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Five things about AppleCare you probably don't know (that could help or hurt you)

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Chances are, even if you're a Windows user, you probably own an Apple product, whether it's an iPhone, iPad or even another Mac at your home or office.  Like any product we outlay good money for, you want to make sure it works and that it lasts. When you buy an Apple product, you'll usually hear about  AppleCare, Apple's extended warranty and support for your Apple product.  In my experience, very few people understand what AppleCare actually covers, which means most people are missing out, or paying too much when problems do occur.  If you own or are considering owning an Apple product, there are five things you need to know that could save you time and money, and even prevent you from losing you personal information:

1. On-site service for your home or business

If you own a desktop Mac (iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini) you're entitled to on-site AppleCare, which means you can request and expect that Apple will send an Apple-certified technician from an Apple-Authorized service provider to your home or office.  At TechRoom, we have the option of performing AppleCare repairs for desktops at our customer's home or office.

In reality, most customers calling in to AppleCare get referred into their local Apple Store for service, and the option of on-site service is rarely provided.  The other day I spent 20 minutes at the Apple Store at Fashion Island, in Newport Beach, California, watching at least a dozen customers hauling iMacs and Mac Pros out of their cars and up escalators.  

If you own a Mac covered by a 3-year AppleCare protection plan, and you would prefer repair be done in your home or office, make sure you tell the phone support rep it's what you're expecting.  And make sure you read #5 below, about what you need to know to protect your data and personal information during the repair.  You have to do this, because Apple won't.

2. The benefits (and dangers) of AppleCare phone support

During my recent iCloud data breakdown, where I couldn't get access to all my data, the level one AppleCare phone support advisor tried her hardest to get me back up and running.  During her phone troubleshooting, when every possible attempt to restore my iPhone from my iCloud backup failed, she asked me to try signing in to iCloud to see if my contacts and photo stream and other iCloud "related" data was there. I was happy to comply- and it wasn't a surprise to me that it worked- because my iCloud access to certain sync data was working on my notebook as well.  She thought the problem was resolved, and asked me to turn on iCloud backup on a freshly restored and partially-configured iPhone.  

I politely declined.  She thought the problem was solved, when she didn't really hear what the problem was in the first place.  What she was asking me to do would have backed up my partially configured iPhone that was missing almost all my backed-up data (my camera roll, audio memos, application data from Genius Scan+, etc.). This would have pushed my last backup further back, or possibly deleted it if enough backups happened first.  Her innocent attempt at helping me would have made me lose 1388 videos and photos of my family and priceless memories.  I told her why I respectfully said no to her, and she promptly escalated me to level-two AppleCare support.   

Whether it's an iPhone, iPad or Mac, remember that the AppleCare support representatives don't know what they don't know, and they don't know what you don't know.  You need a technician that is absolutely going to commit to you preventing accidental errors and take steps to protect against them.  See #5 tip below for an example of how to protect yourself in a lot of these situations.

3. How Apple measures - and compensates - their service providers 

You may not know this, but Apple doesn't rank their service providers purely by how great their customer service experience is.  Why does this matter to you? If you've ever designed a compensation plan for an employee, or if you've worked for commission, then you know that the employer gets what they pay for.  Apple pays their service providers labor based on a program called AppleCare Service Excellence, which is based on a few key metrics: 1) Parts per repair, 2) First time fix, 3) Repair turnaround time and 4) First-time fix.  It's a brilliant system at it's core, because each one of these metrics can be affected positively if the service provider has the right priorities.  For example, if my technicians are awesome at diagnostics, you can assume that we'll probably only replace parts necessary, and probably get it right the first time.  To the customer, this means one service repair, not coming back a second time.

But the danger in metrics is the "be careful what you wish for" problem: An accurate diagnostic doesn't necessarily mean only one part is needed for a complete and thorough repair.  What if the customer was procrastinating on a low-priority, non-crucial issue- like a non-crucial key on the keyboard not working? When you have to come in for repair, that keyboard has to be replaced!  It's now important.  That dings the service provider score.  So you can guess what the potential danger is here.  

4. The difference between certification and authorization

This is pretty straightforward:  You don't have to be Apple Authorized to be Apple Certified.  Anyone can go take a test and get Apple Certified, but even with certification, you're not allowed to work on Apple products without Authorization, which only happens when you're employed by an Apple Authorized service provider.  A lot of service issues appear to be software that aren't, and lead to large bills by consultants before ultimately getting referred back to an Apple Store- where the customer's now frustrated, and penalized, because the tech either couldn't diagnose or handle an issue that Apple would compensate an authorized party to handle.   Being certified and authorized at TechRoom sets us apart from other consultants because we can own any issue- regardless of who needs to compensate us at the end.  This is better for the customer.

5. How to protect your data and personal information

You need to know that AppleCare covers the computer, not your data.  Sometimes the appropriate step to repair a computer- or a server- is to replace a hard drive, and in doing so, wipe out the data.   Or even before the repair, a standard diagnostic measure is to reinstall your operating system.  Either way, all the settings, applications, and other data is at risk.   Steps and measures need to be taken to preserve and protect your data, and this isn't covered under AppleCare.  Make sure the technician or Apple representative you're working with knows this fully informs you of any potential or real danger to your information.

With these five things in mind, you'll not only protect your data and your productivity, but you'll also  potentially save tons of money and time and get more from your AppleCare protection plan.  If you don't have AppleCare, and you're still in your first year of warranty, go call your Apple Store business manager and get it while you can.  It practically pays for itself the first time you need it.