Does AppleCare Care?

I will try to keep my personal biases and frustrations away from this post and point readers only to facts and my personal experience dealing with Apple Support. I will keep names and places anonymous intentionally.

FileVault 2 has an issue. Period. The issue mostly shows up with MacBook Pros, early 2015, 13″ models for some reasons although people have reported the issue on other models too. The issue shows up when FileVault is turned on and even after the encryption process has been fully completed. If you happen to cold reboot your Mac from power off or for some reason you had to hard reset the MacBookPro, it comes back up and presents you with an EFI pre-boot login screen. Unless you enter the username and password for an user who can decrypt your drive, your hard drive is still encrypted.  The problem is, because of this issue, your built in trackpad and keyboard is mostly un-operational and irresponsive. If you attach an external keyboard and mice, it does seem, at least to me, to be working and I can use them to key in my userID and password and log-in. If I am not carrying one (most people who travel light won’t), I am out of luck.
This issue has shown up not only in my personal MacBookPro but also on a work MacBookPro of the same model. Discussing the problem with people at work, we came to the conclusion that perhaps MacBookPro is really running slow at that point, so slow that the trackpad seems to be missing the interrupts most of the time. If you keep wriggling your trackpad mice, it does seem to move a little bit and then get stuck all over again. Same with built-in keyboard. Some keystrokes occasionally register but for the most part, the keyboard is non-operational to the extent that one can not successfully type the password and log into the machine.
The issue has been seen by many others and reported by quite a few. Take a look at this and this. NVRAM and SMC reset does not help. Neither does booting in safe mode. If you disable FileVault, everything is good. If you re-enable the FileVault, the issue comes back once more.
When I first spoke to AppleCare about this, I was eventually transferred to a sr. advisor. She promptly told me that they have not seen the issue before (although it’s kind of hard to imagine this given so many others have found the issue). Then after back and forth with her trying to explain what I see and what I did to debug this further (I told them upfront that I am a Sr. engineer and I know my way around computers), she eventually told me to wipe off my MacBook Pro erasing all my data and software and reinstall a fresh copy of MacOS Sierra and then try to reproduce it. I was really taken aback by this. What was unique about my setup which Apple can not reproduce on their own? The hardware and software both came from Apple! There is ample evidence that that the issue happens on other people’s system too. We ourselves have seen this on two different MacBookPros. Surely they can try to reproduce this on their own in their own labs without asking me to disrupt my work and my life right? At the very least, she could go back and ask the software team if they had seen the issue or heard other customers reporting about it. Without making an effort to do any investigations on their side, it felt like they were passing the buck on to the customer to solve the issue for them.
Nevertheless, I told her to send me a loaner Mac where I could reproduce the problem without disrupting my life and at the same time expressed my frustrations on twitter.
AppleCare on twitter promptly caught on my case ID and set me up with another sr. advisor. I spent another hour explaining my issue on a Monday, telling him that I do have a short term solution – disabling FileVault on my MBP and that I needed a long term solution because turning off FileVault forever is not an option for me.  He said he would escalate the issue to the software team and get back to me on the following Friday at 9:30 AM. We put this down on our calendars. That Friday came and went. I waited for his call and his call never came. He had left me his work phone# and extension and I left a message for this guy. No response! That evening, completely frustrated at this point, I started another chat session with a third sr. advisor. I explained the issue again. She was nice and friendly and asked me how my experience with Apple Care had been so far. I told her honestly that it’s been really poor. She looked around for some EFI updates for my MBP but there wasn’t any.  She asked me if she should generate another escalation for me to which I said yes. I got her contact info and she said it would take three days for the escalation team to get back to her. So she should get back to me the following Wednesday (I spoke to her the evening of that Friday when sr. advisor 2 was supposed to get back to me). The following Wednesday came and went. No emails. No calls. No chat. I sent her a couple of emails asking about the progress of my case. No response! I looked around my spam folder(I use gmail) and there was nothing there either. I waited patiently for two more days and then on the following Saturday scheduled an appointment with the Genius Bar at a certain mall in Vancouver, Canada. I also finally wiped off my MBP, did a fresh install of OSX El Capitan and was able to reproduce the problem with a few retries.
Saturday morning I spoke to a fourth (!!) sr. advisor over chat, told her what I did, what I was thinking and where I was. I told her about my reservation ID at the genius bar later that day. At the genius bar, the guy was able to reproduce the issue with their Apple Service Toolkit. In fact it was such a slow process with FileVault that they had to turn off the FileVault to run the toolkit. Built in keyboard and trackpad was completely un-operational! I told the guy “now you see I am not bullshitting and you can see why I am so frustrated!”.  I told him that we have seen the same issue on a work MBP where the same genius bar had replaced the logic board and apparently doing so, the issue went away (I don’t know why that could be the case but since I have not designed FileVault2, I won’t speculate). The guy took notes (it began with “Customer stated when turning on FileVault …”) , generated a work authorization. We agreed that they would change the logic board and if the issue persisted, we can safely conclude that it was not a HW issue.
Almost a week later, today, Friday I got an email that the MBP was ready for pickup. I went to the mall to pick it up. The moment I turned on my MBP, I realized they they have not even tried enabling FileVault on the machine where the core of the issue lied. They left the software exactly how I had dropped it off. They replaced logic board with a new one, found the “same issue” (not sure what the issue was really) and so conveniently replaced my old logic board back into the machine! They replaced the flex cable in the process. However, they failed to even read the first line of the notes (“turning on FileVault”) and diagnose and hopefully fix the real issue for which I spent an entire hour with the Genius Bar the Saturday before! I have left my MacBook with the Genius Bar guys for further diagnosis. I bought a new MacBook during Apple’s one day Thanksgiving deal this year and I am lucky I did because that’s the only personal laptop I have right now. When I get back my old MBP, I am thinking of returning this MacBook (special holiday season return policy applies on this new MacBook).
Update 1 : Saturday evening I got a call from the genius bar saying that my MBP was ready for pickup (again). Next day, I got back my MacBook Pro. The Genius Bar had replaced the flex cable and IO board in the process and I was told that they did a thorough examination of my laptop hardware. If the issue still persisted, we can definitely rule out HW as the cause of the problem. I have restored my files, application and settings and so far so good. I am keeping my fingers crossed though on this. From what I have seen, I have  strong feeling that the issue is not HW related (how is it that the issue only shows up when FileVault 2 is turned on and on EFI pre-boot login screen and not always with or without encryption, logged in or not ?). However, if it is, I am glad that my laptop was covered under AppleCare and at the very least, I did not have to spend any money (except spending all the additional time going back and forth with AppleCare).
Update 2: I had written an email to Tim Cook pointing him to this blog. Today I got a call from <Name Withheld> from Apple. Among other things, it’s a great relief to know that if the issue came back up, I won’t be in a infinite loop talking to apple care explaining all over again the history of the problem. I will be able to talk to someone much senior in the tech team about this and hopefully make a progress. That’s a sweet gesture. Thanks Tim.
Update 3: It has been more than three months since my visit to Apple Store. Ever since I got back my MBP, I have not had the same issue again. I have reset my MBP a few times, rebooted it a few times and I wasn’t able to reproduce the problem. So I consider this issue closed. Thanks Apple!



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