I picked up my third iPhone 5 in seven months from the Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal last week.
My first iPhone 5, which I bought a few weeks after the device launched in September last year, had a faulty home button that was completely unusable by January. Since it was still under warranty, Apple was happy to give me a brand new replacement device.
That one barely made it three months before the power button stopped working, meaning I couldn’t switch off my iPhone’s screen until it timed out automatically. Again, I took the broken device to the Apple Store and got a replacement.
This time though, I asked questions. Of course, the Apple Store employee who helped me out wasn’t a spokesperson for the company, but he did have some good insight. He said a lot of people have been coming in lately with broken iPhone 5 home or power buttons and the problem has been reported up the food chain to the big shots at Apple. (My colleague Kevin Smith had a broken power button on his iPhone 5 too.)
That’s not a good sign for a device that’s only been on the market for about eight months. These things are supposed to last about two years, not a few months.
The experience reminded me of a recent report I read that Apple is having some problems with iPhone 5s coming out of Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturing company it contracts to build its gadgets. According to Tom’s Hardware, only 80% of the iPhone 5s made at Foxconn meet Apple’s quality standards. Apple’s contract with Foxconn reportedly requires 90% of devices to meet those standards. Apple does its best to send the faulty devices back to Foxconn, but unfortunately some slip through the cracks.
Apparently, I was just unlucky and lightning struck me twice.
But, assuming those reports are true, my story does demonstrate one of the biggest advantages to owning an iPhone over other devices: customer service.
It was insanely convenient for me to take a 10-minute subway ride to my local Apple Store and get a brand new replacement iPhone. With iCloud, I had all my contacts, apps, custom settings, emails, etc. backed up. All I had to do was log in with my Apple account on my new iPhone and all that stuff magically appeared as if I was using the same device as before. (iCloud is mostly a terrible service, but the backup feature really is a lifesaver.)
Now compare that experience to buying an Android phone, Windows Phone, or BlackBerry. In most cases, you have to go through a carrier or third-party retailer like Best Buy or Radio Shack to buy those phones. And depending on the carrier or retailer, you don’t get the same level of customer service that you do through Apple. Each carrier or retailer has its own warranty or insurance plan for smartphones. And backing up and restoring those devices isn’t a seamless process like it is when you back up your iPhone using iCloud.
Samsung comes the closest though. The company is in the process of opening up its own mini stores within several Best Buy locations around the country. They’re called Samsung Experience stores, and they’re staffed by specially trained Samsung employees who can help you learn how to use your new Galaxy phone or tablet.
But those Samsung stores still can’t replace broken hardware like Apple Stores can. If your Galaxy’s hardware breaks, you still have to deal with the problem through the carrier or third-party retailer. Still, it’s better than anything other non-Apple phone makers can offer right now.
This is all something to consider when buying a new phone. I love some of the recent Android phones I’ve tested, especially the gorgeous new HTC One. But we’re all human, and we all screw up our phones at some point. Apple still has the advantage over the competition when it comes to servicing your damaged phone.