Geek Hideout

The iPod Shuffle Can Shuffle Out of My Life

July 5th, 2005

When the iPod Shuffle was introduced earlier this year I was quick to slap down $150 bucks and wait three weeks for the honor of owning one. As a runner, it seemed to be the perfect solution for my needs: simple, lightweight, small, and all solid state. And, as a person who likes to buy quality products, it's been my experience that it's hard to go wrong with Apple. A big plus was the convenience of the iTunes Music store that makes buying and installing music onto the Shuffle as easy as can be.

At first the Shuffle worked perfectly. Day after day and month after month of trouble-free operation. Then one day something odd happened. I plugged the iPod into my computer and it wouldn't mount. I tried several times and still nothing. I tried a different Mac. Nothing. I tried mounting it under Windows. Again nothing.

The Shuffle would still charge and it would still play. Maybe the USB connector was faulty somehow, but it didn't seem to be physically damaged in any way at all. I was worried that it might have been a sweat-related problem because when I run I end up drenched from head to toe. But close examination of the Shuffle showed no ill effects from sweat.

It occurred to me that maybe it was somehow firmware related. Perhaps the Shuffle managed to get itself into some bizarre state that prevented it from properly mounting. As an experiment--and admittedly not a very scientific one--I tried plugging a Phillips digicam into my iBook. It was detected without any problem whatsoever. After ejecting it, I plugged the Shuffle back in. To my surprise, it was promptly detected and mounted without hesitation.

This set into motion an unlikely pattern that would repeat itself for several weeks. Whenever I wished to update my iPod I would first plug in the digicam, unplug it, and then plug in the Shuffle. While less than ideal, this worked. At least it worked for a while.

I was becoming increasingly aware that as the days and weeks passed that this trick was working less reliably. Sometimes I would have to do the trick several times before the Shuffle mounted. One day the trick just wouldn't work at all.

I suspected this day would eventually come, but I dreaded the notion of it. I had dealt with Apple Support in the past, and it wasn't an experience that I wanted to ever repeat. I'm not sure why Apple is so well-regarded for the support it provides because my encounter with it was absolutely dreadful, and it was only through a letter sent to Apple Corporate that I was able to get my problem resolved. If this is great support, I can only shudder at the notion of what one gets from the likes of Dell or Gateway.

Because my iPod was past the 90-day free incident period, the support people weren't able to be very helpful. Instead, I was directed to a web page where I was to fill in the details of the problem, provide my credit card information, click on submit, and get a replacement iPod in the next few days. The few words that I was able to squeeze out of the support person suggested that although I needed to provide my credit card number, the replacement would be free because iPods are considered accessories. As of this writing, not very much time has passed, so I'm not sure if this will be true or not, but for the moment, at least, I have not been billed. You can be sure that I will raise a mighty cloud of dust if the dare try.

I did receive the replacement. It came the very next day flopping around in a unpadded paper shipping envelope. The delivery fellow thew it at my front door and then took off. I guess Apple doesn't particularly care all that much about signatures and so forth for such low end products. Anyone could have made off with the iPod and that would be my tough luck.

For the first day I was pleased and my apprehension about the whole ordeal was fading away (although I was and still am concerned about a sudden charge on my credit card). However, aside from setting the Shuffle up and uploading music onto it, I didn't really use it. It was the next day that I discovered all wasn't right.

My iPod had spent the night and day charging and the the temperature had finally become tolerable. I put on my shoes and raced out the door for my daily six mile run. The iPod was worry-free until around mile two. Then it stopped abruptly. No amount of button fiddling would resurrect it.

It's an odd sensation when you are running to have music in your ears one moment and then unexpectedly nothing. It is disorientating and it just feels like something is missing. This doesn't hold true if you start a run with no music. Due to worry over the Shuffle and the disorientation, I cut my run short that day. Not completing a run always puts me in a foul mood.

There is a button on the back of the Shuffle that, when pressed, causes a light to glow in a color that indicates the state of the internal battery . When I pressed the button, the light was green meaning the battery was fine. Nevertheless, I tried recharging the iPod. When the morning came around, the iPod was once again working.

Things that suddenly work don't fill me with much confidence. But I really wanted the Shuffle to work and most definitely did not want to call Apple. I went out for my daily run and right around the 15-minute mark the Shuffle died again. I resigned myself to having to place a call to Apple Support in the morning.

Let me make it clear that I don't buy things in such a manner that I expect them break down and cause me to be on the phone, writing email and snail mail, and mailing packages. I buy things with careful consideration and chose with equally careful consideration that company that I elect to do business with. Apple is known for its premium quality products. One would think that if they send you a replacement and that replacement doesn't work they would be apologetic and send a replacement for the replacement out without hassle. But one would be wrong.

Apple was indeed willing to replace it. But Apple was not willing to do so free. The Shuffle would be free, oh yes, but not the shipping. The logic here defies my abilities. The replacement was free and shipped free (again, I don't know if this will prove to be true, but my eye is on my credit card statement), but the travel costs for the replacement of replacement have to be paid by me! When I was told this over the phone, I could barely sputter out my disbelief of just how ridiculous a situation this was proving to be.

I ended the phone call without agreeing to send the Shuffle back. It's just not worth it to me to risk getting another faulty product that needs to be shipped back for however many times it takes to get it right. The same thing happened with my iBook and that wore me out completely.

This morning I composed and sent a letter off to Apple Corporate explaining my woes and that I was irate with their failings on providing me with what I intended to purchase. We'll see how it goes.

It's going to sound terribly reactionary, but this episode has put me off Apple. Maybe I've just had a streak of bad luck--I know there are people out there who have bought many Apple products and never needed any support whatsoever. It might take months for me to see an iPod that works correctly but I have needs that I would like to have addressed today. I'm going to purchase an iAudio 5. The reviews are good and it mounts like any USB drive; music can be dropped right onto it without any special software.