Another year, another excellent display of tech support service from Apple. Just like during previous showdowns, Apple's support specialists proved to be consistently prompt, friendly and helpful over the phone and via live chat, even if the company still doesn't provide help over Facebook and Twitter.
Apple offers unlimited complimentary basic hardware and software support for the first 90 days after your product is purchased, as well as a 1-year limited warranty. This allowed me to receive instant help for my new 2014 MacBook Air 13-inch without having to buy a $249 Apple Care 3-year protection plan.
To put Apple's technicians to the test, I asked the company how to activate three-finger dragging on my trackpad, how to sync my iPhone calendar with my Mac, and how to back up my GarageBand files via iCloud.
Web and Social Support
Apple's support website is clean and incredibly easy to navigate. The first thing you'll see is a set of large icons for products like Mac, iPhone, Apple TV and iTunes, making it easy to pick out the device or software that's causing your trouble.
Once you pick a product family, you're taken to a dedicated support page for that particular device. For example, the Mac support page is filled with neatly organized instructions for connecting accessories or using OS X, while the iTunes page has tabs for managing your account, authorizing computers and syncing content.
If Apple's thorough troubleshooting guides aren't enough, you can find a wealth of user-generated tips via Apple's Support Communities hub. Like the main support page, you can browse for help by product category, or simply ask a question in the search bar.
As soon as you start typing a query in the search bar, a list of related forum discussions will automatically show up beneath, with a green check mark next to user issues that have been successfully resolved by the community. If your problem hasn't been addressed yet, you can start a new discussion.
That search bar came in handy, allowing me to find out how to set up three-finger dragging on my MacBook as well as how to sync my iPhone calendar with that of my Mac. When you open a forum discussion, the correct solution is placed right under the inquiring user's question in a bright green box that says "this solved my question." This eliminates the arduous, seemingly endless scrolling that's often associated with sifting through forums for solid answers.
While finding answers on Apple's support forums was mostly a breeze, I was unable to find out how to save GarageBand files to iCloud. One user previously asked how to do so, while another complained about losing most of his tracks when transitioning GarageBand songs to the cloud. Both users got no response.
Apple does offer a rich library of PDF manuals for its apps, including GarageBand. Unfortunately, though the GarageBand user guide I found was extremely thorough when it came to using the software, it was from a 2009 version of the software and made no mention of iCloud.
As with last year's showdown, Apple's live chat support was prompt, personal and helpful. After specifying my issue from the website, my estimated wait time for a live chat agent was 15 minutes -- but a service rep named Joseph appeared in 10. After asking Joseph how I could sync my iPhone calendar to my Mac, he noted that he personally syncs all of his content and would be happy to help.
Joseph kept a personal and fun tone throughout our chat, even making fun of his own typo at one point. He was very thorough in his support, and had me make sure my calendar was synced not just on my iPhone and Mac, but on my iCloud account on the Web as well. Despite a few minute-long wait times between answers, our chat wrapped up at a pretty concise 18 minutes. I was also fond of the cleanness of the chat window, which sports an iMessage-inspired design.
It's a good thing Apple's support over the Web and phone is so reliable, because you're not getting any answers on Facebook or Twitter. The company has no official Facebook page to be found, and the official @TheAppleInc Twitter account we tried to reach out to last year seems to have been shuttered.
Apple's ghostlike social media presence could change, however. The company has hired e-commerce and social media gurus like Angela Ahrendts, John Agnew and Musa Tariq over the past year, which has us hopeful for a day that we can actually interact with the brand on Facebook and Twitter.
Apple seems to know how painful over-the-phone tech support can be for customers, and has found a way to prevent some major annoyances before they can happen. You can call one of Apple's worldwide support numbers, or, even better, start an online support request so that Apple knows exactly what you need help with before you start talking.
I started most of my calls using the latter method, which allowed me to select my MacBook Air and specify what I needed help with. I then was able to schedule a specific time for Apple to call me when a service rep was free, instead of sitting on hold for an indefinite amount of time in hopes that someone would pick up the phone.
My first call began at 1:45 p.m., when Artem from Lincoln, Nebraska, helped me figure out my three-finger-dragging dilemma. When I told him I wanted to learn how to activate the feature, he correctly pointed me to the Trackpad settings menu within System Preferences.
Though Artem made a slight error in taking me to the More Gestures tab instead of the Point and Click tab to enable three-finger dragging, it took only a few seconds for us to get back on track. The technician went on to explain what applications support three-finger dragging, before politely asking if I needed anything else. Our brief session lasted 3 minutes and 48 seconds.
The next day, I spoke with Apple at around 4 p.m. to figure out how to sync my iPhone calendar with my Mac's. After a short wait, I spoke with Andre in Sacramento, California. As with Joseph from the live chat department, Andre correctly told me to make sure that I enabled iCloud syncing on both my iPhone and my Mac.
Andre's only error occurred when he told me that there's no longer a way to sync your iPhone's calendar locally instead of through iCloud. While that was the case for a while, an iTunes update from earlier this year restored the function. He was still able to help me perform what I needed to, though, and did so within a brief call of 5 minutes and 33 seconds.
My last call was scheduled for 8:45 p.m. the next day. I actually missed the call, but Apple called back two more times at 10-minute intervals and left an automated voicemail that a technician was trying to reach me. When I finally got home and put in a request for a new call at around 9:29 p.m., the estimated wait time was only 5 minutes.
Right on schedule, a worker named William from Niagara Falls got on the phone to help me figure out how to move GarageBand files to iCloud. This was the only of my three calls that proved challenging, as William admitted to being pretty unfamiliar with GarageBand and stated that his crew was trained mainly to troubleshoot common errors.
Still, William was extremely patient and made every effort to be as helpful as possible. He initially thought I was trying to upload tracks to SoundCloud (a feature built into the software) rather than iCloud, but after I corrected him, he pulled up Apple's online user manual for the GarageBand software. He ultimately was unable to help me do exactly what I was trying to, but gave me plenty of helpful advice after.
William suggested that, aside from YouTube and Apple's website, Apple Stores are the best places to get one-on-one learning sessions for apps like GarageBand. He also offered to send me a link to Lynda.com, an online learning resource for mastering everything from audio engineering to Web design, and went as far as explaining how to set up an account there.
While William didn't give me the exact answer I needed, our friendly call of 14 minutes and 11 seconds left me with a variety of resources for learning more about GarageBand.
Unsurprisingly, reaching out to Apple for technical help was once again a fast and painless experience. All support technicians I spoke to were enthusiastic and helpful, and Apple's well-organized call scheduling system meant that I was never waiting on the phone until my neck cramped.
I still wish that Apple would bring its consistently great tech support to Facebook and Twitter, but with a robust, easy-to-navigate support website chock-full of useful tips from both Apple and its user community, I never felt like I needed those options.