The people have spoken, and Apple has heard them. Sort of. On Tuesday night the computer and music player company admitted that there are problems with the screen of the new iPod Nano, just three working days after The Register broke the story.
Correction: a problem with one manufacturing batch, affecting "less than one-tenth of one per cent" of the units shipped in which the screen actually breaks, according to Phil Schiller, Apple's senior VP of worldwide product marketing, who called it "a real but minor issue". Those will be replaced for free under warranty, he said. He wouldn't say how many that covers.
But hold your horses, if you've discovered how easily the screen scratches and think that Apple is going to exchange and refund on those. Uh-uh. Schiller told MacCentral: "We have received very few calls from customers reporting this problem - we do not think this is a widespread issue. If customers are concerned about scratching we suggest they use one of the many iPod Nano cases to protect their iPod."
The question of why the Nano seems to scratch so easily, when Mr Schiller says that it uses the same materials as the fourth-generation iPod, remains open. One Register reader, Gene McMurray, who has had a lot of experience with polycarbonates (the material used for the iPod screen) comments: "Most of my personal experience with the stuff comes from the polycarbonate lenses used for paintball goggles and motorcycle/racing helmet visors. The stuff is very strong under impact or bending, but will scratch if you look at it funny... I wonder if the whole thing is just a cock-up between the engineering dept and the design dept. If the designers told the engineers to pick a "strong" material, they'll get polycarbonate. If they said to pick a "hard" material, they'd get something else, but it won't be as strong. Lots of people don't understand the difference, but from an engineering standpoint the difference is huge. A great example is diamond, the hardest material known. It will scratch and cut anything, but hit it with a hammer and you'll smash it into a million pieces."
We are testing this with El Reg's secret store of diamonds, of course. Anything for our readers.
Much credit on the broken screen issue must go to Matthew Peterson, whose flawedmusicplayer.com (formerly ipodnanoflaw.com - abandoned for trademark reasons) was set up on 15 September, just a week after the launch of the Nano, and quickly became a pressure point on Apple. Mr Peterson says he has been receiving up to 30 emails per hour from people with similar complaints.
While Apple has moved much more quickly than usual to avert what could have (and still might yet) become a PR disaster, the problem does illustrate the danger of changing horses in midstream - in this case, dumping the iPod Mini, which was the world's best-selling digital music player, to replace it with something new. The Mini wasn't broke, but Steve Jobs was clearly worried that rivals could catch up, and went for a coup by cornering the world's Flash memory market and developing the product at top speed. Expect him to receive a grilling, of sorts, over the cost of this when Apple reports its Q4 results next month. The current quarter ends in three days. The incident might become a business-school textbook case of how manufacturing can mess you up. ®