IPod’s Dirty Little Secret and the Power of the Internet

Apple currently enjoys a market position that they haven’t had since the beginning of the PC era. I often wonder if the Microsoft folks chuckle about the problems Apple is having as a result, problems that Microsoft has enjoyed for some time.

When you dominate a segment, like Apple does with the iPod, you can have the most reliable product but be seen as the least reliable vendor. Think about it: If you have 20 times the market share of the next vendor in line that doesn’t use your technology (HP is number two but they don’t count because they resell Apple’s product), and both of you have the same failure rate, you’ll still have 20 times the number of failures.

In fact, the next guy down can have a fraction of your reliability and still look better because the numbers are vastly lower. I’m waiting for Microsoft to start pointing to the increasing numbers of problems reported by iPod users while shouting “I told you so.” It’s one heck of an example.

The point of this week’s column is the power of the Internet and how it can sometimes be misused. But first let’s talk about Apple’s problem.

iPod’s Dirty Little Secret

In Apple’s case their wakeup call came in November of 2003 when Casey Neistat, an iPod buyer, released a video and started a campaign against iPods. His video can be found here and it is poetic that he used an Apple machine to create it and Apple’s QuickTime product to display it.

If you search Google for “iPod Problems,” the video still comes up first, suggesting traffic remains high for the piece, which is undoubtedly having an adverse impact on Apple sales.

The dirty-little-secret part is that at the time the video was created it cost about US$250 plus shipping to replace the battery in an iPod, which wore out, depending on use, in one to three years. Lithium ion has a fixed life and the more you recharge it, the shorter that life is. That’s why cell phones have replaceable batteries and most of the iPod competitors do now as well.

Just before Neistat’s video was released, Apple changed its policy and reduced the replacement cost to around $100 plus shipping and handling — still not cheap, but at least that’s better then $250. There is a reference site as well that says you can buy a $30 battery and do it yourself, but it implies you’ll probably break your iPod if you try this (so I wouldn’t).

The Power and the Danger

Personally, I wouldn’t buy a product this expensive that didn’t have a replaceable battery, and I’m kind of surprised Apple hasn’t yet fixed this given the grief they have had from this video, but you make your own choices. (The Gateway player, for instance, has a removable battery and is cheaper.)

But this showcases both the power and the danger of the Internet: Regardless of what Apple does going forward, the opinions of those that post, and whose posts are read, have a nearly unlimited life. In this case, several years after Apple addressed the cost issue, people searching on the Web for information on iPod problems will see the $250 battery price and, to them, this will be as fresh as the day it was first done — though the information is inaccurate now.

The Reason for Reliable Sources

We’ve certainly seen what can happen if you inadvertently go to a site that appears to be one thing and turns out to be another. Daily, if you are like me, you get mail allegedly from one institution or another (mostly PayPal) asking for your login information so that the company can fix a security problem.

Clicking on the included link, however, will take you to a site that looks legitimate, but it’s not. If you foolishly log on you could quickly find that your assets (and this is particularly scary with credit sites like PayPal) have wandered off to another country never to be seen again.

In extreme cases the information is used to clone your identity and run up huge credit charges that it can take you years to overcome.

When making product decisions, you need to be as prudent. If you were reading about major problems with GM cars, it would be very useful to know that the site was funded by Ford, and Ford, if they had such a site, would disclose that. However, what if the site was put up by a disgruntled GM employee who had been fired for reasons he or she did not agree with? That too would be useful information, but it may not be included on the site.

People are human — but even this is no prerequisite for creating a Web site and having it pop up in a Google search. If you are making a decision on where to stay during a trip, what product to buy (or who to buy it from), or where to work, best find a resource you can trust. Otherwise, you will probably regret the outcome.

Vetting the Source

This is particularly true if you are planning to vote on some political issue — politics is a place where people often misrepresent who they really are. Make sure you do some research on the source of the information if the decision is important to you. This will tell you a lot about whether you can trust the result. This doesn’t, by the way, mean you can’t trust vendor-funded sources, but it does mean you can’t trust their conclusions without seeing how they were derived.

Also, check the date of the post(s): There are sites that look new but may be months or years old and no longer relevant.

While researching this piece, I once again ran into the Wikipedia — a free online encyclopedia which I think does a really nice job of summing up some of the world’s most famous chief executives.

If you get a chance you should read up on Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Linus Torvalds. (Linus isn’t really a CEO but he may be the closest thing that Linux has).

You might ask yourself which one of these you’d actually like to work for — or buy products from. Linus was rated one of the best managers in a survey by Business Week, Jobs was once rated the lowest paid CEO (he no longer has that distinction), and Gates is listed as the world’s most philanthropic man.

Torvalds currently lives relatively close to Gates and used to live closer to Jobs. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s just interesting. Sometimes it’s just fun to read up on people and it certainly makes them more human and interesting.

In summary, the Web is a wonderful place to do research. Just be wary of the sources and don’t buy any Brooklyn Bridges, unless I’m selling them that is, because I’m the only one that can give you a really great deal.

Rob Enderle, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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