Pop and Circumstance

Failing the Bar

To everyone who's mourned a dead iPod: David Browne feels your pain. The EW music critic addresses the so-called ''Geniuses'' at Apple

To everyone who's mourned a dead iPod...

Dear Genius at my local Apple Store Genius Bar:

Okay, I should have seen it coming — or, more to the point, heard it coming. A few weeks ago, I connected my iPod to my car stereo and punched up a playlist. Out came Say Anything's ''Spidersong'' — but only about 10 seconds of it, before the machine automatically jumped to the next track. The same thing happened again, and again; I'd hear the intro to every song, but nothing else.

Uh-oh.

As Apple instructs when such problems occur, I rebooted, and, as you surely know, I lost every piece of music on the machine. But at least the iPod still worked. I laboriously copied everything back onto it. A few weeks later, I turned the unit on, and it didn't skip. Instead, the screen flashed me an upside-down frown before simply going blank.

Uh-oh. Times two.

I'd heard and read about problems people have been experiencing with iPods: the dead batteries that can only be replaced at $100 a pop; the songs erased due to some technical snafu. Of course, I never thought any of this would happen to me. I treat the thing pretty well: always keeping it in its case, recharging it regularly, not even overloading it with songs. I only put parts of the Yo La Tengo boxed set on there.

But it did happen, so down I went to the Apple store nearest me, in Manhattan, to visit the repair shop where you work — dubbed the ''Genius Bar.'' Actually, I went down twice. I had to sign up for an appointment, and the first available one wasn't for six more hours. Having no options, I took the slot and returned at the appointed time — only to find weary-looking customers slumped on benches, awaiting their turn. They looked like people at airports whose flights had been canceled. Not a good sign. My slot rolled around, but 10 people were still ahead of me. By the time a sullen, craggy salesman — you — called out my name, an hour had passed.

In case you've forgotten — and given all those customers, you probably have — here's what happened next. Expressionless, you looked at the unit, held it up to your ear, and shook it like you were trying to figure out how many M&Ms were in a box. This thorough diagnostic checkup of my player lead you to announce that it ''seemed'' like a hard-drive problem, but you didn't know for sure. (Someone in my office had done the same thing, but guess what — he doesn't work for Apple.) Since my one-year warranty had expired two months before, you said you couldn't repair it. I asked you to check to see if I had purchased any additional coverage — I honestly couldn't remember — but you told me you couldn't do that; that information was on ''a different system.''

A different system? Genius, it's the same friggin' company!

So, after two hours in the store, I left without any diagnosis or warranty updates, and only the news, which you delivered with utter affectlessness, that I could trade in my deceased iPod and receive a 10-percent discount off a new unit. Which meant I could save all of 30 bucks or so, although that didn't compensate for the hours of annoyance I'd already been through (I'm guessing worth at least a hundred bucks). The whole experience left me so frustrated and ticked off that I felt I was ready to write a Limp Bizkit song.

Could you, or anyone there, tell me what was so ''genius'' about any of this?

And can you also tell me why I feel like such a sucker? In reading my iPod manual the first time, I don't seem to recall coming across any language suggesting that these units are not really meant to last for years, and that if they break down you may as well just buy another. And I know I'm not alone in this, either. Three people on my floor at EW have dearly departed iPods; another says he has a shelf full of them at home. I know we live in a disposable culture, and I know we don't allow people to take responsibility for much of anything these days. I get all that. But the idea that the iPod, or units like it, are ultimately throwaways isn't just infuriating or bad business; it's deplorable.

So what do you say, Genius: Should I purchase another, or send it off to some mail-order place (as you suggested) to get a repair estimate? You were so blasé and noncommittal that I couldn't tell. Until then, I just hope my wife will tolerate all those LCD Soundsystem, Fifth Dimension, Sonic Youth, and Magic Numbers songs I'm now copying onto her iPod. For now, she doesn't have a choice. I wish I did.

(What are some alternative uses for a dead iPod? Read Clark Collis' ideas here.)

Originally posted Apr 10, 2006
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