Lonely At The Top

You've seen all those Apple TV ads where the poor, hapless, Bill Gates'-tubby-nephew PC gets ragged on by a cool, Jimmy-Fallonesque Mac. All the cliche problems about PCs form the basis of these ads — the need for frequent reboots, the viruses, the poor interconnectivity. Very cute. You'd never know that PCs outsell Macs by something like 10-to-1. Apple's got the rep.

iPod.jpgBut Apple better wipe that smug smile off its face. In the market where they dominate, portable MP3 players, the company's getting quite a PC-like reputation. From a consumer column in the Guardian:

Apple iPod owners love their sleek machines. That's when they work. When they don't, they enter a twilight world where they discover their prized music player is considered by its manufacturer as nothing more than a throwaway item.

It doesn't matter that iPod lovers can spend up to £300 on their gizmo. Apple operates on the basis that the iPod life expectancy is a year, and that's it.

Complain that your £200 or £300 could have bought a fridge or TV that would be expected to last five years or more, and a customer services assistant will explain that a one-year warranty is just that, and no more.

Last month Guardian Money explained how the Sale of Goods Act sets out a series of basic customer rights. These are fleshed out by guidelines from the Department of Trade & Industry. The key in all discussions with retailers, which are the first port of call, is that goods should last up to six years, depending on their cost and expected durability.

In the article we told how a reader took a broken ClickwheeI 40Gb iPod back to the Birmingham Apple Centre. Staff said the cost of repair would exceed the value of the £300 model and refused a free replacement. Arguments that iPods are designed to be portable and take a reasonable amount of wear and tear fell on deaf ears.

Which? – formerly the Consumers Association – says consumers should argue strongly with retailers. While the DTI guidelines do not define how long specific products should last, a survey by Which? of manufacturers into how long they believe electrical appliances should last (not including Apple) found that all reckoned five years or more.

Apple has sold more than 2m iPods in the UK and it would be unfair to expect all of them to work without any problems. But judging from the postbag at Guardian Money, while it's easy to fall in love with the design and ease of use of iPods, they can at times be highly temperamental.

The 40Gb Clickwheel, now discontinued, appears to have suffered more than its fair share of problems. Apple says not. Its response, however, captures the dilemma faced by customers offered an extended warranty. Either the product is robust and the rare failure can be absorbed by the seller, or there is a widespread reliability problem which the manufacturer should deal with.

Apple, like most other manufacturers, refuses to accept responsibility for repairs even when machines break down within weeks of expiry of the one-year warranty.

You get the worst of both worlds: A balky product, and an arrogant attitude toward customers.

For all I know, the iPod's many competitors have the same problems. But I never read about them.


3 thoughts on “Lonely At The Top

  1. Sure, but one year?

    Hypocrisy is the tribute virtue plays to vice. Apple could at least act contrite about their products falling apart after a year. And, they could price them accordingly.

    I had another post on the iPod, which to me is an example of branding trumping reality. There are much better online music services than iTunes, and myriad mp3 players that are at least as good as iPod and less costly.

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