The Problem with Recalls

Photo: kalleboo

This week, Apple announced that it will be recalling the first-generation iPod Nano.

I happen to have one, and it’s been working without a hitch since 2006. I’ve never had an incentive to replace it for a few key reasons: I think it’s aesthetically pleasing, storage space isn’t a problem for me, and battery life isn’t a problem either — I use it on my daily commute. I also prefer buttons to touch screens.

But after seeing photos of a melting iPod due to the battery problem, I’m inclined to take part. Especially after I learned I’d be getting the same product, just new and without the fear of fire.

Here’s the hidden cost of a recall, though: Apple will send the new product to me 6 to 8 weeks after they’ve received my old one. That’s more than two months that I’m expected to live without a device I use every day. That cost is far greater to me than the $129 I’d pay for a new iPod. With so many Apple stores in the world, why not just let people take their recalled device into a store for an immediate replacement? But then again, this probably works out better for Apple: I’ll be buying a new iPod, and Mom will get the recall replacement in her Christmas stocking.


From Apple's perspective, you buying a new ipod is not a bug, it's a feature.


In a rational world, they'd just mail you a new battery, or let you pick one up at your Apple store, and you could put it in yourself, as you can with most battery-powered devices.

But then, this is Apple.


Imagine Ford trying to pull a stunt like this ... 6 weeks w/o a ride.
Apple's CYA is annoying and self-serving.

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A car is analogous to a portable media player in terms of necessity?


Even better would be a cross-ship option. You provide a credit card number to cover your failure to return the dud, and they ship immediately. This is done all the time in business.


That's some serious consumer surplus. You value your use of an iPod nano at > $65/month? Would you seriously have paid the NPV of $65/month for the expected life (which is frankly probably 3 years?) when you originally bought it?

Joshua Northey

With modern electronics consumer surplus has become extremely large. I would probably trade away half my houses sqft to maintain my internet connection, yet the sqft costs me 10X as much.

I would easily pay $100/month for an Ipod if my only options were say walkmans. Of course I have other options so the surplus is kind of whacky to calculate. If I could just replace my Ipod with SOny's mp3 player the surplus might only be more like $10/month.


Yet more proof that we value lack-of-catastrophic-melting-iPod-doom in our own lives more than we value it in the lives of others ... even our own Mom!


Try reading again.

He is giving her the (non-melting) replacement ipod once it arrives.

Joe Dokes

In reality Apple will probably have it sent back to you in much less than 6 to 8 weeks.

But if your time is so valuable, you could simply replace the battery yourself. Prices for replacement batteries range from 2-7 dollars. Of course you will need to learn how to open the case.


Joe Dokes


Have you considered buying a new iPod, sending your existing one back, then putting the replacement they send you on eBay?


I agree that 6-8 weeks is unacceptable but instead of blowing $130 wouldn't be easier to find another temporary solution such as streaming media, using the built in mp3 player most phones come with, or in a fit of desparation turn on the radio? (I know that last one is rough).

I have never owned a standalone mp3 player but I have never lacked personalized commercial free music.


"...or in a fit of desparation turn on the radio?"

Radio? Didn't that become obsolete about the same time vinyl records did?


Now your Mom knows what she's getting for Christmas - way to spoil the surprise ;0)

David moore

Dnt you think that is what apple is counting on a majority of the users to do? Why else would they make in a mail process that 6 to 8 weeks, instead of either replacing it in store as you mentioned or letting trade that device in for a newer similar model.

Rick Germain

Let's not forget the additional cost of reloading all your content on the replacement iPod. I may be unusual but I have content on my iPod Touch that I did not load via iTunes.

Ken Arromdee

The obvious solution is to go out and buy a $25 off-brand MP3 player and use it until you get the ipod back. There is a net cost to using the off-brand player instead of the ipod (since it's not as good as an ipod), but the cost, even taking the $25 into account, may be less than the cost of doing without for two months. (Of course, if you use the off-brand player forever, the cost will build up to the point where you'd be better off buying a new ipod, but that's different.)


I don't think Apple has enough of these in stock in every store to support the proposals in these comments...there are many capacities and multiple colors.

My understanding is that you all ship your old ones to Apple, Apple ships them to an outsourced refurbishing company, the company replaces the battery and front/back covers, then sends them back to owners (you won't get the same one back).