Two Christmases ago, i bought an iPod Touch 2nd generation and a MacBook to pursue iOS game development.
Recently, the battery power on the iPod has been dropping dramatically. This week, it stopped charging altogether.
i took the device to the Apple Store, where the Genius™ in the back told me that the iPod’s battery “is consumable”, and that two years is pretty much the upper limit of use that i could expect from the device.
He offered me exactly one option:
- Pay $69 (about a quarter of the price of the device) to swap it for a new one with a fresh battery.
These two devices are the first Apple products i’ve ever purchased. i’ve been hearing for years about how user-friendly the company’s products are, and how they have a mind toward building green products (i believe their latest laptop is made from wood chips and rabbit pellets).
i can’t think of anything less user-friendly than a 21st century device which does not allow its owner to replace its battery. The battery is “consumable”, yes … but consumption implies that i can replenish the consumable, and consume it again.
i consume food on a daily basis, but once the food in my fridge runs out, i replenish it with new food – i don’t pay a quarter of the price to buy a new fridge.
Imagine a world where we were unable to replenish the power supplies in our devices. Car’s battery died? Pay a quarter of the price to trade it in for a new car. Video game controllers? After a few weeks, you need new ones. Watches? Remote controlled cars? Hearing aids? Despite it being a simple process to swap in a fresh power source, all of these devices would become defunct.
This is a millennia-old piece of technology which, once purchased, can last for hundreds of years. It’s built with a consumer-friendly design that enables the user to open it and get at its insides without voiding his warranty.
Green and Greed
There are two angles to this issue: green and greed.
Apple’s design decision to prevent users from being able to replace the battery is an environmental no-no. i’m sure they’ll do all sorts of wonderful things with my traded-in device (like throwing a new battery in it and selling it as refurbished, or planting it to grow an Apple tree or whatever), but because i feel like Apple is ransoming my use of the device, i have half a mind to throw my defunct iPod into the ocean, specifically aiming it at a dolphin’s face. Perhaps i’ll dip it in crude oil a few times first? Apple’s locked design of the device is environmentally unfriendly.
Apple makes me want to kick a manatee in its junk (if i could FIND its junk)
Perhaps more transparently, this is planned obsolescence at its ugliest. To specifically design a device that lasts only two years is irresponsible at best – insidious at worst. Apple knows darn well that after two years, an iPod customer will likely have made a significant temporal, financial and emotional investment in the device – purchasing iTunes apps and songs, sinking time and money into certain iOS games, and integrating the device into his lifestyle (public transit and toilet time, most notably). Squeezing another 25% of the device cost from the customer every two years is a solid way to pad company coffers.
Not a Fan
When i slide the back of my Nexus One Android phone open, there’s a replaceable battery staring back at me. When it gives up the ghost – hopefully beyond the 2-year mark – i can choose to purchase a new battery from either Google or a third party, at significantly less than 25% of the phone’s price ($10 or less on eBay – that’s 2% of the device price).
Apple has its fans, to be sure, but i’m not willing to sacrifice basic consumer control over the utility of my devices for a few shiny logos and a high-profile (yet environmentally irresponsible and ultimately consumer-hostile) brand.
i didn’t mention it in the original article, but things started to go South once i installed the iOS4 update for my device. Suddenly, the battery lasted one hour instead of the days of juice that it used to provide. i mentioned this to the Apple Store guy, who swore up and down that iOS4 has no effect on battery life. He actually made me feel like a bit of a fool for even bringing it up.
Enter the Internet:
- iOS 4 Severely Affects iPod touch Battery Life
- iOS 4 Causing iPod Touch Battery Problems
- iOS 4 drawing complaints about poor battery life from iPod Touch users
- iOS4 Battery Issue?
- iPod Touch Battery Issues in iOS 4
- iPod Touch battery life dwindled after installing iOS 4
So it appears that, non-replaceable battery notwithstanding, the iOS4 upgrade may have devoured whatever juice the “ancient” 2-year-old battery had left in it. i’ll pay another visit to the Apple Store tomorrow to see if i can’t get this sorted out.
Today i returned to the Apple Store, ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth. Craftily, i told the salespeople that i wanted to buy an expensive iPod Touch, but was concerned because the battery wasn’t replaceable. How long would the device last? One guy said “WELL over 2 years … possibly 4 or 5 years.” Hmm. But then a girl i spoke to said that it depends on my usage.
Me:Very well – i pay $400 for the device. How much usage does that get me, at maximum abuse? 3 months?
Her: Probably more than that, but i can’t say for sure.
Me: You can’t say for sure that i’m going to drop $400 on an iPod Touch, and it’s going to last longer than 3 months?
Her: Okay – probably longer than 3 months.
Me: How long? 6 months?
Her: i can’t say for sure.
Me: So $400 won’t even buy me 6 months with the device?
Her: It all depends.
Me: Depends on what? Don’t you have any benchmarks?
By that point, the “Genius” at the back was calling my name. As a (fake) new customer, though, i don’t think i would have made a purchase with such a non-committal answer. At least lie to me, lady. You’re in sales, after all.
i went in hollering and carrying on and telling them that the iOS4 upgrade had destroyed my battery. One Genius had to step in and, in his smoothest “i’m a very very cool dude who works at the Apple Store and check out my awesome tattoos but they’re too obscure for you to understand” voice, he asked me to calm down. Said that iOS4, while very hard on the battery and probably a bad idea for iPod Touch owners to install, had nothing to do with my device’s battery dying. Completely unrelated.
i asked him how an ill-advised upgrade that destroyed battery life could possibly be unrelated to a battery-destroying issue. He said it was pure coincidence that my battery happened to die after i upgraded. i reiterated that after i installed the iOS4 upgrade, my battery life began to rapidly decline over a period of two weeks, going from holding a charge for days, to holding a charge for an hour. He said that when the batteries degrade, they do so very quickly. i called bullshit.
They gave me options. A battery replacement was $99. The other guy jumped in and said they don’t actually replace the battery – they give me a new device, and that would cost me $89. Both numbers were a chunk higher than the $69 mystery figure the “Genius” had offered me one day earlier. i felt like i was playing The Price is Right.
The other “Genius” offered to wipe my device and install iOS 4.1 on it. “Genius” #2 told me that any time i used wifi on the device, i’d have to shut it down by putting the iPod into airplane mode before i pushed the Sleep button. There was still no option to disable the “always-on” wifi problem that iOS4 introduced.
“Genius” #2 also mumbled something to his colleague about there being a software bug on the recharge screen when it showed one red stick, which mine did. Funny – it was the first i was hearing of it.
So i told the guy to go ahead with the reset. He wiped the device, and upgraded to iOS 4.1. Suddenly, the device started to hold a charge. i went home and plugged it in, charging it fully. It took much longer to charge this time, instead of the half hour it took when it was suffering from iOS 4.0. Wifi is off. The battery is draining at a normal, pre- iOS4 rate.
Apparently, iOS4 is not an issue for older iPod Touch devices until Pope Steve says it is. Until then, ranting and raving and demanding satisfactory service in the face of a conflicting and ever-changing customer service response is the only way. You need to be a modern-day Galileo to convince Apple that the universe does not revolve around their company.
But now that my months-old Pocket Frogs saved game file is lost forever, there’s very little compelling me to use my iPod in the near future, charged battery or otherwise.
STILL ANOTHER UPDATE
The HTC-made Google Nexus One phone that i lauded in the original post – the one with the replaceable battery – stopped charging a few months after the warranty expired.