, without access to 19 years of e-mail history that is on my laptop, which included every receipt for app purchase I had made on my existing iPad 4 – emailed to my gMail address with my gMail address as the Apple ID mind you – I was doubting myself. Put it down to chivalry – she was very nice and I was clearly confused, and becoming more so. I was also driving at the time, which means the problem had only a varying percentage of my brain, despite pulling over about halfway and sitting in the car for 20 minutes reading serial numbers and searching for relevant e-mails. We parted ways on good terms, but without a resolution. This was clearly not her fault (which made it mine?) – she had fought the good fight and persisted helping me through 45+ minutes of trolling databases and record search engines; my account … just – wasn’t – there.

The weird thing was – somehow she focussed in on my wife’s Apple account, registered under her gMail address. She said that my old iPad had been connected to this account. Not the Air (which I did do) – but the iPad 4. This seemed unlikely, but possible I guess, after a year. But then she went on to say that my wife’s Apple account (using her gMail address) was registered with a US postal address and a US credit card. Now we’re stretching the bounds of credulity – why would I have done that? But without access to my wife, her iPhone/iPad Mini/iTunes – I can’t dispute the assertion. My world is topsy turvy at this point and I miss a clear clue to what has occurred.

At one point she asks me if I have the serial number or receipt of (a) the iPod video 32GB I used in the late 90’s – Nooooo; (b) same for my 3-day iPhone of the early 00’s – Nooooo. Receipts of purchase against those devices – Nooooo. Not sure how it would have helped, but worth a try I guess.

The experience was enough to convince me that (a) Apple phone services is awesome; (b) I need a [better] system for receipts; and (c) there was something screwy with my account – in all likelihood related to my too-clever association with the US App store in my initial account setup (the fact that I had successfully operated this way for 12 months was glossed over at this point). I resolved to call US Apple Support and try there.

AppleSupportAnd so now it’s 1AM and I’m in my hotel room, Skype up and running, and I’m calling the US free call 1800 number for Apple Support. Two button presses and I’m listening to music for less than a song – and then I’m talking to a human being. Once again, Apple clearly has no idea how technical phone support is supposed to be done. I had no time to go away and make tea, read a magazine or start a land war in Asia – ridiculously fast.

So we started down the standard tech support road, more quickly this time since I knew some of the turns and dips. 20 minutes later and we were once again at the conclusion that my account did not exist. After five minutes of discussion, she got me to create a new Apple ID with my gMail account once again (this gave me a very bad feeling, I can assure you) advising me that once I had done so I would be able to transfer my apps across. Apps created, she then asked me to log into iTunes on my desktop.

Well – I’m in a hotel room, 500 miles from from my desktop, which in fact does run iTunes, but has never seen a connection to my iPad. Challenge – Accepted.

It’s true that in spite of all vociferous, disdainful protests to the contrary – I do own a computer running iTunes. In my own defence – I have Roku Soundbridge that I stream music to from iTunes (or “The iTunes” as my mother in law calls it …) I can’t find another solution that does this – or I would.

iTunes is probably great on the Mac. In fact iTunes on the Mac must be the single greatest piece of software in history – the culmination of the software art form itself, the pinacle of human achievement in such pursuits – in order to offset the piece of crap that it is on the PC.

But I digress …

So I Teamviewer?into my desktop, run iTunes, and enter my new (old?) gMail AppleID and password into iTunes. “Ok –” she says “Go to the iTunes Store, now click on your account, now click on ‘Account’ – and your apps will be listed there. Then we connect your iPad to your desktop and transfer your Apps across.” Easy. Hmm.

Well I tell her that the Bad News is that my apps are in fact not there – there is absolutely no purchase history at all. The good news is – the computer is 500 miles away and we were unlikely to find a cord long enough, or wifi powerful enough, to reach it anyway. But in any event – no Apps.

A few more questions, she’s polite, but becoming less and less helpful as all options are clearly drying up – and I’m tired and getting cranky so – off to bed. Alone, without my apps …

AppleAustraliaBy now I am all but truly resigned to having to re-purchase all my apps. At least I now have my gMail Apple account back to do it with. More trolling around the internet brings me to the conclusion that I will not be the first person to have had to do this. My day was full of driving to the Airport; teaching ground school to a couple of transferring pilots (Jon, Chris, a pleasure gents) anyway (with a quickie phone in meeting fix in the middle) and after dropping my students at the airport for their flight home to BNE/MEL – I’m settled back into my Hertz car for the 60 minute drive to my accomodation out in the West.

What the hell – I dial the Australian Apple support care number. How else do you kill time in the car?

Markedly better call in experience this time – I only had to press one button, the music was slightly better, and despite being told to expect a 3 minute wait – I had a human being in less than half a song. How many of them must there be? I’m calculating about 1 support person for every three people who call in.

After introductions and salutations, I asked him to sit and listen to my story – then ask questions and we could roll into the support call. I encapsulated fairly well in 5 minutes my entire Apple account history, mentioning all accounts ever created, all devices owned, but focussing on the new account last year, the ipad and the downloads of the last 12 months – and the experiences of the past weekend and two support subsequent calls, including re-creating my account in the wee hours.

SydTrafficQuite a pause from the Apple care guy as he gathers his thoughts … and then we were off. Trying several things that were tried before (traffic was crawling, I was pleased with the distraction and conversation) – he then focussed again on my wife’s Apple account, with it’s US Address/Credit Card (later we’d realise why everyone kept coming back to this – but this was again another missed opportunity to solve the problem …)

In the meantime I have spoken to my wife, and between the two of us we decided 100% that this was not the case. Her purchases were definitely coming off our Australian credit card – although she resisted popping into “the iTunes” to purchase some more Olof Arnalds to prove it. Just. Probably.

In any case, he convinced me to enter my wife’s account details into the iPad to see if my purchases were there. I did so. Then I clicked into the Apps store and hit the “Purchases” button. Well …

AppsLook, my Apps might well have actually been in there somewhere. Screaming out for air to breathe. But with 8 years of my daughter’s activity on Meg’s account (who uses my wife’s phone and iPad regularly, download Apps all the time, just to provide a level of reassurance that the world is still turning and the sun will rise in the morning …) and the Apps are flowing down the virtual page faster and faster, my venerable iPad 4 begins to emit smoke and I’m forced to hold it out the window of the car in an attempt to provide cooling before it spontaneously combusts and melts into a slag of aluminium and glass … well, you get the picture. Despite the “US Address” – this was NOT my account.

Apple Care guys asks me if he can put me on hold (all these guys are INTENSELY polite, it’s a little un-nerving for an Australian, I can tell you) and I’m listening to music. Just before he goes, he tells me that he really thought he had the solution – he thought I’d changed my Apple ID to my wife’s email address – and he was gone.

WHAT?

This upsets my world view, I can tell you. I have been registering for accounts with selected/creating usernames and passwords since I first dialled into a bulletin board with my “high speed” 2400 baud modem in the early eighties. The concept that you can change your username is entirely foreign. That web site that you’re so extremely fond of because of regular, thought provoking content in the discussion forums – but you were pissed when you registered late one night and thought the username “MindBlower” was really cool at the time – you’re stuck with that buddy. Years later, either create a new username and lose all your cred, or live with the name.

The concept that simply changing the primary e-mail on an account would change the login name really hadn’t struck me. My first Apple account was generated with the username “ken.pascoe” (yes, I’m not known for my inventiveness and imagination when it comes to usernames – at least, not since “MindBlower”) but all AppleID’s since then are e-mail addresses.

So questions are forming and I’m waiting for my Apple care guy to come back when … the music stops, a female voice advises me that I’m now 3 minutes from speaking to a support advisor; one song later – I’m talking to Carlos.

CarlosHeart sinking, I ask to speak to the previous guy. I explain that my case is a little complicated, and more to the point if I have to explain it again, my head might explode. Carlos is friendly, but firm and asks to be allowed to help me anyway (there’s that polite thing again …)

So I go through my story from purchasing an iPhone over a decade before to the end of the support call just a few minutes ago. I’m getting better at it – less irrelevant detail, more focus on the critical events. But now I’m asking the questions.

  • I ask him if it’s true that you can change your primary email address – and this changes your logon? Yes.
  • I ask him if when you do so – is the old e-mail address advised on the change – or is the new one? He’s not sure, but possibly both.
  • I ask him if the new address must be verified before the change goes through? Yes.
  • Finally, I ask him if this can be done through the iPad itself – either Settings, or in the App Store. No – it can only be done through the Apple web site (which could be done in Safari/Chrome on the iPad – But I am?sure I didn’t do that over the weekend.

So close … but the answers to these questions would seem steer away from “accidentally” changing the primary address.

We review at the address/account I created the night before, and I notice that I had used a very basic form of my US address rather than the full suite/apartment number. So where-ever this account is, it will still have my full US address on it, with the Suite number. Can you search based on that? No. Bugger

One of the limitations of the system Carlos is looking at – is privacy. I could have sent Carlos a host of information associated with this account. Account activity, App purchases, etc – to search by. But Carlos can’t see any of that.

While I appreciate that being able to look at more information related to someone’s account (Recent app purchase : “Make your Penis longer”; Recency music purchase : Anything by Mariah Carey) may not be in everyone’s interest – it sure would have helped us. Carlos couldn’t tell when an account was created, last used etc.

I now go hunting through all the e-mails over the weekend – and find at 18:45 advice from Apple that the following changes were made to my gMail Apple account :

  • Apple ID
  • Password
  • Email Address(es)
  • BINGO.

AppleIDAt this point – we’ve worked out that somehow (let’s not focus on how yet) – I’ve managed to change the primary e-mail address (and therefore the login) of my gMail AppleID – which of course is now no longer using my gMail address. The fact that I was able to register a new account the night before using that address effectively proves what must have happened. All I have to do now is figure out what address I used (once again ignoring the fact that I know?this didn’t happen).

So we spend ten minutes running through every address I might have used. Surprisingly few, actually. I don’t have secret hotmail addresses, I really only have my gMail addresses – but we try some variations on my work accounts as well.

No luck. So Close.

Please note that I am very confident that I did not do this in a web page. Somehow this was done inside the iPad Air (settings) itself, while trying to sign into my wife’s account. This was done without confirmation – other than the e-mail to my gMail account that the changes had been made – which I missed until later, at which point it became part of the snowstorm of emails associated with seeking Apple support in multiple forms.

Carlos has another idea. He gets me to read out the serial number of my iPad (three phonetic spelling attempts before we get that right) and he again focusses on my wife’s e-mail account. Only this time he reads it out, one letter at a time – and it’s miss-spelt. BINGO.

Now it becomes clear. Somehow when I entered my wife’s e-mail address into the iPad Air to download the ABC Apps – I managed to change the primary e-mail address against my existing account. In doing so, I entered a miss-spelling of my wife’s e-mail. Had I entered it correctly – it would have either refused the change, or logged onto my wife’s account. So my account, with all my Apps – ended up with essentially a string of characters that looked like my wife’s e-mail; but was not. That change was e-mailed to the new (invalid) address – and the rest was history.

Carlos was able to send a password reset for the changed account to my gMail address, so I used that link to reset the password, change the name back to my gMail account (after de-activating the second account of that name created the night before) and Presto – my old iPad is back on the right account with my Apps.

I thanked Carlos profusely – these support calls have been an emotional roller coaster, I can tell you – and promised to remember him favourably in this blog. Carlos you said this was one of the most complicated support call experiences you’ve had – well, you should have seen it from my end.

One thing I will say – I spent nearly an hour on each of three phone calls to Apple Care support over three days. These were long, involved support calls with several breaks in each one as the tech went off to get more information, or try something else. I never felt rushed, I never felt the support person was being pressured to close the call. As far as I could tell, Carlos was at home in his study, sitting in front of his home PC with a cup of coffee and danish – focussed entirely on solving my problem. It was an awesome phone support experience. Well done Apple – Well Done Carlos.

All’s well that ends well I suppose.

If I could only now bring myself to pick up the new iPad Air and try again … But I’ll need some time before I can go down that road again.