Apple has finally put the Genius Bar online -- kind of, sort of, anyway. In select countries (not America), the company now offers online support for customers, so they don't have to go into an Apple Store to get all the information that comes from interacting with Apple employees. For those who don't live near one of Apple's 378 locations, this is convenient, to a point. It doesn't offer a geniuses' full intellects, but rather what boils down to a personal shopping experience. "You can talk directly to a trained Specialist over the phone, start a live online chat and even watch your Specialist’s screen during a personalised guided tour," Apple says of its new virtual system. That might suffice for someone looking to buy a new iPad or Macbook, but what about the many users who go to the Genius Bar to get tech support? No, this online version of the Genius Bar won't do that.
It has taken Apple long enough to get any part of its customer service on the Internet. Apple has a webpage that calls itself Apple Support. There, users can find their way to a retail store, or maybe get their "90 days of complimentary phone support." But, even that telephone talk doesn't amount to much: it's more set-up than troubleshooting help. The page beckons you to "get started," which leads to a bunch of landing pages asking about the problem you're experiencing. Our particular issue -- "hardware not working as expected" on our MacBook -- led to the "solutions" pictured on the right. We could call up Apple, but that conversation would likely lead to an appointment at the in-store Apple service center.
Wouldn't it be nice to skip the trip to the mall and Internet chat instead? Especially since often Apple can't fix our self-inflicted computer woes. (The warranty doesn't cover personal damage.) At least some people on the Mac Forums agree. Even Microsoft has a version of that, which it calls the Answer Desk. It's not as free as going into the an Apple store, but it can save you a trip. ("If the free consultation isn't sufficient to answer your questions or fix your faults, you pony up some money," explained Ars Technica's Peter Bright in 2011.)
But, Apple doesn't give us that because it wants to get us in the store -- even if that means an inconvenient trip for many. (For the four years I lived in Philadelphia, 2006-2010, the two closest Apple store options were in New Jersey or the hard to reach suburb of Ardmore. And that was a major metropolitan area!) A big part of the Genius Bar job, as we learned from the Apple employee handbook via Gizmodo's Sam Biddle, is to get people to buy things. "Your happiness is just a means to the cash register, and the manual reminds trainees of that," wrote Biddle. If we never enter the store, we might not have that buyer's mentality. Nor will we have all those enticing, perfectly tilted, laptops to encourage our spending.
This online psuedo Genius Bar, on the other hand, can employ that same subtle prodding we get with the in-store experience. It would feel pushy if a chat about a slow hard drive ended in a pitch for a new Apple product, but since customers are going to the Internet sales support people with spending money in mind, we accept the "healthy dose of PR," as The Verge's Aaron Souppouris who tried the system out, explained. The offer to set up another appointment when Souppouris didn't buy would have come off as jarring if he weren't there for that purpose in the first place.
For those looking for the convenience of the Genius Bar from the comfort of their own MacBook, sadly this service won't do that, making it unhelpful for a lot of people. "The service isn't of much help to us, or likely readers of this site," concluded Souppouris. "We could see it being useful for customers that aren't as versed in technology," he added. But as far as Apple's concerned, it keeps the right people coming to the store.