At any given Apple Store there seem to be a lot of people wearing name tags that claim “Genius” and yet, they know very little about how computers actually work. As former CEO of a top-tier Apple VAR, yes, I have a level of expertise that is beyond that of the average user, but that does not mean that my experience should be so frustrating that I’d rather venture to BestBuy.

A recent example of an interaction at an Apple Store:

Apple Genius: “Can I help you sir?”
Me: “Yes. I would like to compare the graphics cards in your current models, laptops and Mac minis, to determine how I might improve the render time for video editing.”
AG: “Oh! The new models are 2.6 times faster!”
Me: “Faster than what?”
AG: “Well, faster than before?”
Me: “Before what? The last model?”
AG: “Yes.”
Me: “Really? Are you certain? The CPU frequency is just 10% higher than in the last model. So how can it be 2.6 times faster?”
AG: “Oh. Well, … er, what kind of software are you using?”
Me: “Video editing. Adobe Premier.”
AG: “Ah! If you were using FinalCut, it would be must faster.”
Me: “I tried the new version of FinalCut. It’s a child’s toy compared to Premier. But more importantly, both use GPUs. Again, that is why I am here. I want to compare the graphics cards of your current models to determine which will give me the best render times.”
AG: (rambles on about FinalCut and improvements)
Me: “Look. Is there anyone here to knows about GPUs? Maybe some other Genius?”
AG: “Let me see who I can find for you.”

I wait. A good fifteen minutes later another Genius approaches. The first hovers, listening in.

AG2: “How can I help you?”
Me: “Do you know anything about GPUs? The number of cores, the on-board RAM associated with the graphics cards in your current units?”
AG2: “Yes. How can I help you?”
Me: “I want to compare the current laptops with the Mac minis, to determine which is the best platform for video rendering.”
AG2: “Hands down, the 15″ laptops are the best.”
Me: “Why?”
AG2: “They’re faster.”
Me: “Uh. Ok. What makes them faster?”
AG2: “Well, they are 2.6 times faster!”
Me: “You’re kidding, right? Guess you guys both watch the same commercial (smiling). Look. Video rendering takes place on the GPU, not the CPU. The number of cores directly affects the rendering time. More cores equates to more divisions of labor. More equals better. All I need to know is the number of cores on each GPU, the amount of dedicated RAM, and ideally, the bus speed between the GPU and the Southbridge, the I/O controller which is pulling data off the drive. Do you, or do you not have this level of technical knowledge of your computers.”
AG2: “I am sorry sir, but maybe you can find that information on the Apple Store.”
Me: “No, it’s not there. But I am certain Nvidia’s website has it. Thanks.”

Of course, Nvidia’s website has all that I needed. But sometimes, it is just nice to talk to a human being. Unless of course, that human being knows very little about the product in question.


Just yesterday. I purchased a new 27″ iMac for a client and a 15″ MacBook Pro for myself (having learned all that I need to know about the GPUs from 3rd party websites). At my client’s site, I needed to rebuild 5 Macs in an afternoon, to stay on schedule.

I spent an hour at the Apple Store here in Boise, and while I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with one of the employees, I purchased at BestBuy across the street as they gave me a $100 discount for purchasing more than $4000 in a single day.

But here is the difference: at Apple, the employees tend to know ONLY about Apple. They can talk about iPhones, iPads, and all the apps for hours, but mention any third party vendors, hardware or software, and for the most part, they haven’t a clue. At BestBuy, the geeks are well-rounded, having dabbled in Windows and Linux, routers and RAID boxes, home theater systems–the works. They have not drunk just one flavor of Koolaide, rather, they have knowledge that bridges the gaps and in the end, I learn something from their employees as frequently as I teach. At Apple, however, I walk away every time with the employees shaking my hand, telling me they learned something about Apple hardware they never knew.

Yesterday afternoon I purchased a USB stick with a pre-installed version of OSX Lion as I was swapping / upgrading drives between the five systems I mentioned above. Yes, I could have managed a daisy chain of external drives installed using the emergency boot partition, but it would take far, far longer than a DVD or USB install.

However, the USB stick would not boot the 15″ MacBook Pro I just purchased, the latest version (sans Retina). I called the Store and explained that it is not booting, and likely is not the newest version of Lion.

AG3: “Oh, that’s not possible. Lion supports all the systems we have.”
Me: “With all due respect ma’am, it is impossible for an OS to forward support new hardware if there are any changes to the on-board components. It simply does not work that way. The USB stick you sold to me supports 4 machines at this site, but not the one I purchased today. It is obvious that it is not the latest Lion. I therefore ask that you look around to see if you have a new build.”
AG3: “Have you called Apple Tech Support?”
Me: “No. I don’t need Apple Tech Support to insert a USB stick and press the power button. A grey circle with a line through it is pretty obvious. It doesn’t work.”
AG3: “Did you upgrade the drive?”
Me: “Yes. But that –”
AG3: “Oh! We can’t support your system if you change the drive. Please reinstall the original drive and–”
Me: “The drive has nothing to do with it. Seriously. The boot order built into the firmware is USB, CD, then internal drive. I have a machine here that has NO DRIVE at all, and it boots from the USB stick perfectly.”
AG3: “Oh. Well, you need to call Tech Support.”
Me: (slightly raised voice) “Look. I spent $4000 today on Apple hardware. I have been screwing around with this mess for more than three hours BEFORE I called, to make certain I was not wasting your time. I zapped the PRAM. I unplugged the units. I tested both with original and new drives. I want to come in to your store and make it perfectly clear that the version of OSX on the USB stick is too old.”
AG3: “Ok … let me see … yes, we have a slot at 9 am tomorrow.”

Of course, the lead Genius confirmed that the build was old, but he had no way of determining the build version and did not know if any of the USB sticks in-store were the current version. And so I was forced to do a daisy chain of restores to get my new 15″ running on a Seagate hybrid drive.

Again, lack of knowledge or perhaps, an attempt at making everything so simple (by not labeling the USB sticks with version numbers), my experience was far more complex than necessary.

To Apple’s benefit, their employees are consistently friendly, truly enthusiastic about their product line, and doing their best to serve you. I also recognize that Apple’s entire goal is to make the hardware completely transparent to the user such that the software is their #1 focus in training.

Makes sense … mostly.