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Editorial: CBC again attacks Apple's repair policies, but still lacks knowledge of how it really works

Six months after the last attack on Apple's repair policies and practices, CBC has produced another report objecting to Apple's reluctance to dealing with water-damaged iPhones, with it again lacking an understanding of how and why Apple's repair department works the way it does.

Following on from 2018's criticism of Apple, the latest video report by CBC's The National starts by introducing viewers to the Billards, a Newfoundland couple who failed to make adequate backups of photographs that were stored on an iPhone. A boating accident put the iPhone at the bottom of a lake, damaging the device.

The incident prompted a call to Apple asking how to recover the thousands of images stored on the iPhone, but the request was fruitless. Apple had "virtually no interest" in helping, the couple asserts, with the company apparently more in favor of selling a replacement device than in recovering the data.

After querying third-party repair outfits nearby, the Billards were referred to a company near Rochester, New York called iPadRehab. The firm, operated by Jessa Jones who formed the company following a similar water-based mishap of her own and taught herself how to repair iPhones, was able to get the iPhone up and running enough to recover the data for the couple.

The report then moves towards how Apple's advice the pictures were unrecoverable is a common statement from the company. Jones claims "The most common answer - and I hear this from customers all the time - is 'there is no way to get your pictures from your iPhone if it won't turn on.' It's heartbreaking, because it's absolutely not true."

Jones goes on to suggest most devices with water damage similar to being dropped in a toilet are recoverable, proposing that the proportion is likely to be in the region of 95 percent. She is certain of her company's abilities to resurrect iPhones that she charges $300, only if the data can be restored.

While her company is doing well from Apple's unwillingness to service water-damaged iPhones, the report highlights issues Jones has when posting to the Apple Support Communities, a section of Apple's website where users can offer advice to others for issues with problematic devices. When Jones writes posts to the forum advising that water-damaged devices could undergo a repair via non-Apple authorized means, her posts are removed as being "inappropriate," and eventually the account itself is banned.

"They don't want people to try to fix their phone, to recover the data, they don't care. They blame you, it's your fault," Jones believes.

The report posted its own query to the support forum about a water-damaged iPhone, but was informed by one user that there was nothing to be done, and that the data wouldn't be accessible unless it was backed up. A follow-up asking about data recovery services like the one operated by Jones brought the response "Not unless you have money to burn. They can't recover your photos. No-one can. The data is gone."

Asking Apple's official support got a similar response, with no way to recover the data. When asked directly by the report about why it provided "false information," Apple declined to respond.

It is unclear if the report is declaring both the comments made by another forum user and from Apple's support as "false information" or just Apple's official response. It is plausible that someone watching the report could think the answer provided on the support forum constituted an official Apple response, when it is more a forum user's comment following generally assumed guidelines based on similar previous queries.

Jessa Jones of iPadRehab (via CBC)

Jones hopes for a change in corporate culture to help the users, likening them to bossy, controlling "hover mothers" dictating terms on its users. "I would like for somebody to just smack them, and say 'you're not the boss of me," Jones concludes.

Even after contacting AppleInsider, the CBC lacks context

Shortly after the last CBC piece about Apple service, they reached out to AppleInsider to discuss the matter. We did talk about it with them, and we know that they read our previous editorial on the matter.

Despite the conversation, it appears that in the interim, they didn't really bother to learn anything about how Apple service works, why it works the way it does, why it has to work the way it does. They also didn't seem to bother figuring out what sets apart Jones and long-time repair advocate Louis Rossmann from Genius Bar staff, so all of this bears repeating again.

In the last five complete fiscal years, Apple has sold approximately 1.36 billion devices. It's hard to get solid data out of Apple regarding total failures, but the general consensus is that 4 percent of all installed devices on any platform, world-wide fail per year from forces outside of user abuse. This number does not include retirement or disposal, and can be as high as 10 times greater if you include user damage, or damage from disasters.

So, for the sake of this calculation in regards to conservatively estimating on the low-end how many devices need to be serviced per year per repair shop, if you assume that one in a hundred of all Apple devices fail from reasons other than user-induced damage like a broken screen per annum, that leaves 13.6 million failures per year.

If you assume that there are 5000 authorized repair centers — about 10 times the amount of Apple Stores at present — that leaves a very conservatively low estimate of 27,000 devices per year per location that need to be serviced beyond a software reinstall, not including smashed screens, replacement batteries, water damage, or any other hardware crisis. According to data collected by AppleInsider, liquid damage alone is fairly consistently about 75 percent above and beyond hardware failures from no known cause, regardless of the volume of the repair shop.

Like it or not, Apple is now a consumer electronics business, and isn't a boutique computer manufacturer. Board-level repairs at retail locations are far, far quicker for the company, require less-skilled workers at retail which can be paid less than a Rossmann- or Jones-level technician, and all of this combined can get a functional Mac or iPhone back to a consumer faster.

We proposed earlier, as an exercise for the reader, to hang out at an Apple store on any given Saturday near the Genius Bar evaluation table, and see how many customers demand instant repair or head-of-the-queue privileges because they have a deadline, Billy's birthday was Saturday and his pictures are in the machine, or data is stuck in the broken machine and it must come out for work. CBC seems incapable or unwilling to do this, and also seems to lack any consideration of the reality of the scale of Apple's repair effort, but in their defense, Apple didn't comment on the matter, nor offer to amplify the report at all.

Apple support forums & Support technicians

The CBC put a lot of weight on the Apple support forums as a venue for data. However, Apple in no way participates in the forums, nor issues any form of formal statement regarding data recovery there.

A typical 'water damage' response from Apple's forums
A typical 'water damage' response from Apple's forums

The user cited by the CBC report is an Apple user, not an Apple employee, or service tech. The support forums that Apple hosts is no more an official voice of Apple than the AppleInsider forums, and in may cases, the noise to signal ratio there is tipped in the favor of useless information far, far more than our own.

Additionally, without identifying as AppleInsider writers in any way, multiple staffers supporting family, friends, acquaintances, or in a professional capacity have been told by Geniuses at retail and online that there are data recovery options, that aren't sanctioned by Apple. They have always stopped short of a recommendation, for what are likely accountability and legal reasons.

It isn't clear how many support staffers the CBC spoke to beyond the one shown in the video. Messages delivered by official support staff can, and do, vary.

Accountability is (still) everything

We don't doubt that the CBC was told by Apple that the data wasn't recoverable. Like before, Apple's representative did the job in accordance with training, followed the procedure the way they were supposed to, and performed at the level of experience they were expected to have.

If every Apple store had Rossmann, Jones or somebody with similar skill and experience, do all of the device examinations then that data recovery would be possible in-store. But, there's still larger issues of time, and those 75,000 devices per year on the average that come in to each shop plus the ones that are rendered inoperable by a water immersion like the case presented by the CBC or similar failure, locking the data inside.

Detailed examinations take a lot of time. Speaking with multiple circuit-level repair people since the last report, a good rule of thumb unless there is an obvious point of damage, is to assume at least two hours for a firm diagnosis on what specifically has been damaged, and at least a few days to get a component in. Which is better for the average consumer, one hour in and out of the store like can happen now, or a lengthy diagnosis, and repair?

A common starting point for solving Apple issues for customers
A common starting point for solving Apple issues for customers

Apple's repair rules at retail, established by Apple corporate for uniformity, are there for a reason — including denials, the lack of responsibility for customer data on a failed piece of gear, and mandating board-level repairs rather than circuit-level ones. Related to all this, regarding that lost data that the video is railing about, we have yet to find a shop that absolutely guarantees the safety of your data, for even the simplest of repairs. They may exist, but they are in a precarious legal position if they do so.

Non-Apple Retail repair shops serve an important purpose

Like we said before, there are good, bad, Apple-authorized, and independent repair shops, and all the permutations of those four you can dream up. And, any given Genius Bar is subject to the same range of skills. The key for the user is finding a shop that gives the user the best balance between affordability, repair turn-around, and quality.

The quality independent shops, like Rossmann's and Jones' will take jobs that Apple doesn't want to do, or won't do affordably. And, sometimes, they can even do data recovery like practically demonstrated in the latest CBC video.

Customers need Apple Stores to have Genius Bars. They also need venues like Rossmann's and Jones', and outfits like DriveSavers where cost is no object if the data absolutely must be recovered. The two broad categories are not mutually incompatible, and do not focus on the same avenues for repair — nor should they.

And, it's probably an important point to remember that Apple's design and service choices make the devices fail less often, and the repair experience smoother for those that have dead iPhones or Macs, if perhaps more expensive. And, as a general rule, those customers don't have the same level of technical acumen that AppleInsider readers have, aren't looking to do the repairs themselves, and are fine with a device replacement.

Back to where we were, six months ago

There's already a lot of heat getting doled out on the Internet this morning about the video, and not all of it at Apple. Jones, Rossmann and similar are doing absolutely nothing wrong. They are very good at what they do, that level of skill is a rarity, and they should be commended for doing what they do, day in and day out. Why the CBC doesn't see this as exceptional, and not possible for Apple to hire tens of thousands of technicians with similar skill is unclear to us.

The sensitive internals of an iPhone.
The sensitive internals of an iPhone.

Where Apple has failed here, is in explicit customer education — and this is a common refrain. While the responsibility for your data is spelled out in the terms of service, this entire saga would have been avoided had the customers been more aggressively told that if you only have one copy of your data, you're making a grave mistake. Accidents happen, and they are always terrible for the user. But, failing to have a backup of critical data, is absolutely the user's fault and will always be so.

Another failure of Apple's is banning Jones from the support forums. While Jones said that she read the terms of service and says that she did nothing wrong — a point that we believe — we feel that they made a bad call in that regard, as it pertains to customer education. It is Apple's house to manage, though, so we don't have much of a leg to stand on here.

Where the CBC failed, again, even after talking to us, and presumably other venues as well, is actually having any real concept of how service works on an immense scale, and not bothering to talk about it to their audience, or even seemingly consider the ramifications of supplying literally millions of repair parts per year. This number may only increase if the rumored supply of service parts to repair shops ever takes place.

Any after-casualty report always has lessons learned. The three lessons learned in this particular case are always back up your data and don't rely on anybody else to save it for you, have a repair shop you trust and it doesn't matter if it's Apple or a talented third-party, and the CBC apparently can't be relied upon for complete reporting involving Apple service matters.

Update: Louis Rossmann, mentioned in this piece, has ">issued a rebuttal to AppleInsider's stance on this matter. He then published another video, where he has discovered, as we have been saying, that there is no policy to tell users that data is lost forever, and Apple support staff do, in fact refer customers to data retrieval specialists.

We have reached out to Rossmann, to attempt to continue this conversation.