Article: Another Bricked Watch in the Fall

by on October 31, 2018

Even though I do most everything on iOS devices, the Apple Watch has become something that gets a lot of use throughout the day and I’ve grown to really enjoy it over the past few years. Back in September, I picked up a new Series 4 model to take advantage of the new features and to have a better experience than with my aging original Apple Watch Sport. Last night, in hopes of getting the electrocardiogram feature, I updated to watchOS 5.1 almost immediately and ran into some trouble. As it turns out, I feel that there’s a glaring hole in Apple’s support process when it comes to the Apple Watch.

Typically, watchOS updates take a little while, so my process is to wait until I get home from work to do anything, set the watch on the charger and periodically check in. Last night, it felt like things were taking a bit longer than they should’ve, with the screen stuck on an Apple logo, and the Watch app simply showing “Installing…” Due to the fragility of this literally over-the-air update process, I decided to see if anyone else was having problems. As it turns out, I was not alone. Because I was going to most likely contact Apple Support, I decided to hold off on any additional troubleshooting for the slim chance that this could be remedied.

I spoke with a very friendly advisor who had me go over some requisite steps: power cycle the watch, power cycle the phone, forget the watch on the phone, power cycle the watch again. Even though I had mentioned that this issue is becoming a Thing™, she had me go over a few additional steps and finally offered three options:

  • Send the watch in for service, where I’d get an empty box (have to sign for it), pack up my watch, and wait for it to come back (again, having to sign for it). The process is a bit inconvenient for someone who works, but I later changed the shipping address to my work.
  • Take the watch to a UPS store and they can pack it up and ship it. This is basically like the first, but skips the first step.
  • Take the watch to an Apple Store, they’d ship it off and the contact me when it’s returned.

Keep in mind that at that point, it had been purchased on September 21, so I was outside of any store return window, but more importantly, it was apparently old enough that Apple couldn’t do much else. Maybe it was naive to assume that it would be handled like most other Apple repair experiences I’ve had in the past, but apparently the Apple Store can do nothing and only a few people have had luck with exchanges, especially if the purchase date was more recent. I asked about having a replacement sent to me in exchange for mine with a credit card hold, also known as Express Replacement. That’s only available for those with AppleCare+, despite this being a hardware failure that the regular warranty should cover for everyone. Nonetheless, I’m waiting on an empty box to ship, but I’ve been told it can take “7 to 10 business days” until I should have a working watch returned.

By the way, if you had this happen, you can force the watch off so that the Apple logo won’t stay on the screen for hours (probably not great for an OLED display):

Press and hold the crown and side button until the Apple logo turns off once, comes back on, then turns off again. After the second disappearance, the screen and watch will remain off.

And therein lies the frustration, as a number of other people have had similar experiences. It seems Apple doesn’t have an easy seamless process for a large amount of bricked devices and is very slow to communicate when there’s a faulty update. Thankfully, this happens rarely and in the iOS world, you can typically fix it yourself. I’d assume that watchOS is some flavor of iOS and works on a very similar principle, so it appears the only place to put your watch in DFU mode is Apple’s repair depot.

Arguably, dusting off my original Apple Watch for a few days or going without isn’t a big deal, but more of an inconvenience that I have to deal with because something Apple did. Unfortunately, this reinforces the notion that much of the general public has that updates are scary and bad (they’re not, but if you’re using a device with no safety net like the Apple Watch, Apple TV 4K, or HomePod, give it a day or two). Yes, I didn’t take my own longtime advice because I trusted that things would go well since Apple’s been on a software reliability tear lately (the iOS 12 betas were so stable!)

I do hope that this is enough of a pain in the butt for Apple that they reevaluate their process for service. I was willing to drive about a half hour to my nearest Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider on just about any day to get this fixed. For a situation like this, if this tool exists, why isn’t there one at every Apple Store? Again, using the context of failed iOS updates, this could’ve been something that I and any others affected could have resolved in our free time and probably been back to filling rings in a much quicker manner. Next day shipping costs have to add up.

Some people have been very upset and I’d consider myself more annoyed, but also understanding that things like this could happen. If this was an out-of-warranty older watch, I think I’d be demanding more answers from Apple, especially if they were going to charge for service. For those who are asking why I didn’t go up to my Apple Store to begin with, it seems they were out of stock of my model and almost everyone on the support side of Apple said that I wouldn’t be able to exchange it. A few people had some luck making a bit of a scene, but that’s still counterproductive if there’s no devices in stock.

As for AppleCare+, I decided against it on this watch, mostly due to having good luck avoiding damage on my prior one and my credit card extending the manufacturer’s warranty. I’m a bit disappointed that AppleCare+ appears to change the kind of service you receive, or at least the options, but I also understand the need to justify the price for something many will never use (like some of the extra features of Amazon Prime).

There’s plenty of more frustrating and terrible things in this world and being without a little computer that talks to one of my other computers for a few days is pretty trivial. On the other hand, the experience has soured my customer sat a bit and even had me questioning if this is a device I need. If others are doing that for even a bit, that could be a concern. Larger picture, I hope Apple uses this as a learning experience for the company, especially since many Series 4 owners are some of their early-adopting and biggest proponents.

Update: It looks like Apple is acknowledging the issue in an official capacity, but the article is a bit concise.

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