When three to five business days are just too long to wait, and perhaps the crowds at the Apple Store might be too intimidating as well, there is online ordering plus in-store pickup. Apple would have you believe that is convenient and fast, so we tried it to see. Yes, it's convenient, it's a rather slick process -- and we found it so fast that we were quicker than the Apple Store's own systems in-store.
We tried it over the new Apple iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case: the moment it was announced and Apple had done that "available today" shtick they are so good at, we cracked our knuckles and went to the online store.
Apple's online store has recently been revamped to take away the Store button. It makes it a chore getting to the thing you want, unless there's something about it on the front page, and this time there was. So click, click and we were at the Add to Bag page. Just underneath that there was information: one about how long it would take to deliver by post, and one about pickup availability.
This image is from when had gone through the process and went back to check the details: it's remembered the real-life store we bought from. It's also remembered that store's postcode: B91 3GJ is the code for the Apple Store in Solihull's Touchwood shopping centre, UK. It's not our own address.
That's a curious detail to get wrong, but we were more focused on the pickup options. Click on that, and the online store gives you a list of the nearest Apple Stores, plus their distance and whether the item is available today or not. Again, this is an After picture rather than Before: when we ordered through this, the battery case was so new that it wasn't available in all stores.
We will neither bore you with the ordering steps, nor reveal our credit card numbers, and instead continue the story with What Happens Next. After the checkout process, you get an email saying the order is being processed, but you also get this on screen:
The key line in that is how you should please wait there, rather than get in your car just yet. The time it takes to process the order must of course vary, but the advice that "items shown as available today are typically ready for pickup within an hour" proved true in this case. It took 13 minutes. That's when we got the email saying we could go get 'em; we then got a text saying the same thing about seven minutes later.
When you get to the store
Apple says to just approach the first employee you see, but the first one we saw had to go get someone else. Apple Store staff are still as friendly and genuine as they always have been, but this is the third time in a row someone didn't know what we needed. When we got the next person, and he began the process, he told us how pickup is a new thing at this store, yet is already going very well.
Before we could press for footfall figures, he had used his Store iPhone to scan a QR code on our iPhone's email. There is something distracting about one iPhone scanning another. It feels like the future, even though Store iPhones are bulky because they have a scanner attached, and the software where they enter your details is pre-iOS 7, and so looks ugly. Still, it works.
Until it doesn't. This part of the process was flying, it's the next ones that hit snags, and clearly only because the case was so very new. Our guy went off to fetch it, and the came back to keep me talking while someone else searched. We had the impression that boxes were being opened backstage, parcels flung over shoulders until someone finally yells that they've got it, by George, they've got it.
They brought out this quite small Apple box and an Apple bag 30 times too big for it and then, oops. The final stage should be the Store staff using their iPhones to scan the barcode on the back of the packaging, but when they did this, their systems didn't recognize the product. They did what every British person would: they tried again.
This time they went off to discuss it, and you could imagine them arguing about how they weren't going to send me away after they'd grazed their knees searching for this thing. Eventually, they came back with an answer. Paper. In the middle of an Apple Store, having ordered online and with more technology than you can wave a barcode reader at, the answer was to write down all the details on a piece of paper.
Again, this was because the item was so preposterously new. "You can tell people you're the first in Solihull to buy it," they said. "Uh-huh," we replied. "Thrilling." (We're British: think dry, think droll, think different.)
Total time to order online: about four minutes, including picking which store. Total time in the store: maybe 25 minutes. Total time in the store spent playing with an iPad Pro while waiting: 21 of those 25 minutes. Drive to the store and back, 90 minutes.
Call it two hours. From hearing of the existence of this battery case to having it on our iPhones, two hours. If you retraced our steps today, with the case now available everywhere, and doubtlessly on Apple Store systems, you'd be in and out of the shop in moments.
Despite our specific hiccups, online ordering and in-store pickup works well. Here's how well: those minutes playing with an iPad Pro may have sold us on buying one -- and if we do, we'll order it to pickup in store.
-- William Gallagher (@WGallagher