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Apple Stores and alternatives

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Macintosh computers are now available for online purchase from the Costco.com web site.

Pros:
  • 2 Year Warranty included at no additional charge
  • 90 Day Return Policy.
Cons:
  • Limited selection
  • No Build-To-Order (BTO)
  • No immediate pickup in stores.
 



I have a 2010 Mac Mini. It is still chugging along, but we discussed getting a new Mac Mini. If you purchase it brand new and add a 1TB drive, you double the cost right out of the gate. So, I found a refurbished 2014 Mini with the same [capacity] for $589. It would take about 24 hours for the funds to become available, so I had to wait until 5am to order it. Well, it was gone. A slightly cheaper version only had a 500GB drive. New also had Thunderbolt ports. So I called Apple.

Guess what? The Apple rep for Mac Mini sales, Malesha, found that the refurbished Mac Mini was still available, but it would not go in the cart, so she sold it to me, which is normal, but think of all the wild options out there - who would have thought this available? So the moral of the story: if you do not see it in the [online] refurbished store, a call to Apple is the next best step.
 


I just added Apple's Refurbished and Clearance Stores (not easy to find) to Helpful Resources.
Apple has added new filters to the re-designed Refurb/Clearance Store - you can now in the Mac section sort by Release Year, Finish (like Space Grey), Memory and Capacity. - The Memory & Capacity especially being much welcome with there being no way to see these in the redesign without going into each item.
 


That clearance page seems to be a bit fickle. If you start from www.apple.com and go to refurb/clearance > browse all > clearance, it seems to reset.
There are other vagaries in Apple’s Refurb pages. For example, as of this writing (and for the past two days), there is an iPhone 7 128GB Black listed as a “Featured Offer” on the Certified Refurbished Products main page that does not appear on the Refurbished iPhone page (only the Silver is listed there).

As a recent shopper for a replacement phone and an obsessive-compulsive deal hunter, I note that a big part of the refurb and deals game is like Whac-A-Mole. Constant refreshes and checking can result in a lucky whack, like the clearance SE.
 


I have found the website https://refurb-tracker.com to be helpful in locating refurbished devices on Apple's refurb store. I have no connection to them, but they link to Apple's store and I have used it to find specific refurb models.
 


I wonder if the age of computers is gone, or maybe it’s just basic training at Apple stores that is a thing of the past. I visited an Apple store recently and the employee had no idea what a card or slot is, or even who Steve Wozniak is. After several explanations, of what a card can do and how it connects, he seemed to understand. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, since Apple doesn’t currently sell a Mac with slots, but still….
 


I wonder if the age of computers is gone, or maybe it’s just basic training at Apple stores that is a thing of the past. I visited an Apple store recently and the employee had no idea what a card or slot is, or even who Steve Wozniak is. After several explanations, of what a card can do and how it connects, he seemed to understand. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, since Apple doesn’t currently sell a Mac with slots, but still….
Ask them to explain the Save icon.

And in Mail, what is a carbon copy?
 








Ric Ford

MacInTouch
What could be worse than bedbugs and lies at Apple Stores?
BBC News said:
Apple AI accused of leading to man's wrongful arrest

... Mr Bah believes that Apple's algorithms are now trained to connect his name to images of the thief.

A detective with the New York Police Department allegedly told Mr Bah that the thief probably used Mr Bah's driving licence as identification during one of the robberies. The detective reportedly said that this may have caused Mr Bah to be charged with thefts committed at Apple Stores in New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts, according to court papers.
 


I remember being excited to go to the new SOHO Apple Store for the launch of Mac OS X Tiger. Good presentation, lots of enthusiasm, for hardware and software and just having a store dedicated to Apple products. And I do so wish that I could imagine ever feeling that way again.
 


The text of the article doesn't seem to support the accusation:

Apple says they don't use facial recognition in their stores and the article doesn't post evidence to the contrary.

If the thief was using his driver's license to identify himself to Apple, then what else are they supposed to do? Especially before he was arrested and able to show that his face doesn't match security camera footage? It sucks, but this sounds like he's a victim of identity theft, not of some wayward AI software.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Apple says they don't use facial recognition in their stores and the article doesn't post evidence to the contrary.
However, Apple's security subcontractor has not made the same claim, apparently...
Bloomberg said:
Apple Face-Recognition Blamed by N.Y. Teen for False Arrest
... Apple said on Tuesday it doesn’t use facial recognition in its stores. Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security firm that’s also named as a defendant, declined to comment on the suit.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
BBC News said:
Apple AI accused of leading to man's wrongful arrest
... Mr Bah believes that Apple's algorithms are now trained to connect his name to images of the thief. A detective with the New York Police Department allegedly told Mr Bah that the thief probably used Mr Bah's driving licence as identification during one of the robberies. The detective reportedly said that this may have caused Mr Bah to be charged with thefts committed at Apple Stores in New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Massachusetts, according to court papers.
Bloomberg said:
Apple Face-Recognition Blamed by N.Y. Teen for False Arrest
... Apple said on Tuesday it doesn’t use facial recognition in its stores. Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security firm that’s also named as a defendant, declined to comment on the suit.
Meanwhile, there are on-going questions and issues regarding New York City police (NYPD) use of facial recognition:
Sophos said:
NYPD forgets to redact facial recognition docs, asks for them back

... Whether the NYPD likes it or not, the CPT lawsuit has already shown that anyone arrested by the NYPD is potentially subject to facial recognition searches.

Last year, Garvie said that none of the NYPD documents turned over during the CPT’s case show a policy that would prevent the police from running somebody’s photograph through its facial recognition system and comparing it with the department’s mugshot database, which is fully integrated with fingerprint data. The state of New York has also boasted about its use of facial recognition to find people who get duplicate driver’s licenses.
 


Bloomberg said:
Apple Face-Recognition Blamed by N.Y. Teen for False Arrest
... Apple said on Tuesday it doesn’t use facial recognition in its stores. Security Industry Specialists Inc., a security firm that’s also named as a defendant, declined to comment on the suit.
News stories often lead to the kind of "he said / she said" narrative in which Ousmane Bah alleges Apple used facial recognition to identify him as a criminal, followed by a subsequent denial by Apple that it uses facial recognition in its stores.

The most detailed accounting of the underlying incident I have found is in Bah's Federal Court Complaint filed against Apple and SIS. It is conveniently embedded in the article linked below at the Verge, and good on the Verge for providing it.
The Verge said:
Apple claims it isn’t scanning customers’ faces, after teen sues for $1 billion
A detective claims that Apple — or its security firm — used facial recognition software to have the wrong person arrested
Obviously, a legal complaint is written to put Plaintiff Bah's best case forward. That said, here are some thoughts after reading it.

Apple Face ID.
The complaint begins with a summary overview of Apple Face ID, first introduced in the iPhone X.

As best I know, Apple's statement that the biometric data created by the Face ID system never leaves the device's Secure Enclave stands unchallenged, which should mean there's no link between the biometric face profile used to unlock an iOS device and whatever in-store face recognition system might be deployed in Apple's stores.

In fact, if Bah had been using an iPhone with Face ID, and the biometric data had been accessed by Apple to embed into an Apple Store facial recognition system, accurate biometric data should have protected Bah from misidentification as someone who doesn't look much like him.
Apple Developer said:
Accessing Keychain Items with Face ID or Touch ID
The Secure Enclave then carries out the authentication by, for example, testing the user’s finger against the stored fingerprints. The Secure Enclave passes back a pass/fail result that gates keychain item access. No user space or operating system software ever has access to the underlying authentication data, such as stored fingerprints.
Learner's Permit Receipt:
Bah received a paper receipt to use as a temporary learner's driving permit in March 2018 and lost the receipt with his personal data before receiving his actual mailed permit.

While much is made of the lost receipt as what tied the real thief to the Bah, Bah offers only inference that the lost receipt was used at an Apple Store:
Defendant accepted the non-photo interim permit, or in the alternative, Defendant relied on perpetrator's statement identifying himself as Mr. Bah. As a result, Defendant's security technology now recognizes the perpetrator as Mr. Bah.
"False Identification"
Bah's narratives suggests he was first linked to the thefts May 31, 2018 by an SIS employee in Boston:
While monitoring the store’s security cameras, Mr. Beswick witnessed a suspect, fleeing the store and driving away in a white BMW. Mr. Beswick told police that he knew Mr. Bah because he was previously arrested for thefts from another of Defendant Apple’s store locations in Connecticut.
Bah, per his complaint, was incorrectly identified in thefts from Apple Stores in Connecticut, Boston, New Jersey, Delaware, and New York City. When arrested in New York City November 29, 2018 the warrant included a photo of a suspect "that did not resemble Mr. Bah", which is what led NYPD Detective Reinhold to conclude Bah had been "wrongfully arrested."
Detective Reinhold of the NYPD soon realized that Mr. Bah was wrongfully arrested and that he was not the suspect of the crimes perpetrated against Defendant. Detective Reinhold stated that he had viewed the surveillance video from the Manhattan store and concluded that the suspect “looked nothing like” Mr. Bah.

At that point, Detective Reinhold also explained that Defendant’s security technology identifies suspects of theft using facial recognition technology.
Observation:
Some method involving photos and videos was used to tie the same individual to thefts from five different Apple stores. If Detective Reinhold's quote is accurate, the method was facial recognition, which does not itself answer the question how Bah's real identity came to be cross-indexed to the thief's image, or what Apple's relationship is with SIS, including who selects, owns, controls, and utilizes what monitoring systems in place in Apple's stores (and at the least we know there are some, including iBeacon).

Technology is far beyond just Facial Recognition
Tracking people is a huge industry. For a quick overview, check the link below.
Behavior Analytics Retail said:
15 Technologies of People Tracking (2019)
  • (AI Deep Learning) Vision
  • Biometrics (Facial Recognition)
  • 3D Spatial Learning (Augmented Reality)
  • 3D Stereo Video Analytics.
  • 2D Monocular & Fisheye Video Analytics
  • Thermal Imaging
  • Infrared Beams
  • Time of Flight
  • Structured Light
  • Open Source Raspberry Pi
  • WiFi (Wide Area Network) Tracking
  • UWB (Ultra Wide Band) | Radar Imaging
  • BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) Beacons
  • GPS (Global Positioning System) Personal Trackers
  • RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Tags & Tracking
 



As someone who supports Macs at work and usually relies on multiple 3rd-party vendors/consultants for support, I rarely need to actually make a journey into an Apple Store. My last such visit (actually two visits), was to take advantage of the $29 iPhone battery replacement deal, which was expiring. Thought I'd be smart and set up an appointment online, walk in on time, hand over my iPhone and be on my way in an hour, tops. Boy, was I wrong!!

I was quickly met at the door by a "greeter" and told to look for a certain person in the back who would check me in. Odd... why couldn't any person check me in? Whatever, I found said person who checked me in for my appointment and was told to sit and wait 10 minutes for a service Genius to meet me. The store was crazy busy with holiday shoppers plus others like me, waiting for service.

After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, I finally went over to a random employee and asked why nobody was helping me. They checked their computer and said that my reservation was inexplicably canceled upon my arrival, so no store staff members knew I was waiting and not being helped! Apologized profusely...

Finally, I was told that they would not be able to turnaround my iPhone in an hour, due to a few dozen other customers doing the exact same battery swap, but I could lock in the order and come back another, less-busy day, which I did.

That next store visit (different location), the same thing happened! Lost my check-in in the system! However, this time, the turnaround really was one hour, and all ended well.

In summary, every person I dealt with at both stores was very nice, but it was painfully obvious in each case, things fell through cracks, all while one hand had no idea what the other was doing! I've also learned through different channels that there is frequent and heavy turnover of store staff, including management. Certainly not a well-oiled machine like it had been once upon a time, sad to say.
 


As someone who supports Macs at work and usually relies on multiple 3rd-party vendors/consultants for support, I rarely need to actually make a journey into an Apple Store. My last such visit (actually two visits), was to take advantage of the $29 iPhone battery replacement deal, which was expiring. Thought I'd be smart and set up an appointment online, walk in on time, hand over my iPhone and be on my way in an hour, tops. Boy, was I wrong!!
I was quickly met at the door by a "greeter" and told to look for a certain person in the back who would check me in. Odd... why couldn't any person check me in? Whatever, I found said person who checked me in for my appointment and was told to sit and wait 10 minutes for a service Genius to meet me. The store was crazy busy with holiday shoppers plus others like me, waiting for service.

After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, I finally went over to a random employee and asked why nobody was helping me. They checked their computer and said that my reservation was inexplicably canceled upon my arrival, so no store staff members knew I was waiting and not being helped! Apologized profusely...

Finally, I was told that they would not be able to turnaround my iPhone in an hour, due to a few dozen other customers doing the exact same battery swap, but I could lock in the order and come back another, less-busy day, which I did.

That next store visit (different location), the same thing happened! Lost my check-in in the system! However, this time, the turnaround really was one hour, and all ended well.

In summary, every person I dealt with at both stores was very nice, but it was painfully obvious in each case, things fell through cracks, all while one hand had no idea what the other was doing! I've also learned through different channels that there is frequent and heavy turnover of store staff, including management. Certainly not a well-oiled machine like it had been once upon a time, sad to say.
I had a different experience and a different result. I went to the Apple Store to get the $29 battery, but after waiting 30 minutes, I did ask to speak to someone, brought up the issue of patiently waiting, and when the manager came back to me, they gave me a new battery at no cost, and I was out the door 15 minutes later.
 


When my iPad Pro 10.5" developed a permanent bright blob near the bottom center of the screen, I took it to the local Apple Store, fortunately not too crowded. A genius soon glanced at the display and said he had to replace the iPad. I had to come back the next day because they didn't have my exact model on hand. Next day, I had a brand new iPad. Yay!

However, I couldn't reactivate my T-Mobile data plan on the new machine. After several long, fruitless calls to Apple and T-Mobile, T-Mobile said it was definitely an Apple problem and transferred me directly back to Apple. This time, the tech dug deeper and found that the new machine's serial number had not been noted in my account. He had to get somebody else to make the correction while I waited, and the problem was solved.

I don't know where the error occurred, but it seems like a pretty basic thing to screw up.
 


In summary, every person I dealt with at both stores was very nice, but it was painfully obvious in each case, things fell through cracks, all while one hand had no idea what the other was doing!
My recent experiences at Apple Stores have been similar. A bunch of iPad-toting employees milling around, barely distinguishable from customers milling around, poking at their devices and doing multiple referrals. One person's only job appeared to be wrangling customers from the middle of the store to the place where customers wait to meet a Genius. The Genius Bar requires another wait (why bring us to the Bar if the Genius is minutes away from being ready?). It doesn't look like a "happening place" (sorry, Angela Ahrendts); it just looks chaotic. Not the kind of experience I expect from a company that built its reputation on intuitive design and smooth lines.
 


I frequently visit the Apple Stores at Keystone at the Crossing in Indianapolis, Indiana, in SanTan Village in Phoenix, Arizona, and in Solihull, Birmingham, UK. Some days, it just looks like a large rummage sale at a used clothing store. There are so many Apple staff wandering around like lost puppies and the technical expertise varies from "Huh?" to knowledgable.

The store in Indianapolis moved to more space down the hall and actually has a designated area for people to sit and see and hear a presentation. The other two stores use one of the tables for this activity, and with all the other conversations in process, the hearing-impeded folks are left out in the cold, so to speak.
 


After waiting patiently for 30 minutes, I finally went over to a random employee and asked why nobody was helping me. They checked their computer and said that my reservation was inexplicably canceled upon my arrival, so no store staff members knew I was waiting and not being helped! Apologized profusely...
... That next store visit (different location), the same thing happened! Lost my check-in in the system!
Once is a fluke, twice is a trend. A cynic would say that the store personnel canceled reservations when busy to improve their service queue time metrics.
 


My Genius Bar reservation yesterday couldn't have been easier. Store opens at 10:00 am, which was also the time I had selected for my reservation. Was standing outside the store about 9:50 and an employee came over to ask what I was there for today (he did this for everybody waiting for opening time). When I told him I had a genius bar appointment, he took my info and directed me to a spot to wait. Apparently those wanting to buy things were sent to a different spot. Reasonably well organized. At opening, we were brought inside to the standard genius bar waiting location. About a minute later my genius came over and we handled my issue. Was out of the store in 10 minutes. Painless.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Really bad experience with Apple:

I went to the online Apple Store and ordered two Lightning-headphone adapters. My credit card was charged for two adapters, and the package arrived today, but there was only one adapter enclosed.

After jumping through various hoops and authentications to re-check the details of my order, I tried to get help via Apple's online chat support (apparently an AI bot) and wasted 10 minutes jumping through more hoops and authentications before it quit and told me to call phone support.

I called phone support and got an AI which was recording my conversation. I told it the problem, and it put me on hold... for... longer... than... I... was... willing... to... waste... even... more... time... playing these games trying to resolve the problem of being cheated out of a $10 purchase. I'm done.

Unfortunately, my other recent Apple experiences haven't been any better. Let's see if I can cancel today's order for an iPad now. Nope, looks like I can't.

[expletives deleted]
 


I went to the online Apple Store and ordered two Lightning-headphone adapters. The package arrived today. There was only one adapter enclosed....
I find the cable on that adapter to be far too fragile. My solution is ugly, ugly, ugly but works well. I used hot glue to protect the cable and act as a strain relief. Using some weighted objects, I hold the two connectors at 90 degrees to each other on glass or a surface that hot glue doesn't bond to. Then I put a layer of hot glue over the cable and slightly onto the ends. Wait for it to solidly, then gently pry the cable off the surface with a paint scraper, then flip the cable over and do the other side. Repeat adding hot glue to both sides until the hot glue totally covers the cable and part of the connectors. Don't cover too much of the Lightning end or you may have trouble plugging it in if the iPhone has a case. After the hot glue has totally solidified you can use an X-Acto knife to trim off excess blobs. Sorry, Sir Jony, I chose function over form.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I find the cable on that adapter to be far too fragile. My solution is ugly, ugly, ugly but works well. I used hot glue to protect the cable and act as a strain relief. Using some weighted objects, I hold the two connectors at 90 degrees to each other on glass or a surface that hot glue doesn't bond to. Then I put a layer of hot glue over the cable and slightly onto the ends. Wait for it to solidly, then gently pry the cable off the surface with a paint scraper, then flip the cable over and do the other side. Repeat adding hot glue to both sides until the hot glue totally covers the cable and part of the connectors. Don't cover too much of the Lightning end or you may have trouble plugging it in if the iPhone has a case. After the hot glue has totally solidified you can use an X-Acto knife to trim off excess blobs. Sorry, Sir Jony, I chose function over form.
I also was stunned by the frailty of the thing when I finally opened the one box, and this is a present for a friend, which makes it even worse.

This whole experience sums up everything wrong with Apple now.... I need to stop buying things from Apple and get Apple products from Amazon, which never has given me any of these problems (and is where I bought an Apple Watch after bailing out of another bad waste of time at an Apple Store in a mall).
 






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