NOTE: Apple has announced what it calls a “replacement program” for the sleep/wake button on its iPhone 5. In the auto industry, they call that a recall. You can find information on the program by following this link.

WWJ’s Jeff Gilbert, who’s covered recalls in the auto industry for years, was involved in this recall. This was his experience.

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It takes a genius to handle a recall smoothly.

After personally experiencing Apple’s version of a product recall, I have a new appreciation for the smooth way the auto industry handles problems with its vehicles. Apple may call their repair area the “genius bar”, but I’ve come to find that real geniuses are the people with extensive degrees and training that make our cars run so smoothly, we don’t notice until something goes wrong.

And the experience of dealing with a recalled vehicle, is generally far smoother than dealing with a recalled phone.

To much of the world, Apple is the pinnacle of technology and customer service. Car companies are “rust belt.”

Actually, the technology in a vehicle dwarfs what you see in any computer or smart phone. Oh, and your life depends on the technology in that car.

GM’s taken a lot of heat for its delayed recall of ignition switches. But, by all appearances things are running smoothly. You make an appointment. Your car is fixed. If you need to wait, there’s often a nice waiting area. You may even get coffee and wifi.

It’s not nearly that simple in the tech world.

Apple has had a nagging problem with the switch on top of the iPhone 5. Mine stopped working months ago. At the time, I was told it would be $269 to fix it. I declined. But, when I learned this week that Apple would now fix it for free, and give you a loaner while it was being fixed, I though “great deal.”

I was lucky, and didn’t have to wait for a “genius” to take my phone. But still, the process of making sure it was broken took an hour. But, it turned out, that was the easy part.

My loaner phone stopped working that evening. I noticed on the AT&T web page that it was suspended. There was an online button to end the suspension. I clicked it, and the phone started working…or so I thought.

The morning came, and I found I couldn’t make a call. Suspended again. Phone support wasn’t open till 7, but I found I could chat. Forty five minutes later, the solution I was given was “take it back to the Apple store.”

By then the phone support was available. A cheerful young woman answered. I thought her name was Mandy. Turned out it was Mandeep. I don’t care if she was in Detroit or Delhi as long as she could help. And it seemed like she did. She also explained the problem.

The loaner phone that Apple gave me was in a database listed as stolen.

The phone worked fine for a half hour, and–again–my service was suspended.

Time for a journey to the Apple store, and a talk with the geniuses.

Normally, I love confusing a genius. But, not this time.

But, they did agree to swap out my loaner for another one. The next issue, is quite interesting.

The second loaner phone was white. Somehow, this confused the geniuses. Apple was only supposed to have black iPhones as loaners.

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I didn’t care. By now, I was willing to take a pink, “Hello Kitty” phone. It’s only for a short time.

But, when you’re in the computer business, you can’t deal with things that don’t compute. Back to the backgroom goes our genius, who comes out with another box.

We open the box. Inside, the phone is upside down. We can’t see what color it is. The tough paper surrounding the phone has the feel of steel. My genius cuts it open to find, another white iPhone.

Take three.

I’m waiting for the genius to emerge from the back room. With blank look, we find that all of the remaining iPhones are white. They agree to give me the white phone, and assure me it will work when they put in my SIM card.

It doesn’t. But, I anticipated this, saying that I’m sure that I have to call AT&T again to get the phone taken off of suspension.

So, I leave, go into my car, pull out my station-issued dumb phone, and call AT&T customer service.

English was the native language of the person who answered the phone this time. But, I think Mandeep was far more helpful.

I explain the situation, and am immediately asked, “Are you calling me from the phone that you’re having trouble with.”

The trouble is that the phone doesn’t work. If I could call you from it, I wouldn’t need to call you.

I fear we’re heading into Catch-22 territory.

Then I’m asked to remove the SIM card. Mandeep didn’t need me to remove the SIM card. Why are you asking me to remove the SIM card.

I explain that I’m in the front seat of a car, with no tools, and a high likely hood of dropping a fingernail-sized card into an area where it would never be seen again.

Somehow, the phone help person gets the info she needs, and–after 20 minutes–is able to activate my phone.

The totals, so far: Three visits to the genius bar, two calls to tech support, one chat…about four hours, and I haven’t picked up the repaired phone yet. That also doesn’t include putting all my apps and info on to a loaner phone, only to have to do it again.

All this time for a minor issue, that I could have easily ignored. The people who fix recalled cars are often dealing with life and death issues, involving the most complex piece of machinery most of us own.

It involves getting information to millions of drivers, the right parts to millions of people, and the right training to fix the vehicles.

So, who’s the genius now?

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Connect with Jeff Gilbert
Twitter: @jefferygilbert