Service with a customizable smile

OK, it’s all my fault, I admit it. When I wrote about Apple’s ProCare service program last year, I called it “the best deal no one’s talking about” because of its training component. Apparently someone at Apple decided it was too good a deal, because last week the company unveiled a new program called One to One that breaks out training from service.

Let’s back up a step. ProCare is a $99-per-year service plan offered by Apple retail stores. It is essentially a priority service plan for Mac users: You get “first in line, first on the bench” priority at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar; annual software updates and keyboard/monitor cleaning; and other benefits. Up until last week, ProCare also netted you weekly one-on-one training with Apple retail store trainers, too. (Existing ProCare customers are grandfathered in under the old program until their current terms expire.) Now, that training has been broken out as a separate $99-a-year program called One to One. And you know what? It’s still a fantastic deal; you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it, if you can.

Apple hardware and software—especially the consumer stuff—is dead simple to use. In fact, many of the applications are deceptively simple. The interfaces are intuitive enough that with some basic knowledge you can pretty much get started right away, and that’s where a lot of users stay. But with One to One you can really get under the hood, working with a trainer to understand how to get the most out of the apps you rely on on a daily basis.

Apple’s line of professional applications take this usage up a few notches, and, as far as I’m concerned, this is where Apple Store trainers can really shine. If you or your company has invested in industrial strength tools like Final Cut Studio, Aperture, Shake, or Logic, you owe it to yourself to get the most out of them that you can. And here again, those trainers can work with you.

One special feature of One to One is that it’s not just a canned presentation: It’s custom-tailored to your needs. So the first time you meet with a trainer at an Apple Store, he or she will help create a curriculum suited best for your needs depending on what you tell them you want to do. And just like the way it worked with ProCare, One to One authorizes you to meet with an Apple Trainer up to once per calendar week.

Now, One to One probably isn’t the best substitute for real, professional on-site training, but for that, you’re going to pay more like $99 per hour, not $99 a year. Heck, the fee for One to One is barely more than the cost of a couple of training guides at Borders.

By the way, although the price hasn’t changed, Apple has improved the value proposition for ProCare users. Instead of just covering one machine, ProCare now covers up to three. Apple has also added a “QuickDrop” service for ProCare customers that lets you drop off your Mac for service at the Genius Bar just by flashing your ProCare card; you don’t need to sign up for a meeting with a Genius using the Store’s concierge service. And Apple Geniuses will now sit down with you to craft a backup strategy well suited to your use. So you’re getting more bang for your buck there, too.

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