I woke up this past Sunday morning and put my Apple Watch on its charger, just like I normally do every morning (I wear my Apple Watch to bed, mostly for VIP calls, not sleep monitoring). But when I finished my coffee and was ready to go out for my morning bike ride I noticed something strange when picking my Apple Watch off the charger. I felt a strange texture where the ceramic back of my stainless steel Apple Watch should have been. I looked down and clearly something was wrong. It looked like the "intestines" from my Apple Watch were hanging out the back of the device. The ceramic back of my Apple Watch had become detached from the watch (the "intestine-like" substance was the cable running from the main battery to the inductive charging assembly built into the back of the watch).
I gently put the watch back down on the charger and the ceramic back of the watch snapped back into place (come to find out it is held into place by magnets and then permanently/semi-permanently glued down). It was the glue on the inside lip of the Apple Watch that had failed. So I did like most people would do, I drove into an Apple Store and visited the Genius Bar, after all I had purchased Apple Care for my Apple Watch so I knew I was covered no matter what. The employee at the front of the store asked me what I needed help with and I explained the problem. The employee looked rather shocked and said this was the first time he had heard of such a thing happening to Apple Watch. I knew that this was a known problem from doing a little searching on the Apple Support forums, so I was a bit surprised by that response. I was directed over to the walk in Genius Bar line and within a few minutes I was talking with the person doing triage and assigning appointment slots to walk in customers. Again I explained the problem and he very quickly said that the watch would either need to be sent off for repair or replaced, but they couldn't replace the watch for me in-store. Apparently Apple (at least in some locations) doesn't have enough Apple Watch stock to do in-store warranty replacements. He said since I had Apple Care my best bet would be to go home and call Apple Care and they would send a replacement watch to my house.
So that's what I did. I called Apple Care and they took care of me. I was given what Apple calls their "express replacement", which means they express ship you a replacement device and then when you received the replacement you ship your damaged device back to Apple in the same packaging. This is a free service option if you have purchased Apple Care and an optional service (for an additional charge) if you didn't purchase Apple Care. Apple then places a hold on your credit card until your device arrives at Apple, but that minimizes the time you would be without the device. An excellent option in my opinion.
Two interesting things with respect to the warranty call. The first is that before they would process the replacement they had me unpair the Apple Watch from my iPhone. This "unlocks" the device from my iCloud account which lets Apple repair the device and then re-purpose it. If I were to send the watch to them without unpairing it then they would not be able to do anything with it. So I understood why they did this. I'm sure they had enough Apple Watches sent it incorrectly that it was causing a problem and with the new feature in Watch OS allowing you to pair your iPhone with more that one device it was now possible for people to pair their iPhone with the replacement Apple Watch and forget to unpair their old watch before returning it. So I explained that I would want to keep using my watch until the replacement arrived and he said that I could do that, but that I had to unpair the watch at least long enough for them to process the replacement. The system is hard wired so that the customer HAS to unpair the watch before they can process the claim. I guess that's one way to make sure the customer at least knows how to unpair the watch. He then told me I was free to re-pair the watch, but to make sure I remembered to unpair it again before sending it in else I would risk being charged for the replacement device (the temp hold on my credit card would be become an actual charge). Makes sense.
The 2nd interesting feature of the call was the long list of questions Apple asked me about how I use the Apple Watch. They wanted to know if I had been using the watch in any kind of extreme heat, in a very wet environment like a pool and if I wore the watch in the proximity of any kind of lotion or sunscreen. They even wanted to know the exact brand and type of sun screen. This tells me that this glue problem my watch had isn't as isolated as the Apple Store greeter made it sound. Obviously if Apple has a list of questions to ask customers then this a fairly well known issue.
So there were a few thing I learned from this whole experience that I wanted to pass on:
- It's always a good idea to call Apple Care by phone before going into the Apple Store. In my case it would have saved me 2 hours of driving.
- Not all Apple Stores will be able to fully take care of an Apple Watch warranty claim. This was very surprising to me since Apple Watch has been out for over a year now.
- Don't expect to be able to get a Genius Bar appointment any time soon. The earliest appointment I could find in my area was a week from the day I was checking. Apple accepts walk-ins for the Genius Bar, so if you have a device in need of warranty then a walk-in appointment is really your only option. But Apple handles walk-ins really well now. They give you an approximate time frame they think they can squeeze you in and then take your phone number and text you when your appointment time is approaching so you can go somewhere outside the store until they are ready for you.
- Apparently backs falling off of Apple Watches is a thing. How big of a thing I don't know, but obviously my issue was not an isolated event given the series of prepared questions I was given.
Updated Oct 13, 2016...the back of the replacement Apple Watch that Apple sent me has also experienced the same problem. I called Apple and they sent me yet another Apple Watch. I have no idea what is causing the adhesive used to secure the Apple Watch back to fail.
Updated June 24, 2017...the back of my Apple Watch has fallen off yet again. See this post for more details. I've given up on the Series 0 Apple Watch and gone ahead and bought a Series 2. Hopefully the more water-resistant Series 2 will solve this issue I am having...
UPDATE July 12, 2017 Apple has an internal service memo that extends the original Apple Watch warranty out to 3 years to cover this isssue and this issue only. See my latest post for more details.