Hardware Stability

The iPods

Although not strictly a Macintosh computer, it is worth discussing another Apple product in the light of numerous poor manufacturing and design faults we and other people have discovered from the company over the years. The Apple product we are referring to in this regard is the original iPod (and the mini iPod) which uses a small hard drive to store vast amounts of digital MP3 information.

While the iPod is predominantly an MP3 player for listening to music, Apple wanted to make the product a fashion accessory. To achieve this, it had to be small, look attractive, and be easier to use compared to all the competition for the same product. Then Apple had to sell it. This is where the company employed a marketing strategy to promote the iPod by getting outside organisations with audiences from the younger 15 to 25 year old sector to feature the product on MySpace and Facebook, and get radio broadcasters and rock bands to associate themselves with the product by using it in front of their audiences.

Secondly, Apple increased exposure for the iPod by bundling it free with every iMac computer sold.

And thirdly, the advertisement released by Apple for the iPod became one of the most iconic of its time. It featured the white iPod being held in the hands of men and women dancing in silhouettes in front of a coloured background and giving a sense of emotional enjoyment from the product when listening to the music. There was no indication of who the people were or which country they came from. The advertisement merely captured the imagination of enough young consumers (the ones most likely to embrace new technology) in owning an iPod.

The iPod remains popular primarily because of its simple design and good looks. Even to this day, the iPod interface consisting of four buttons arranged in a circle below an easy-to-read screen has never been improved by Apple's competitors.

Today, Apple has sold more than 100 million iPods.

What is the iPod?

Currently ranging in price from A$449.95 (US$250) for the basic 15GB (stores around 3,750 songs) MP3 player model, A$599.95 (US$450) for the 20GB model (stores around 5,000 songs), to around A$799.95 (US$600) for the top-of-the-range 40GB (stores up to 10,000 songs) model as of 2003, the Apple iPod is a useful portable handheld MP3 player coupled to work as a file storage device. Because of its large storage capacity, the iPod has rapidly gained popularity among consumers and professional multimedia specialists alike. See it as a pocket-sized external drive with the ability to play MP3 music.

Since the introduction of this cigarette packet-sized device to the consumer market nearly two years ago, the iPod has proved to be extremely popular with over 3 million units sold worldwide in 2001. The product has again been updated in September 2005 with a very slim and small iPod nano, using the more robust compact flash memory chips to store less information. It would prove to be more popular as consumers preferred a more robust device for playing music under almost any condition.

Its ability to store large files and play more than 10,000 MP3 music files in an easy-to-use, reasonably compact and attractive product is considered a classic example of good Apple ingenuity and design when the company can put its mind to the task.

What's the problem with the iPod now?

Despite its enormous popularity, Apple Computer, Inc. has been keeping one big dirty secret about the iPod to itself for sometime until now.

Complaints have surfaced in April 2004 of what many believe to be a deliberate design fault by Apple in the battery area. The complaints are so serious that one multimedia artist in Manhattan named Casey Neistat, 11 British MPs and five class-action lawsuits in the United States has seen the iPod receive more than its fair share of bad publicity.

The problem relates to (i) the battery life (apparently it is much shorter than most users expected); and (ii) users are unable to replace the battery in order to solve the battery life problem.

Apple was advertising 10 hours of use per charge in the batteries. Users were claiming between 3 and 5 hours per charge.

When iPod users complained about the short battery life and other issues direct to the company, the best Apple Computer, Inc. could suggest to users is to purchase new iPods. At US$250 a pop, not many iPod users appreciated the thought of paying for a new iPod — something which was clearly not mentioned in any of Apple's original promotional material. As a result, some consumers have taken the company to court while others have complained to places like the Australian Consumers' Association.

As of 2005, the false advertising by Apple on the battery life per charge has led to a class action against Apple in the US and Canada, which has succeeded with Apple agreeing to provide up to 2 million eligible iPod users in the US a US$50 store credit and extended warranties for those who have purchased an iPod in its introduction in 2001 up to May 2004. In Canada, the Montreal-based Gazette claims 80,000 eligible users who have purchased an iPod before 24 June 2005 have been offered a US$45 credit until 20 June 2008.

Why isn't the battery replaceable?

Understandably many readers are thinking, "Well surely the battery can be replaced? Every other portable Apple product ever produced has been designed to allow the rechargeable battery to be removed and replaced if necessary. So what makes the iPod so special?"

As Charles Britton, the IT policy officer at the Australian Consumers' Association, said:

"The key issue is the non-user-replaceable nature of the battery. Why can't you replace the battery yourself? It is a design flaw." (1)

Absolutely! We couldn't agree more. Consumers are smart enough to know rechargeable batteries don't last forever. It should be roughly about 6 to 18 months of reasonably continuous use before consumers have to replace the batteries. Surely Apple would have known that? Yet what many consumers and experts in the IT industry don't understand is why the batteries cannot be replaced by the consumers. Even the Apple technicians are claiming the task of replacing the batteries is so difficult let alone the high price for the batteries and labour costs that many are suggesting it is better to buy a new iPod.

The reason why the battery cannot be replaced by consumers (or Apple technicians unless you are prepared to pay the high price for an iPod battery of roughly A$199 and the labour costs of carefully cracking open the plastic casing, desoldering the old battery, and resoldering a new one in, and closing up the case) is because Apple Computer, Inc. are in the business of making money. And to do so means it is in the company's best interest to ensure Apple products do not last a long time.

It is the persistent idea of introducing obsolescence into Apple products as the way for the company to maintain high profits from people who do not know what is going on.

The idea has been around for sometime (apparently as early as 1996) and has continued to this very day to hurt consumers with products such as the G3 iBook and the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" computer. The only ones who are not being hurt by this Apple policy are the people running the company itself (and certainly those consumers who don't buy Apple products or who choose carefully the right Apple product and then buy them second-hand from a reputable computer store) so long as sufficient numbers of naive and rather gullible people are willing to buy Apple products at any price.

As one iPod owner, Susan Mckay, noticed within three months of purchasing the product: 'It was freezing up and the battery was lasting only three hours [not the purported 8 hours claimed by Apple in official advertisements]. I would have to restart it five to six times a day." (2)

In other claims, iPod users were lucky to get 90 minutes of use per charge. As another iPod user, Simon Hoyle, said: 'At one stage I was getting only 90 minutes out of it [instead of the advertised 8 hours per charge]. It was a bit depressing. I just thought, "Great, $600 down the toilet"." (3)

What is Apple's excuse?

The product marketing manager at Apple Computer (Australia) Ltd in Sydney, Mr Geoff Windar, has explained the battery problem as probably due to people using the iPod too much and is wearing down the battery quicker than it should. This is also the same excuse given to all the consumers who had to bring in their Apple laptops for repairs and still to this day Apple can't get the clutch hinge and other parts near this region fixed properly in the latest PowerBook models.

Well, surely if Apple knows about the problem, why doesn't the company make sure the next model permanently fixes the problem (and make sure the next model doesn't suddenly create other problems for the consumer)?

And what about replacing the iPod battery?

According to Mr Windar, you can't just replace the battery. Why? Mr Windar claims it is due to the complicated nature of the electronics inside the iPod and how the battery is an intricate part of the unit which is the main problem. Yes, so intricate that apparently Apple had to directly solder the bloody thing to the circuit board! And to replace it would require someone with a degree in electronics engineering.

Not a smart move by Apple by any measure.

As any electronics expert or enthusiast would know, this has to be rubbish. Yes, the battery is an intricate part of any electronic circuit by virtue of the fact that it is needed to power the circuit. But it is certainly not intricately entwined enough to require the battery to be soldered directly to the circuit board nor have it in such close proximity. A battery can be placed a metre away from the circuit board and so long as there are two wires, one positive and one negative, to connect the battery to the circuit board (if the resistance in the wire is minimal), the battery can always perform its job of powering the circuit board. Knowing this fact, the battery could have easily been housed in a separate compartment inside the iPod with two wires from the circuit board touching the battery terminal via standard metal clips. Then it should be an easy matter of opening the battery lid (which could provide additional safety to switch off all power to the iPod), taking the old battery out and replacing it with a new one.

Or has Apple designed the battery to be a lethal weapon to human touch and therefore has to be permanently attached to the circuit board? Perhaps the battery is actually a weapon of mass destruction — possibly of the nuclear type — given the way Apple has designed the iPod and the battery itself!

It is almost criminal what Apple has done here!

To top it all off, Mr Windar chose not to give an estimate of how long the battery should last per charge or what it could be expected to last before it might need to be replaced. He conveniently explains it as being highly dependent on the way the iPod is being used. As Mr Windar explained it:

"With all these sorts of things, the mileage may vary. It depends how you use it." (4)

Well, guess what? The iPod is apparently being used a lot according to Apple. So doesn't Apple know by now how long the battery should last? This quote from Mr Windar sounds like a cop out for Apple. (5)

If it is of any consolation for all the iPod users in the world, Mr Windar does admit that any iPod giving less than three hours playing time within the 12 months warranty or the A$99 extended warranty should be taken to an Apple-approved service centre (if the problem can be reproduced by Apple technicians).

More insights into the iPod problem

MacFixIt.com has released a more comprehensive list of problems allegedly experienced by iPod users on 23 April 2004.

In the section on iPod batteries, MacFixIt.com has mentioned that some users have suggested the short life of the batteries is not only caused by overuse of the iPod, but also when connected to the host Mac acting as the charger in sleep mode the batteries are routinly being fully discharged (known as a full or deep cycle).

And we thought the lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries didn't require a full discharge to remove any 'memory effect'. Or are the batteries made of the cheaper nickel-cadmium variety?

No. The batteries are indeed made of the Li-Ion variety. So why the full discharge? The reason for the deep discharge of the batteries when the computer is asleep is presumably to ensure the iPod's battery meter shows an accurate reading of the total charge. As Ron Skinner discovered and mentioned to MacFixIt.com:

"Devices equipped with Li-Ion charge indicatorssuch as the iPodbecome increasingly inaccurate when they are shallow charged. All that is required to re-calibrate the gauges is to fully discharge the battery before recharging. However, routinely fully discharging these batteries should be avoided. Their useful life is greatest when subjected to shallow charge cycles." (6)

This could explain why iPod users have to ask for the batteries to be replaced after 8-18 months of regular use. Apparently the full discharge will actually shorten the lifespan of your iPod battery.

But should the iPod battery have to be fully discharge when the Mac is put in sleep mode? Apple is a little vague on this issue. According to its official statement in the Knowledge Base article #61127. Apple says:

"To charge iPod's battery, simply connect iPod to your Macintosh. The computer must be turned on, and iPod won't charge if the computer goes into sleep mode."

Well, yes of course. It just discharges the iPod battery instead. It is interesting to see how Apple has not made the necessary quality control checks to see what happens if the computer is put to sleep. Or if it did, chose not to document this observation in its Knowledge Base article. Or is this another example of deliberately avoiding the quality control checks and/or writing the details of this interesting observation for the public to read because Apple knows what it is doing and just wants to make more profit?

As MacFixIt.com has reported:

"Most readers report that the iPod drains more quickly when it is connected to an off or sleeping Mac than if it is not connected and sitting idle (however, these measurements may be inaccurate - see below). Some have noticed that the iPod's hard drive sometimes spins while connected to a sleeping Mac. Thus it would appear that the iPod remains active while connected to a sleeping Mac, and is perhaps using more power to stay active than is being drawn from the FireWire port.

What's odd is that some readers have reported that the drain occurs even while an iPod is dock-connected to a Mac that is turned off. This would appear to indicate that the iPod is constantly "listening" for a signal from the Dock, depleting its battery in the process. This notion is reinforced by the fact that it is not necessary to turn the iPod on when docking it for an update; even if the "hold" switch is active and the iPod is off, placing the unit in the dock will cause an automatic transfer.

For most, the discharge problem is not persistent, occurring once every few sleep sessions." (7)

MacFixIt.com further goes on to say that the problem (via a FireWire cable) is non-existent in the first and second generation iPods (i.e. the pre-dock variety). As iPod user Ryan La Riviere said:

"I have a second generation (non-dock-based) 10GB iPod. I have, on several occasions, actually used my sleeping (and plugged into an outlet) TiBook to charge my iPod via FireWire. If I wanted to charge the iPod while the TiBook was not plugged into an outlet, the TiBook would have to be awake." (8)

The list of problems continue to mount for the hapless iPod with revelations that the latest MacOSX version 10.3 'Panther' update is apparently slowing down the recharging process for the iPod battery when other FireWire devices are plugged into the Macintosh computer. As Bob Sutryk writes to MacFixIt.com recently:

"One other issue that frustrated me for months: Shortly after I put Mac OS X 10.3 on my computer the iPod seemed outrageously slow to charge. After months of dealing with this and sending the iPod in to be fixed, a sharp Apple tech finally discovered that my iSight camera was pulling too much power for both Firewire appliances to handle. Once I unhooked the iSight, the iPod ran like new." (9)

So why didn't this occur in MacOSX version 10.2 'Jaguar' update? What's so special about the 'Panther' update for this undocumented problem to appear for iPod users?

More quality control problems? Or more examples of in-built obsolescence being put into Apple products?

Solutions?

Experimentation by some iPod users have uncovered some interesting observations which may help to solve a number of problems.

To begin with, Mr Hoyle has found the playing time per charge may be depended on where you do your charging. If the iPod is being charged from a computer, the battery may not be fully charged properly. But if he used the power adapter when the battery is fully discharged, Hoyle managed to get an improvement.

This has been confirmed by another iPod user who said to MacFixIt.com:

"I have a 10GB second generation iPod. I normally charge by hooking the iPod to my laptop or desktop. Around early Jan of this year it would appear that my iPod would not hold a charge. When hooked up to a computer it would seem like it could never reach full charge on the display. If it did, then it wouldn't hold its charge for more than a couple of hours. I thought the battery was toast. On a fluke, I connected it to the wall charger. After it reached full charge, I was again able to get about 8 hours of playing time. It's like having a new iPod!" (10)

As for the sleep/discharge problem, Eric Westby recommends iPod users plug their iPods to an externally powered FireWire hub as the way to recharge the latest generation of iPods even when the Macintosh is put to sleep overnight or longer:

"I ended up using a powered FireWire hub to solve the problem since the hub continues to send power to the iPod/dock even when my G4 is asleep, the iPod is fully charged in the morning even though my G4 has spent the night asleep." (11)

Apple, however, have not gone this far. The company's recommendation in extending the battery life according to the updated Knowledge Base article #61434 has been:

(i) To press the Play/Pause button to pause the song when the iPod is left unattended.

(ii) To turn the backlighting off as this can use significant amount of power from the iPod battery.

As for replacing the rechargeable batteries inside the iPod, Apple hasn't got a clue how to solve this problem. In fact, the company really needs a good kick up the backside for designing this product in such a way that virtually no one can fix it except Apple-approved technicians (12). And even then, the effort to replace the batteries is considered too great to be cost-effective for the consumers.

Further support for the idea of obsolescence in Apple products

After Ms Mckay unfortunate experience with her beloved iPod, she summarised the situation as follows:

"I guess you can't expect a battery to last forever and ever, but it is really just in-built obsolescence.

I don't know what will happen when my battery does die, because I know it will. Do I go to Apple and they'll replace it, do I get someone else to replace it or will I have to buy a new one? I'm waiting for that day." (13)

Given the way Apple wants to keep quiet in the hope customers will buy new Apple products, expect the wait to be a long and painful one unless the company is legally obligated to do the right thing by its customers.

UPDATE
April 2004

Apple Computer, Inc. has quickly introduced a smaller credit card-sized product known as the mini-iPod capable of storing up to 1,000 MP3 files.

UPDATE
May 2004

The latest 4GB mini-iPod appears to have a different problem compared to its larger predecessor. Now a few 'Panther' OSX users are noticing how transferring and encoding the music from an entire CD into the latest iPod apparently results in a break in the music after about 74 minutes of playback (the recognised maximum recording standard for CDs). The gap is roughly between 1.5 and 3 seconds long and occurs when CDs are longer than 74 minutes long. Because the problem does not seem to occur for other OSX users, Apple believes this has to be an example of isolated reports.

More so-called isolated reports have emerged of similar sound dropouts for iPod and mini-iPod users who have updated the firmware to version 2.2. Because the iPods have a 32MB RAM buffer to hold music information during playback, any song files exceeding 32MB will have the sound dropout temporarily (or may suddenly go to the next file) as the iPods reaccess the hard disk for the extra information (or may choose to ignore it). Thus anyone who has recorded an audiobook or a live 'continuous' performance will have to find a way to shorten the file to under 32MB. Enough users can confirm the problem does not exist with firmware version 2.1.

And yet still more problems continue to plague those who choose iPods for their music listening pleasure (why does anyone have to buy an iPod compared to what's available from other manufacturers nowadays?). MacFixIt.com can now confidently report that some iPods can be rendered permanently unuseable after applying the 2004-04-28 updater. It is an updater that Apple recommends all iPod and mini-iPod users should apply. For further details, please read the section on Dead, empty iPods in this exclusive MacFixIt.com article dated 23 April 2004.

And just when all those PowerBook G3 Series 'Wall Street" owners thought the broken connectors on the AC socket were solved by Apple in the latest products, mini-iPod users can now unhappily report a very small black connector with fragile copper pins soldered to the main board inside the mini-iPod can break free through regular use. How? The black connector is the thing that plugs the small part containing the headphone jack and the hold switch to the main board. Unfortunately this part is screwed to the outer aluminium case of the iPod and not the main board. So whenever the iPod user pushes in and out the headphone plug into this part or apply the slightest pressure on the iPod case in this region, the black connector quickly wears out and the copper pins will loosen and break free from the main board. Symptoms of damage to the black connector include static noise and a heavily distorted sound whenever the iPod case is touched.

As Irakli Loladze discovered with his mini-iPod and mentioned to MacFixIt.com:

"My silver iPOD mini after two weeks of gentle use started to make horrible static noises. Any pressure, as small as thumb pressure anywhere on iPod mini, would make horrific sounds to come back. Resetting iPod did not help.

I was just curious what caused such unbelievable distortion. I carefully disassembled my iPod. Then I started to play the iPod and disconnected the wheel, then the hard drive, but my iPod was still playing (out of 25 min flash memory) and still distorting sound. distortion.

Eventually, I narrowed the problem to a small little part that contains the headphone jack and the hold switch.

This small part attaches to the main iPod board only via a small black connector. This is an Apple oversight!

The small part with the headphone jack attaches via screws to the aluminium case, but does not screw to the main board. Because of this any pressure on iPOD case, dock connector, or simply plugging in and out headphones, creates tension between the small part and the main board.

Since only the black connector sits between these two parts, it wears out. What is even worse is that the black connector is attached to the main board via ten very fragile copper pins that stick out of the main board. With regular use, contacts get loose and slightest pressure on iPod creates nasty squeaky static type noises killing all the joy the iPod brings....

To rely on ten tiny fragile pins is just plain silly. Using inflexible black connector is puzzling because, in the current design, the battery, hard drive, wheal [sic], and screen all use flexible cables.

Apple needs to change iPod mini's design ASAP and attach 'the headphone jack/hold switch part' to the Main Board via a flexible cable." (14)

This certainly brings back memories of why Apple had to install a flexible ribbon cable to plug the hard disk to the motherboard in the updated PowerBook G3 Series "Pismo" computer. Again it was to avoid damage to the inflexible hard disk connector soldered to the motherboard caused by tiny movements of the hard drive unit when carrying the computer normally (i.e. flexing of the outer plastic casing). Yet, for some reason, Apple again chose to forget what it has learnt in a matter of a few years.

Again you are at the mercy of Apple if you don't wait and get advice before purchasing the latest iPod. And if you do buy an iPod, don't try to save your pennies by not taking out the extended 3-year warranty plan from Apple. You are going to need it.

In the meantime, Sony describes the iPod as the 21st-century walkman. More likely it is the 21st-century lemon. It is a pity Sony and many other companies cannot see through all the hype and glamour and recognise the iPod for what it is &# crap unless it works properly.

UPDATE
November 2004

With Toshiba successfully building the world's smallest "matchbox-sized" hard disk capable of storing several gigabytes of information, Dell, Sony, Phillips and Microsoft may soon be introducing a range of mini hard-drive iPod look-alike storage/music player units on the international scene. Or flash memory chips could be used instead, which has the benefit of no moving parts whatsoever. The Microsoft version known as Portable Media Centres (PMCs) will also have the facility for consumers to watch movies as well. Expect these products to be better constructed than the Apple version.

UPDATE
July 2004

A better alternative to the Apple iPod is the 20GB JNC iAudio SSF-M3. For A$599 you will get a good MP3 player with an FM tuner and digital voice recorder in a slim shiny brushed aluminium casing. Or, if you are not confident with hard disk storage devices, try the highly reliable and well constructed 512MB iRiver 1090 for A$598. This memory stick has a good digital camera, FM tuner and digital voice recorder all crammed into an MP3 player weighing no more than 63 grams.

UPDATE
August 2004

Apple Computer, Inc. reveals the updated version of the standard iPod. This one inherents the well-designed touch-sensitive scroll wheel of the mini-iPod and is slimmer than the original iPods. The two models available are 20GB (A$499) and 40GB (A$649). This latest move to introduce newer iPods is also revealing something about Apple's long-term sales strategy and possible financial security concerns. The iPods now no longer come with a carry case, remote and dock in the box. You will get an extra USB 2.0 cable for Windows users instead. As for the rechargeable battery problem described earlier, Apple's best solution is to up the ante in playback time after a full recharge claiming it will last 12 hours instead of the usual 8 hours. But as we all know, battery times stated in an Apple brochure and what happens in reality is never the same. And the hours claimed are based on a brand new "out-of-the-factory" rechargeable battery used in the first week or two and almost certainly in ideal conditions where you use the least amount of power (e.g. you don't turn on the backlight etc).

Seriously, the battery problem has not been resolved. In other words, you are still faced with the dilemma of what to do when the rechargeable battery has to be replaced because the iPod is still a sealed unit. This looks like Apple's way of ensuring there is in-built obsolescence in your iPod or be prepared to pay the high cost of replacing the battery through an Apple reseller. Maybe Apple is trying to support resellers in making a profit which is the real reason for this bad design decision? Who knows.

UPDATE
17 September 2004

High fragmentation of the files stored in the iPod's internal hard disk may cause problems for the user. One such problem is for the iPod to suddenly stop playing music at the end of a song anywhere in the middle of a play list. The fragmentation apparently worsens everytime you play music on your iPod for some unknown reason. Why worsen? Once it is stored in the hard disk the files should remain in the same spots and be untouched other than to read them for information. Or is the limited RAM causing the unit to use the hard disk space regularly to create a temporary file. Could this file by forcing the iPod to constantly rearrange the music files on the hard disk just to allow room for the temporary file to process the music and play the information?

UPDATE
July 2005

Better quality MP3/Photo players (dubbed portable multimedia players or PMPs) are available at time of writing. For example, Archos has come out with a reasonable unit called Archos AV400. This model comes with a 20GB hard drive for storing and watching digital video on its 89mm colour display or listening to MP3 music. Pricey at A$895, but the quality of the manufacturer and design is worth the extra money especially as it comes with TV-out connection, PC connection, and audio and video device connections using composite or s-video. It has the ability to record audio and video sources.

And did we mention you can listen to and record radio with the optional FM radio and remote control?

However, if you only want an MP3 player, then on a value-for-money basis with excellent add-ons and options considered expensive on the iPod has to be the Creative Zen Micro 5GB. You have the added ability to record voice, FM tuner and record music from the tuner. Storing files is easy by partitioning the hard drive and transferring the files. All this for A$349.

For an alternative and one that will allow the lithium-ion battery to be removed for a new one is Sony's NWHD5 hard disk MP3 Walkman for A$473. It comes with a 20GB hard drive and a black LED readout.

Note that Creative has come out with a nicer-looking MP3 player called Zen Neeon for A$300. It has a nice clean and compact look to its design just like the Apple iPod mini and should prove a popular alternative to Apple's own MP3 player version.

UPDATE
August 2005

The overwhelming range of MP3 players/recorders, mobile telephones, portable video and photo players/recorders, digital cameras, GPS systems and handheld computers are rapidly merging into a single competing pocket-sized unit from each of the manufacturers in the marketplace. For example, the new PalmOne LifeDrive Mobile Manager has a built-in digital camera, MP3 player, a computer to view and edit Word and Excel documents, access the web and emails, photo and video viewer and much more. A bit limited by its 4GB hard disk drive (HDD), the next model to be released should have more storage. And if it comes with a GPS system and an effective mobile phone for under A$1,000, the PalmOne product should rock the planet. Price for this current unit is A$799.

Expect other manufacturers to come up with their own versions. And Apple will no doubt decide to combine the popular iPod with a mobile phone to cash in further in this increasingly competitive market.

UPDATE
September 2005

Rumours have it that Apple ordered nearly half the world's supply of flash memory chips (15) for some mysterious reason. Now we can happily report the reason for this move. Apple has introduced this month the iPod nano. As Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, described it at an invitation-only event in San Francisco, "It's the biggest revolution since the original iPod".

To be truthful, the only revolution the iPod needs is the ability for users to replace the rechargeable battery.

Looking more closely at the technology, Apple has decided to use flash memory chips instead of small hard drives. Nothing too revolutionary about this concept. Flash memory has been sold for several years as USB thumb drives. So naturally adding the same chips to the iPod has to be seen as a logical progression. The choice of a different digital storage technology using flash memory simply means it is possible to make very thin and small iPods. Everything else on the iPod is virtually identical to the mini iPod.

NOTE: The USB 2.0 dock connector at the bottom of the unit designed to help you transfer MP3 music to the iPod mini from your computer is not exactly identical to the mini iPod. You are now require to push harder the USB cable into the connector to make a clean contact. Otherwise your computer will not pick up the iPod. As one user discovered:

"...A customer waiting to see the Genius Bar thought his nano was DOA [Dead on Arrival], having plugged his nano into various other cables without response. Upon further diagnostics, though, we found that the cable for the nano had to be pushed in further (to create a 'snug' connection).

...we'd never encountered this with previous iPods. After pushing the cable in further (so the cable was flush with the bottom of the nano) the nano communicated with iTunes without fail. This little 'uniquely nano' thing had eluded another Mac Specialist as well as the owner of the nano (who had a collection of other iPods to his belt)." (MacFixIt.com: iPod nano Special Report: Cable connection may require more snug fit. 2 December 2005.)

Please also note that some iPod nano units have genuinely arrived DOA to customers. It is thought this is common for a major rollout of this product. If you unit appears DOA, check the USB 2.0 cable connection. If all else fails, have it replaced (or get your money back if you are not happy, as required by law).

To Apple's credit, the new iPods are not subject to breaks in the music when the unit is being shaken around when you exercise. Why? Because there are no moving parts or rotating disks to worry about when playing the music!

The storage is a bit limited. The maximum you'll get is 4GB. But then again you can store a lot of MP3 music on its storage chip(s) — about 1,000 songs.

Perhaps the only revolutionary aspect about the new iPods is in the price. Compared to a 4GB USB thumb drive costing over A$500 in mid-2005, Apple has managed to reduce the price for a 4GB iPod nano to A$359. Well, a revolutionary price would be closer to A$100 or less. But anyway, whose counting?

The price was kept down by using a series of low-cost and highly mass-produced 256MB or 128MB flash memory chips strung together to create a 4GB storage unit rather than using a single expensive 4GB chip.

In summary, the iPod nano should prove to be Apple's most successful iPod ever thanks to its small size, good design and no moving parts to wear down the product (at least on the inside). Well done!

UPDATE
27 September 2005

The new iPod nanos use cheap, easily scratchable polycarbonate plastics. This means you will need to protect the outside. Now that the inside has no moving parts to wear it down quickly, Apple needs something to get people to return the iPods to pay for replacement parts. Those parts are primarily to replace the outer plastics. Nice one, Apple!

As a MacFixIt.com reader said:

"My nano has become severely scratched and I keep it in a sleeve made to protect sunglass lenses. It's insane. The screen appears to 'flicker' now because it's scratched so bad - especially the acrylic side. I have a black one and the scratches stand out so easily. The metal side is scratched as well, but not as bad as the other. None of my other iPods scratched this easily and this quickly. I've only had it for what? Three weeks?" (MacFixIt.com: iPod nano scratches (#2): Why the black model is more susceptible; Coating solutions. September 27 2005)

Please leave on the factory plastic cover if you don't want to scratch your new iPod nano. Or else join the class action taking place to sue Apple for using a thinner than normal polycarbonate coating.

UPDATE
29 September 2005

Apple has acknowledged some iPod nanos have particularly thin or fragile plastic screens capable of breaking with a little finger pressure. Apple is quick to say less than 1 per cent of all units have this defect. Apple is also saying the problem relates to the vendor supplying the plastics (not themselves of course, which defeats the purpose of doing quality control checks). Therefore it is the fault of the vendor and not Apple and so the vendor will be supplying Apple with replacements free-of-charge.

And where's Apple in the quality control checks? Well, if it is claimed to be less than 1 per cent, Apple might be right in thinking it is not possible to check for this. But what about the incredible ease in scratching the plastics?

Interestingly Apple does not acknowledge the plastics are particularly soft and cheap and subject to easy scratching claiming the problem is due to wear-and-tear from the user and therefore not subject to replacement and, presumably, it is not a design fault. Surely Apple would have discovered this plastic problem during their testing? Or did they not test the product and instead choose to accept it from the vendors and later cross their fingers hoping the product will sell?

It is just a very cheap mass-produced toy sold at a non-revolutionary price of over $350 so Apple can make a big enough profit.

Perhaps Apple should be asking whether customers are prepared to pay more if the company is prepared to put more effort in choosing quality materials and showing genuine workmanship into its products?

One day such a question may eventually dawn on the Apple marketing team as they wonder why Apple has such a small market share in the PC industry.

In the meantime, the more knowledgeable customers await a better quality product from the company (lost dollars for Apple).

UPDATE
30 September 2005

PC users running iTunes 5.0 as their preferred tool to transfer music to their "old world" iPod minis (i.e. not the iPod nanos) are spitting a dummy in Apple's direction (What's this?! Apple is giving Mac users a break for a change? Absolutely remarkable!). Thanks to poor quality control checks on iTunes 5.0, PC users can no longer get their PC to recognise their old iPods let alone transfer music to the device.

Apple's own discussion boards were littered with numerous posts discussing this specific problem. And customer service from Apple's head office in Sydney is not all that helpful. Because the iPod mini is an old product in Apple's eyes after the release of the iPod nano, users no longer can get a free support call from Apple because the first 90 days of selling the iPod mini has elapsed. So you either have to pay for support or rely on an Apple web site that is only prepared to say, "...a limited number of customers have experienced this problem and we are working hard to fix the problem..." (a slight improvement from several years ago when Apple wouldn't even acknowledge a problem exists).

UPDATE
1 October 2005

Apple has quickly released iTunes 5.0.1 to address a number of stability problems. Hopefully this will fix the problem for iPod mini users.

UPDATE
12 November 2005

Cracked screens on nano iPods through slight finger pressure are not a new occurrence. Users of the mini iPods have come out of the woodworks claiming they too had screens that cracked, but this time it would occur spontaneously on their own for no apparent reason. As Sheila Fahy from Cammeray, NSW, said:

"I purchased an [20GB] iPod [in October 2004] for my daughter's birthday. She plugged it in to charge it and left it overnight. The next day she went to pick it up and the screen had a crack right through it. The iPod had never been used." (Galvin, Nick. Seeing red=More iPod owners are discovering cracked screens: The Sydney Morning Herald (The Icon Supplement). 12-13 November 2005, p.8.)

This suggests a heat problem with the cheap and possibly thin plastics and/or the screws to hold the screen don't have much give and take to allow the plastic screen in the iPod to expand when heated slightly during recharging.

Apple's response was less than satisfactory. The company claimed the damage was the result of "accident, abuse, misuse or misapplication" and would not replace the unit. Apple is in serious legal problems with this argument. The iPod was not used or mistreated. The most use it got was to have the iPod placed in the charger provided by Apple as it was meant to be used only to suffer damage because of a clear defect in its manufacture. Furthermore, the problem occurred well before the end of its warranty period. Under the Trades Practices Act, the customer is entitled to a replacement or a refund of the iPod. Apple cannot make excuses of mistreatment or anything else for this customer.

Fortunately Ms Fahy knew her consumer rights. On hearing Apple's excuse, she complained to the Office of Fair Trading. When Apple was notified the complaint was listed for a hearing before the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal, Apple made a backflip. As Ms Fahy said:

"On the day that hearing was to take place a staff member from Apple rang to say they would replace the damaged iPod. I don't know whether your other readers want to follow the path I took but it did eventually get a result and 12 months later my daughter still loves her iPod." (Galvin, Nick. Seeing red — More iPod owners are discovering cracked screens: The Sydney Morning Herald (The Icon Supplement). 12-13 November 2005, p.8.)

Sydney Morning Herald reporter Nick Galvin approached Apple Australia Ltd for a comment. Apple's marketing boss Rob Small was put on the spot when he was told of the screen problems from Ms Fahy and others like her. Mr Small admitted there was a fault with a "very, very, very small percentage" of iPod screens. But he refused to elaborate on why the flaw exists saying it can occur "in a variety of ways".

Mr Small quickly avoided answering the question when he said:

"All I'm telling you is that the numbers that were faulty were very, very small and those customers who got one of those are having their machines replaced." (Galvin, Nick. Seeing red — More iPod owners are discovering cracked screens: The Sydney Morning Herald (The Icon Supplement). 12-13 November 2005, p.8.)

So why the poor customer service in the first place? If the number of faulty units are so astonishingly small as we are led to believe from Mr Small and the customers are genuine about their gripe over the iPods and are certain the devices have not been mistreated, why is the company trying so hard to avoid a replacement (or refund) even if the product is well within the warranty period?

Given the potentially huge profit the company is making, a very small number of faulty products should be quickly and cheerfully replaced by Apple without hesitation. So why the excuses?

The only reason one can fathom for this rather poor behaviour is because there has to be a lot more iPods suffering the same problem than the company is willing to admit. How else can we explain it? And, as Mr Small has indirectly alluded by keeping quiet on the reason for the fault, any admission could result in fewer sales and many more products requiring replacement, and this could have a serious detrimental impact on the company's bottom line. Clearly not very good for the survival of Apple in Australia.

The problem with Apple Australia is that it knows the products from Apple Computer, Inc in California are substandard in a number of areas. But for the sake of financial self-preservation, it has to do anything it can to pretend there is nothing wrong with Apple products. Apple Australia doesn't build its own iPods using high quality Australian vendors from plans drawn up by the head office in Cupertino, California. The American arm of Apple is calling the shots, and deciding which vendors in the world will supply the components to build the iPods. But because Apple in the US has many shareholders and profit is the name of the game, any savings the company can make by choosing cheaper materials (or letting cheaper vendors supply less than acceptable quality components) will help maximise its own profits and thus give the impression the company is doing well.

The reality, however, is that the company is in a lot worse situation than consumers dare to imagine. Anything the company can do to hide the ugly facts about its products will go a long way towards keeping their shareholders happy, not necessarily the customers.

In the meantime, if Apple is forced to explain officially to reporters how it intends to fix up the faults, it will state what it needs to look good. For example, Mr Small said:

"If they [the iPods] are not physically harmed from the outside and it is a genuine fault then we will replace it. [Unhappy iPod users are] always welcome to come back and talk to the customer-response team." (Galvin, Nick. Seeing red — More iPod owners are discovering cracked screens: The Sydney Morning Herald (The Icon Supplement). 12-13 November 2005, p.8.)

UPDATE
26-27 November 2005

Mr Small has contacted the The Sydney Morning Herald reporter Nick Galvin assuring him the above quote he made actually referred to the iPod Nano. All other iPods won't receive the same generous offer unless it is in warranty or the customer can prove conclusively to the satisfaction of Apple and the Law Courts (you'll need something like the information and evidence presented in this web site to convince the company it has to do the right thing) you have not mistreated the iPods.

Well, this is what Mr Small appears to be saying to The Sydney Morning Herald reporter Nick Galvin:

"If we are presented with an iPod that is out of warranty or has suffered any physical abuse, accidental or deliberate, we will not replace the unit free-of-charge." (Galvin, Nick. My Palm hurts: The Sydney Morning Herald. 26-27 November 2005, p.8.)

UPDATE
1 December 2005

Actually, even if an iPod is brought in to Apple because of a manufacturing defect during the one-year warranty, if it has to be replaced, you will have to pay US$30 each time it is replaced. This interesting policy occurs after the first 180 days of the one-year warranty has transpired. In the initial 180 days, you will get a free replacement. After the 180 days, you will not get a free replacement.

Could this be yet another classic indication of the quality of the iPod products? Or is it an example of how badly users are mistreating them? Since Apple has agreed to replace the units rather than repair them and ask the users to pay for the full repair costs, it would appear Apple has genuinely acknowledged certain problems with the iPods. And because the problems appear to be common enough among a reasonable number of users, Apple wants to cover its own replacement costs by introducing the US$30 fee.

This replacement fee policy appears in fine print of Apple's one-year warranty document of every iPod sold.

But as MacFixIt reader Andrew Freeman remarked:

"I visited my Apple store in Dallas this afternoon with a problematic iPod. The Apple Genius reinstalled my software for me, and so far, so good.

'Of interest though, is what he told me of Apple's warranty. The iPod warranty is for 12 months. However, if the unit is more than six months old there is a $30 fee to replace under warranty! Maybe I was the only one to not know this. He said that whether you send it in by mail or take it to the store there is always a $30 charge for units over six months old.

'I think it is a pretty poor way to do business." (MacFixIt.com: US$30 fee charged for iPod warranty repair after 180 days. 1 December 2005.)

UPDATE
Saturday 4 February 2006

Toshiba has come up with an alternative iPod flash memory drive MP3 player. Known as the Gigabeat Flash Player, this Tim-Tam biscuit-sized unit has built-in voice recording and storage for MP3 music on its 512MB (A$179) and 1GB ($229) versions. The hard-disk based Gigabeat X Series of MP3 players are also available. The 30GB model costs A$429, or A$569 for the 60GB model.

UPDATE
15 April 2006

Has their been a change of heart from Apple Computer Australia in the way the company handles customer complaints? Apple marketing director Rob Small wouldn't like to say so, instead leaving it to other people to say if it has or not. But it seems on receiving a memo from the NSW Office of Fair Trading, Apple has picked up its game.

As the memo stated:

"Many complaints have been received from consumers throughout Australia about their unsatisfactory dealings with Apple Computer Australia and in particular the Apple iPod music player.

Complaints concern faulty product; low battery life; refund refusals and lengthy delays involving the repair/return of the iPod." (Galvin, Nick. iPod tune changes (Icon Supplement): The Sydney Morning Herald. 14-16 April 2006, p.08.)

The memo concluded that the Office will be monitoring the complaints over a six month period and will decide whether or not to investigate the matter if Apple does not resolve the complaints promptly and correctly.

On hearing this, Apple has had three months to do something. And now it seems to be working with consumers expressing their delight at the speed in which Apple Computer Australia has turned things around. The new policy from Apple appears to be to replace all iPods purchased within 4 weeks should the user find a fault. This saves the time of having to wait for Apple to decide whether it thinks the product should be replaced or to blame the problem on the customer, which it has done in the past with remarkable ease.

It will take time before the new policy filters down to all the Apple resellers as some consumers have realised not all resellers are aware of the new customer service message emerging from Apple. Fortunately most other resellers are "on the ball" so to speak and are complying with Apple's request.

As Phil Marriott, the manager of compliance for Consumer Affairs Tasmania, said:

"They [Apple Computer Australia] do seem to be addressing it. I think they have simply realised that there is a groundswell of complaints about their customer service. They have evidently decided, "We need to fix this up."" (Galvin, Nick. iPod tune changes (Icon Supplement): The Sydney Morning Herald. 14-16 April 2006, p.08.)

It is a pity the customer service improvement will only cover the iPod.

UPDATE
27 May 2006

Having trouble getting an iPod into action because it isn't responding or is "frozen"? Check out this Apple document at http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=61705.

UPDATE
16 June 2006

The iPod Shuffle appears to be failing. The issue involves the regularly used minijack region. This is the place where people constantly plug and unplug the stereo headphone jack into the minijack socket. If you look after the iPod Shuffle, the minijack might survive for 15 months. For heavy users, the minijack can collapse within 12 months of purchasing the unit.

The minijack fails when users discover one stereo channel or the other doesn't work unless you jiggle the plug. Then you must hold the plug in position with your hand.

As one user stated:

"My iPod shuffle minijack seems to have failed after 15 months of use. Only one channel works unless you wiggle and hold the plug. It's out of warranty. An Apple store employee suggested taking it apart and bending the spring back in place so it grasps the plug." (MacFixIt.com: iPod Shuffle failure (#2): Minijack problems. 16 June 2006.)

But as another user has discovered in trying to fix his own iPod Shuffle for the very same problem:

"I have the same problem and mine is also about 15 months old!

It doesn't look possible to take it apart and bend the spring out as it is a sealed unit (I think) I have tried using small picks to bend it out but it's not really worked out." (MacFixIt.com: iPod Shuffle failure (#2): Minijack problems. 16 June 2006.)

A bit like the square brick power adapters for the titanium PowerBooks: sealed up permanently and virtually unfixable.

Yet you would think Apple would have learned from this design problem (including the minijack). As experience tells us, you have to use large and solid components to take the wear-and-tear much better. And you need to be able to repair the problem when it arises (unless Apple is desperate for profit).

As one user remarked:

"You see this happen a lot with the 1/8" jacks on any electronic device, not just the iPod. I was on a flight to Anchorage, AK this week and rented an in-flight video player to watch a movie. Same thing. It's caused by too much strain on the plug, either from getting yanked accidentally, or from constant torsion on the cord over time. The small jacks just can't take the abuse. It's as simple as that." (MacFixIt.com: iPod Shuffle failure (#2): Minijack problems. 16 June 2006.)

We hope Apple isn't trying to get customers to purchase new iPod Shuffles every 12 to 15 months of use?

UPDATE
27 December 2006

Positive news for iPod Shuffle users at last! Apple has released a tool known as Reset Utility 1.0.1 for removing a restriction on first generation iPod Shuffles that would stop users from listening to some music purchased from Apple's iTunes store. How to use:

  1. Quit all running applications on your computer
  2. Launch Reset Utility 1.0.1.
  3. Plug your iPod Shuffle to a powered USB port on your computer (non-powered USB ports such as the ones you find on a keyboard should not be used).
  4. Click the Restore button. You will be prompted to enter your Admin username and password for the utility to do its job.
  5. When completed, quit the utility and open iTunes to synchronise music files to your iPod shuffle.

Virtually all users have reported success in this utility (why can't all Apple updates be like this?)

UPDATE
12 August 2006

Although not strictly related to the iPod, we wish to mention another Apple product coming in for criticism. We bring this to the attention of consumers as it reveals how Apple will choose how to handle hardware failures depending on whether there is media coverage or not. We are referring to AirPort Express for A$199, a pocket-sized wireless router used to surf the internet, print to a USB printer and play iTunes music over the stereo system. The unit can collapse relatively easily with a flash of light (possibly an overheating issue similar to the white brick titanium power adapter) after 12 to 15 months of use.

According to the French web site http://www.macbidouille.com/, several hundred reports have been collected by this site from Apple users complaining how their AirPort Express reaches the end of its life just outside the 12 warranty period and usually around 15 months. An analysis of the reports suggests the AirPort Express problem can be narrowed down to those with serial numbers beginning with HS42, HS43, or HS44 (built for use in 220-240V countries such as Australia) and A1084 or A1088.

Because there wasn't media coverage in Australian newspapers prior to this date, Apple Australia would invoke the following quote from a spokesman at the Sydney head office received by reporter David Flynn:

"In comparison to the high volume of Airport Express units we sell there are a comparatively small number of failures. Most customer issues can be easily resolved via Apple Online Support, via over-the-phone support or at their closest Apple Service Centre." (Flynn, David. Crash landing: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 12-13 August 2006, p.8.)

How long will Apple continue with this view?

UPDATE
10 February 2007

Concern has been raised recently by European regulators that Apple's proprietary DRM music/copyright protection system, which isn't licensed to music companies to ensure compatibility, could be used exclusively by Apple to reduce competition and force users to purchase iPods (and later iPhones) to play DRM-protected music purchased from Apple's iTunes (known as FairPlay). While the music can be digitally re-recorded to make the music compatible on all music systems, not all users a tech-savvy in this area. As a result, there is a feeling Apple could be dominating the digital music market.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has countered this argument by claiming only 10 per cent of the 20 billion songs sold/downloaded from iTunes was DRM-encrypted with FairPlay. To reduce the heat from European regulators, Mr Jobs cleverly issued a letter on Apple's web site saying he champions DRM-free music but blames the record companies for creating their own DRM-protected systems.

An intellectual property partner for the law firm Simmons & Simmons, William Cook, has supported this view (Fildes, Nic. Companies call for FairPlay from Apple: The Canberra Times. 10 February 2007, p.23.).

However, it is believed by some analysts that Apple is taking advantage of the popularity of iPods and the large number of music downloaded from iTunes (Apple has a near 80 per cent control of the digital music market) to slowly introduce its own DRM-encrypted music until enough users are convinced there is more benefit sticking to Apple-only products than any other product from the competitors.

Music company EMI has countered by introducing as a promotional tool DRM-free music. The response from users to the music has been particularly well-received. As an EMI spokesman said:

"The results have been very positive and feedback from fans has been enthusiastic." (Fildes, Nic. Companies call for FairPlay from Apple: The Canberra Times. 10 February 2007, p.23.)

UPDATE
24 February 2007

Apple must be feeling the pinch as rumours spread of a possible end to copyright protection technologies by music giant EMI in an attempt to flood users back to purchasing its own digital music no matter how many iPods and iTunes music may have been sold by Apple, thereby allowing users to download and play legitimate and "paid-for" music on virtually every type of digital music player in existence.

Why? David Pakman, CEO of online retailer eMusic, put it this way:

"The return rates on MP3 players are very high, and it is a very dispiriting moment for the consumer when they find out that not all songs are compatible. Consumers expect their digital music to perform at least like a CD, they expect that there is full interoperability; they never expected to have to learn about all these restrictions." (The Canberra Times: Industry faces the music over exclusionary digital downloads. 24 February 2007, p.21.)

A decision from EMI is expected towards the end of 2007.

New generation of iPods

To start the new financial year of 2007 with a bang, Apple released the new iPod Classic, iPod nano, iPod Shuffle and an iPhone look alike without the telephone built-in known as iPod Touch.

iPod Touch

iPod Classic

iPod Nano

iPod Shuffle

The differences between these new models and the previous ones are mainly in the extra storage capacity (around 160GB for the iPod Classic, 4 or 8GB for the iPod nano, 8 or 16GB for the iPod Touch, and 1GB for the iPod Shuffle), a metal casing (instead of the plastic variety), a glass screen (instead of a scratchable plastic screen), and is slimmer. Hopefully these new models will be tougher for the mass market.

If you intend to purchase these products, make sure you have OSX Tiger running on your computer (Windows users should be okay with Windows XP or Vista). Apple has decided to stop supporting Panther users wanting to transfer files across to these iPod models.

The only other known issue is how some iPod Classics having come out of the box exhibit a constant reset and erase all custom settings problem, followed by the appearance of the Apple logo and eventually a prompt asking to "Choose a language".

As MacFixIt reader Scott Rose said:

"We ordered our first iPod classic 160 GB (silver) online from the Apple Store the day they were announced, and ours arrived yesterday. Upon receiving it and turning it on, it would continuously restart itself to the Apple logo screen every few minutes, and it would lose all of our settings [...] In between bouts of restarting, the iPod Classic would intermittently freeze completely. [...] This was even before syncing any music on it. So we erased and restored the iPod software using iTunes 7.4.1, and the same exact problem continued. We tried syncing all of our music to it to see if that would make a difference, but it couldn't even finish syncing our music without restarting or freezing and then getting error messages in iTunes that our iPod could not be found.

[...] So we brought it into the Apple Store, and they exchanged it for our second iPod classic 160 GB (silver). This second iPod classic exhibits the exact same problems, yet with even more frequency. We can't even use it for more than 5 seconds without the iPod classic freezing or auto-restarting. We also tried restoring the iPod software using iTunes 7.4.1, all to no avail. Same problems, with or without music on the iPod classic."

This is quite normal with Apple products. So if you do have a problem with your iPod right out of the box, do get it replaced again and again until it works or you decide to get a refund.

A recommended update for iPod Touch users

Released on 4 August 2008, the OS 2.0.1 update is considered essential for iPod Touch users wanting performance-related improvements. Further details can be found in this iPhone Atlas article.

Update is available through iTunes.

UPDATE
26 August 2009

AAP claims a US television station has reported in July 2009 of an "alarming number" of iPods bursting into flames because of overheating lithium ion batteries. Similar cases are being reported for the latest iPhone 3GS.

UPDATE
16 October 2009

A knowledge base article has appeared from the bowels of Apple headquarters in California, and it isn't a glowing endorsement of how well-manufactured every single component of the first-generation iPod were. In this article, Apple acknowledges an issue with the lithium-ion battery for iPods sold between September 2005 and December 2006. This is a long time ago and it appears no one had seen this before until now.

Perhaps after the European Commission instigated investigations into recent claims of overheating and exploding batteries in iPhone 3GS and the latest iPods in 2009, Apple has decided to take a precautionary move to have the batteries from the first generation iPods replaced. Well, how many consumers still have the old iPods. Not many. So it would be a relatively cheap affair to release this article now and make the replacements while there isn't too much harm to Apple's profits.

As Apple stated:

"Apple has determined that in very rare cases, batteries in the iPod nano (1st generation) sold between September 2005 and December 2006, may overheat and prevent the iPod nano from working and deform it.

Apple has received very few reports of such incidents (less than 0.001 percent) and the issue has been traced to a single battery supplier. There have been no reports of serious injuries or property damage. Additionally, there have been no reports of such incidents with any other iPod nano model."

The company does acknowledge a few incidents have been reported back then with no decision to replace the batteries. This is the same today for the few incidents reported in the current iPhone and iPod models but no acknowledgement as yet for these.

Another announcement from Apple is likely for the latest models. But will it take another 3 to 4 years to tell its customers what is happening?

UPDATE
1 June 2010

Replacement of the protective glass surface of an iPod by Apple is currently AUD$130. Cheaper replacements do exist from other companies if you look around carefully.

When Apple decides to repair your iPod

One of the major sticking points for Apple when it comes to consumer complaints concerning a faulty Apple product is how the consumer may tend to hide the fact that he/she may have accidentally submersed the product in some form of liquid and then claim they are entitled to a free repair while it is under warranty.

This is clearly not fair to Apple.

As it is critical for Apple to prove such claims when minimising the cost of repairs under warranty, Apple has been using several sensors on the inside of the backplate for the iPad, iPhone and iPod to detect this situation. It was originally called the Liquid Submersion Indicator. It is a round plastic disk with a liquid that changes colour to red should water or other liquids have entered the products' interior for whatever reason.

The idea sounds great in theory for Apple until enough consumers in certain parts of the world complained long and hard that the sensor is not reliable after Apple technicians noticed one or two of these sensors have turned partially red. By the way Apple policy had been written at the time, Apple technicians had the power to reject any product for free repair should any of the sensor disks show a bit of red colour. Not even the Apple Head Office would listen as it tried desperately to ignore the consumers' plight, until they finally did a test recently. And what they found is that in climates of high humidity, the sensor can be triggered to turn red as if the Apple product had been submerged in a liquid.

As a result of this enlightening discovery, Apple has decided to rename the sensor as the Liquid Contact indicator to avoid any legal problems. Now Apple can only hope those consumers who knew they were right have already purchased another Apple product or have moved on.

But if not, and you are one of those consumers with a genuinely faulty Apple product not caused by a submersion in a liquid and were given the rough end of the stick by Apple on this issue, you should try again. It is claimed Apple will be a little more understanding of your situation and will do more rigorous testing of your product this time to determine if what you've said is true. If you've been telling the truth, the repairs will be performed for free under consumer law.

But if you have purchased another product based on false or unreliable information from Apple and realised you didn't need to and want to recoup the costs of purchasing another product, this is something Apple will have to look into on a case-by-case basis.

As they say, "Miracles can happen!".

For further details, see this CNET article.

UPDATE
19 November 2010

Apple Inc. has quickly released iOS 4.2 update. This one is suitable for iPhone 4 and iPhone 3GS/3G, as well as iPod Touch 2nd generation, iPod Touch 3rd generation (late 2009 models with 32GB or 64GB) and the iPad. Fortunately Apple has allowed users of OSX 10.5 "Leopard" (even the PPC users) to still use iTunes to update their portable devices with the latest iOS. But not OSX "Tiger" users or earlier.

The main improvements to be found in this update are to allow multitasking on an iPad while emphasising the benefit of an improved software technology to ensure the battery doesn't unnecessarily go flat or lose charge quickly; free MobileMe feature for locating your missing device and protect its data should you lose it (or gets stolen); wirelessly stream photos, movies and listen to music in high quality to any AirPlay-enabled speaker, AppleTV or other device; wirelessly print emails, photos, web pages and documents from your device to a printer; and organise applications inside folders to help de-clutter your Home screen.