The other day I encountered a serious problem with my iTunes account that seemed to require major surgery, so I figured I'd stop in at my local Apple Store and mosey up to the Genius Bar downstairs to see if there was a less draconian fix than the one I'd read about online.
Since I was there during Happy Hour, I figured I'd go for the two-for-one special and also ask why the battery on my new iPhone 4S was puttering out in about 12 hours (with only minimal use), well short of what I was getting with my old 3GS.
For the uninitiated, the Genius Bar is the place where you take your Apple problems. You actually need to make an appointment, and like the doctor's office, the knowledgeable Apple reps who help fix your problems don't necessarily see you right away, especially if you make an appointment at 5:50 p.m. when the place is a madhouse. At least in Manhattan, anyway.
The geniuses are great. Attentive, patient, and polite, they treat you like an idiot, because, well, they're used to dealing with idiots all day. I shouldn't say idiots, of course. Luddites would be the preferred nomenclature, but since we're being conversational, let's go with idiots.
For example, the woman sitting on the stool next to me cheerfully recounted the harrowing tale of how she'd dropped her phone in the toilet. She had an awfully good attitude for someone who claimed to have been to the Apple Store six times in a week.
She said that after getting a replacement iPhone 3GS (a refurbished unit for $150), she'd been unable to sync her contacts, so now she'd brought in her 2004 Mac Mini ("It's not that old," she told me) to see if the geniuses could make things right. The only problem: she'd forgotten the power cord to her computer. Or so she thought. After one of the geniuses spent 10 minutes trying to find one in back somewhere--and miraculously produced one (I tell you, these people are saints)--she realized it had been in her bag all along.
"Gosh," she said. "That was dumb."
Luckily, the genius had no problem solving her problem. Except for the missing power cord, it was child's play, and as we were waiting for her 2004 Mac Mini to resync with her 3GS, I asked the genius helping her how far behind they were running.
"You got an iPhone problem?" he asked, seeing I had an iPhone in my hand.
Knowing my iTunes problem wasn't something I could decimate quickly, I decided to lead with the battery-life issue.
"Yeah. My battery life is pretty weak. I hear that there may be a problem."
"You turn off your phone?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
He then decided he better slow everything down and enunciate each of the words, because, well, that's what you do when you're talking to an idiot.
"I set the phone down on my desk and the screen goes dark," I said. "It's just sitting there."
"Yeah, but do you turn it off?"
"Like all the way off?"
"Well, if I turn it off, I can't take calls."
"But do you turn it off at night?"
"No, at night I dock it and charge it. It stays fully charged."
"You a doctor on call?"
"Then why do you need to have your phone on?"
He said there was no reason to have your phone on unless you were in a profession that required you to be reachable in the middle of the night (on your cell phone). He then went on to explain that this was the mistake that people made, leaving their phones on all the time, and that if I turned my phone off from time to time, I'd get better battery life.
"So I've got to calibrate the battery?" I said, figuring it was something similar to what Apple suggests for maximizing battery life on a MacBook Pro or Air.
He said I just needed to give my phone a break. If you leave it running all the time, it gets "stressed." He made an analogy to a car idling all the time. "It's not doing much, but it's still running," he said.
"Where does it say I should do that? I mean, I know you're supposed to power down the phone and restart it when some app locks up--"
"And it fixes, the problem, right?"
"Yeah," I said.
"Well, sometimes the phone locks up because it's stressed, a lot of stuff is running at the same time."
"But if I turn it off at night, how can I use it as a clock and an alarm?"
"You're using a $200 device as an alarm clock?"
Well, no. My phone was a 64GB model. It cost $400.
"There you go," he said. "You're using a $400 device as alarm clock. You can get a perfectly good alarm clock for $20 these days."
I laughed. It really did sound absurd. I was using a $400 device as an alarm, jeopardizing its well-being. Boy was I a moron.
"So turn it off?"
"Turn it off," he said. "Not all the time. Just sometimes."
Finally, my name was called and I was approached by another genius. I then explained my iTunes problem. The new genius was as polite and attentive as the other genius but a bit more methodical and robotic in his approach.
After a series rapid-fire questions and a somewhat tense discussion (his tone suggested I--or rather "human error"--might be at the root of the problem), I managed to reproduce the 5002 error I encountered exactly as I described it, which gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I also managed to stump the genius, who after gamely trying to solve my problem, admitted defeat and said "they" were not trained to deal with iTunes problems.
He then referred me to an article on Apple's site that I'd already read and said that since I didn't have Apple Care, I could click a link at the bottom of the page and e-mail someone who'd get back to me in 24 hours.
"I'm sorry I couldn't help you with your problem," he said. "Is there anything else I can do for you today?"
I then told him that I was having an issue with my iPhone's battery life and that another genius had recommended that I turn my phone off to improve my battery life.
"Is that for real?" I asked.
"That's one of the things we tell people, to turn their phone off at least once a week."
"Oh, OK. Just once a week."
At least once a week, he replied. He said it was a good thing to do.
"What if I still have bad battery life after I do that?"
"You could have a problem."
"I was here a few years ago and one of the guys told me that almost all battery problem are software based."
He said that was true. And then he told me he was going to send me an e-mail link to the Apple article that described the 5002 error. He again told me to click on the e-mail link at the bottom.
"Someone will get back to you within 24 hours," he said. "They are trained to deal with iTunes problems."
Alas, I never clicked on the link at the bottom of that page. That's because magically my problem resolved itself 24 hours later without me sending any e-mails or doing anything.
Hopefully, the same thing will happen with the battery life on my iPhone 4S. Apple will quietly update iOS 5 and the problem, whether perceived or real, will quietly go away. It'd be nice if it did because I really don't want to turn my phone off at night, even if it may be good advice.