Long live the king of laptop tech support! Apple's got a history of agents answering issues accurately with a polite, friendly manner. While we'd love it if Apple would answer questions on Facebook (there's a lot of business communication tech in Messenger), the combination of Twitter, live online chats, its support app and phone calls provides a solid base for the company's support. Oh, and there's also the Genius Bar, which is widely available, thanks to its placement in every Apple Store.
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This year, we asked Apple's technical support agents about enabling macOS Mojave's new Dark Mode feature, disabling automatic updates and turning off the webcams inside Apple's laptops. While our calls confirmed that Apple doesn't offer a means to completely disable the webcam, it still showed us how to restrict access on an app-by-app basis — a useful trick if a malicious app has taken root in your MacBook.
Despite minor issues, Apple continued to top most of the competition in this year's Tech Support Showdown.
Web Support, App and Live Chat (54/60)
Apple's best online support is found in its live chat, because its Apple Support database may not be optimized for your questions. For example, instructions for enabling Dark Mode in macOS popped up when I searched for "Dark Mode," but I couldn't get instructions for adjusting webcam preferences, even when I tried five different search phrases (including "disable webcam"). In the end, I've figured out the solution was tied to the phrase "camera on your mac" and not "webcam."
The Apple Support app provided similar results, since it's plugged into the same database as Apple's site. The database provided instructions for turning off system updates, inside of the post focused on enabling said updates.
I had better results with Apple's live chat agents. When I asked Brandon about disabling automatic updates, he walked me through the process in 9 minutes, but stopped short of showing me how to stop the system from checking and downloading updates (which Apple's phone support showed me how to do).
Jacqui needed a mere 4 minutes to show me how to change which apps can access the webcam, explain there was no kill switch and tell me she just used a sticky note to cover hers. Erica took 4 minutes to walk me through the steps to enable Dark Mode — one of macOS Mojave's new features.
Apple Support is keeping its social media presence restricted to Twitter; it has yet to wade into Facebook (and with the companies' fractious relationship, I bet they won't). This is especially true as Apple waited until 2016 to help folks out via social media, when its competitors had been helping for years.
And, fortunately, its Twitter agents provided the answers I needed in a timely fashion. For example, I waited only 19 minutes before an agent sent me instructions about how to control app-by-app access to the webcam.
Phone Support (37/40)
Apple's over-the-phone tech support provides correct answers in a timely manner, though one of its recurring issues is still there. Since Apple's support phone number (1-800-275-2273) isn't prominently placed on its website, most will find themselves navigating to http://support.apple.com, and then clicking through a short series of prompts and filling in the contact information to arrange a phone call.
I attempted my first call, at 4:52 p.m. EDT, using Apple's Support Contact page. And like clockwork, I hit the same hiccup that was present last year and got an error message that said, "We're unable to schedule your call. Please try again or choose a different solution." Recognizing what was wrong — on the page where you enter your name, email address and phone number, the last field didn't have the words "phone number" — I started over from support.apple.com and scrolled down to click Contact Apple Support.
After that, Apple's phone-based customer support proved that it's still able to answer questions in a friendly manner without making you wait. I probably picked up too fast, though: A prerecorded voice asked me to press 1 to confirm I wasn't a call-screening app.
I then pressed 1 to confirm I wanted to talk to an agent and was given four options for what kind of hold music I preferred (pop, classical, jazz and silence). After tapping 3 for jazz, I waited about 30 seconds before Shane in Texas got on the line. As we laughed and talked about how motorized scooters are worsening traffic in Austin (I had just visited for South by Southwest), Shane answered my question about how to activate Dark Mode, which I mentioned in the call setup page. After he gave me the final instruction, Shane put me on hold for less than a minute while he handled something at his office. When he got back on, Shane told me he'd be emailing the details of our call, and I was off by 5:02 p.m., 5 minutes after the call started (and 10 minutes after I tried to start the call).
For my next call, I opened the Apple support page at 9:49 a.m., went through the basic steps to set up a call (no error this time) and got the call a moment after requesting it. After hitting 1 to confirm I needed to speak to an agent, I was almost instantly on the line with Larry, a nice, affable fellow in Northern California.
Larry was surprised when I told him I wanted to disable the MacBook Air's webcam. After saying he typically just puts tape over his webcam, Larry asked me to wait for 3 to 5 minutes while he checked to see if anything else were possible. Two minutes later, Larry was back on the call to walk me through the System Preferences app and show me how to disable webcam access, app by app. He also noted there might be a "fancier" way to disable the webcam via the Library (it's actually in the Terminal program), but that this was easier.
His suggestion is the only option that Apple lists online, and it's probably the best for most; the steps to disable the webcam in Terminal are very annoying and laborious, and require you to enter line after line of complicated code. Plus, it takes just as much work to undo it if you ever need the webcam for anything. In total, the call was 6 minutes long, and Larry even had time to tell me how to find free instructional how-to e-books about the Mac online.
My third call with Apple, where I talked to Shari in California, was my shortest overall, beginning at 12:04 p.m. and ending at 12:08 p.m. Since Apple's site didn't give me a chance to write in my issue (I simply chose Macs > Laptops > Updates), I got to ask the bubbly Sheri how to disable forced and automatic updates.
MORE: Best Apple Laptops
After asking me to click through the steps to check which macOS version I was using, Shari asked if she could place me on hold while she looked up the steps. A little over a minute later, she walked me through the steps to get to the Advanced section of the Software Update in System Preferences, where she told me I could uncheck as many update options as I wished.
Apple offers 90 days of complimentary telephone technical support. If you need more than that, you can pay for three years of hardware service and telephone support coverage via AppleCare+ (formerly the AppleCare Protection Plan), which costs more than it did a couple years ago.
AppleCare+ costs $249 (a one-time purchase) for the MacBook and MacBook Air, but you now have to spend $269 (formerly $249) to protect the 13-inch MacBook Pro and $379 (up from $349) for the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
You can find out how much time is left on your AppleCare+ plan with our Apple Warranty Check guide.
This year, the calls I made to Apple took 37 percent less time to finish than last year — 4 minutes less, on average — and the company kept its telephone record at 100 percent, providing correct and complete solutions for every problem. Further, Apple's over-the-phone agents continued to display one of their best traits, imparting valuable technical support while maintaining a friendly, personable tone.
I'm not sure why the support.apple.com site glitched that one time, but I was happy to see the issue disappear after I restarted the process. If Apple wants an even better score next year, I'd recommend that it update its support database to understand more synonyms, as not everyone uses the word camera to describe a webcam. Oh, and Facebook support would be nice — not everyone is on Twitter.
Overall, Apple's technical support agents continue to deliver impressive service, giving users reason to trust the tech giant.
Tech Support Showdown