Friday, March 03, 2006


No, I haven't defected and given up my brand loyalty. But I did have a very bad day with Apple customer service.

My first iPod, a second-generation model, came with a wired remote, which I immediately got hooked on. Since the controls of an iPod, unlike, say, an old Walkman, are tricky to operate if it's inside a pocket or hooked to your belt (even more so if it's in a case), and since the bulk of my iPod listening happens on the street or the subway or other places where I want to frequently adjust the volume because of changes in ambient noise, or I listen on shuffle and often want to skip a song, the remote, clipped to my jacket or shirt, quickly became an essential part of my "digital life," as Apple's marketing folks would say. So I was pissed when my iPod disappeared and I had to get a new remote separately from the replacement.

The remotes actually have one glaring and not very Apple-like design flaw. Unlike most modern headphones, which have L-shaped and/or flexible connectors, the top of the remote's connector is straight and rigid. Normal wear and tear from carrying it in a coat pocket, or opening the cover of many cases, will cause the connector to bend and eventually break. Mine seem to last me about six months. The first time it happened I just went and bought a new one. I got a new case too, thinking I could do more to avoid the problem. When it happened again, I realized the thing had a one-year warranty, so I went down to the Apple Store with my receipt and the were kind enough to give me a new one, no problem, along with a new receipt for the exchange.

So I didn't freak out when that one gave out this week, I just headed down to Soho. Problem: Though it's still on the website, they don't actually sell the old remotes in the store anymore, since the new line of iPods doesn't have a remote jack, and they just released a whole new one that plugs into the dock connector. So I asked them what I should do, and they gave me the address of a website where I can go process an exchange by mail. I was cranky that I had schlepped all the way down to Soho and left empty-handed (they were out of the new ones, or I might have just bought one), but it seemed I at least had a solution.

Until I got home, and discovered that the website wouldn't let me do anything until I entered my iPod's serial number, so they could make sure it was still under warranty. But my iPod is fine! And I know it's not still under warranty! I called Apple, and got transferred around to four different people before getting cut off completely. I decided to try putting in my serial number to see what would happen, and sure enough once I got through there was a pull-down menu to describe my problem, and one of the options was "Repair iPod Accessory." And on the next screen was stuff about the remote.

Great, right? Wrong. Because the serial number I entered isn't under warranty anymore, I had to fax them documentation showing why I believe I'm still covered. So I had to drag out the all-in-one printer (which got stored away because it no longer prints, but it still scans) then go to the kitchen with my laptop and unplug the phone so I could send a fax. And now I have to wait and see if they decide to send me anything. I guess the way it supposedly works is they send me the new part, and then I'm to put the old part in the same box and send it back. So they've taken my credit card number so they can charge me if I don't send the broken remote back in a timely fashion. And that seems totally fair, but I'm also very nervous now that some ridiculous charge will show up.

I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but a) I feel sort of naked without that remote clipped to me, and b) it's a matter of principle. Don't make a shitty product. I guess I rarely have much need to interact with their customer service and tech support folks, since I generally know what I'm doing, but I'm just used to things from Apple being so easy! I was really surprised by this. And I'm fighting the idea that the clear solution is just to treat myself to a Video iPod with one of the new remotes!

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