Your iPod is not iMmortal. Someday, it will wind up a bruised, battered piece of electronic junk that collects dust in a closet until it finally gets tossed, hopefully in some environmentally sound manner.
But nobody wants to see his or her iPod Nano die young -- or hear about somebody else suffering that fate. For the past week or so, users of Apple's music players have been buzzing about a homemade site, formerly titled "iPod Nano = Flawed Product" (www.flawedmusicplayer.com), set up by Detroit-based financial consultant Matthew Peterson. He accused Apple of shipping a product that's doomed to meet an early grave.
The site offered an autopsy photo of the Nano that showed most of its screen obscured by black lines and blotches, damage that Peterson said it sustained on the fourth day of gentle use. After noting that the staff at his nearest Apple Store declined to replace the broken unit, much less admit any fault, Peterson predicted a dark future for this techno-bauble: "There will be more broken screens and more broken hearts," he wrote on the site.
Does the iPod Nano have some sort of fatal flaw?
I unwittingly conducted my own test for a review that was published less than two weeks ago: While shaking and spinning the device to verify that it wouldn't skip, it slipped out of my grip, flying loose with enough velocity to slam into the kitchen floor as if it had fallen maybe 15 or 20 feet.
The Nano kept playing and its case seemed intact, but the bottom half of its screen resembled a UPC bar code. Despite that ugly damage, however, the Nano has functioned perfectly since, and the only further distresses it's shown in a couple of weeks of use are hairline scratches on its surface, indistinguishable from what mars the screen of a full-size iPod that's done time inside bags and pockets.
Other reviewers have done more comprehensive research. The Ars Technica Web site conducted a suite of stress tests (arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/nano.ars/3) that established that dropping the iPod Nano 9 feet onto a concrete sidewalk would leave the Nano's screen "seriously bugged out," but even driving a car over the Nano -- twice! -- could not stop it from playing. To kill it, they had to fling the Nano straight up, perhaps 40 feet in the air, and let it pancake onto concrete pavement.
Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr said Tuesday afternoon that cracked or otherwise destroyed screens were "a real but minor issue involving a vendor quality problem in . . . less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total iPod Nano units we've shipped." Neumayr said it was "not a design issue," and that anybody who experienced the problem should contact Apple for a free replacement.
As for surface scratching, Neumayr said the Nano is made from the same plastic as the full-size iPod and that a variety of cases were available to prevent that sort of cosmetic damage.
Other companies have shipped products with comparable problems before, but their issues don't draw nearly as much attention. Apple, however, regularly gets held to a higher standard -- perhaps because it keeps advertising itself as the think-different company, the one that fusses over the details to ensure that it won't crank out the same junk as everybody else.
For years, Apple couldn't make much of a dent in the computing market with that pitch. But with the iPod, it's broken through, even though it came to the music-player market years after its competitors and with products that initially cost more and offered fewer features than other players.
There's a habit in the tech business of thinking that a product like that must ride on nothing more than good marketing. Someday, the thinking goes, the device's flaws will surface, showing it to be the cheap fraud it was all along. And then won't all those bandwagon-hopping customers be sorry?
Apple's detractors may be hoping that Peterson's photo of his iPod's mutilated screen provided that moment -- just as some earlier seized on the fact that you must pay Apple to get an iPod's battery replaced (which two iPod users called the "iPod's Dirty Little Secret" on a Web site of the same title). But reality is often less melodramatic: IPods sells better because they are easier to use and look cooler than their competitors, and the "dirty secret" turns out to be a fixable problem or a basic misunderstanding, and customers have been making rational choices all along.
Even Peterson backed down a bit last night after learning of Apple's reaction, headlining the page "Apple does the right thing" and writing, "I am very delighted to see Apple take this issue seriously."