How a $50 iPod Shuffle cost me $1,000

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The Apple product experience does not always live up to the Apple brand name. Case in point: recently my daughter purchased an iPod Shuffle after carefully saving $50 in her piggy bank. Her excitement was palpable as we made our purchase at a nearby Apple Store. As I drove us home to activate the product, she made a lengthy list of all Lady Gaga songs she wanted to start playing.

Excitement turned to frustration when we tried to activate the device via the required synchronization with iTunes on our family MacBook. Here’s what happened:

1. iTunes told us we needed to update to a more recent version of iTunes to activate the iPod Shuffle.

2. When we tried to update iTunes, we discovered that we needed a newer MacBook operating system (for a price, of course, far exceeding the cost of the iPod Shuffle).

3. Getting a newer operating system would require buying a memory upgrade for our computer — also for a price exceeding the value of the iPod Shuffle. The folks at our Apple Store told us we’d either need to buy and install our own memory upgrade or wait a month if we wanted Apple to do it for us. (Apple was out of stock of its own memory upgrade).

The new operating system and memory upgrade would set us back considerably. The prospect of installing our own memory or waiting a month for Apple to do it felt as feasible as either losing our car for a month or fixing our own engine.

We consulted a few trusted Mac experts who told us we were better off buying a new MacBook for $1,000 than trying to upgrade our memory and operating system. The latter approach would risk incurring performance problems with our current MacBook and make it harder for us to keep pace with enhancements to the Apple operating system.

So we have a new MacBook, and guess what? Now I need to look for a new printer because the newest generation of Macs is not compatible with my HP LaserJet model.

Ironically my ancient Philips disc player delivers a superior product experience. To play it, I simply insert a disc and press “play.” No wonky synchronization with a computer required. And the sound quality of the disc is superior to the muddy MP3 file format that you must endure to hear digital music on an iPod. Neither must I worry about new digital formats rendering music files obsolete, which is a major problem facing the music industry.

Recently Dan Frommer identified three Apple vulnerabilities in an insightful CNN analysis. One point resonated with me:

Apple has been bragging about how the iPad 2 is a “post-PC” device, but you still need to plug it into a computer to activate and sync it. The easiest way to get photos off your iPhone is to email them to yourself. You still can’t sync your iTunes music over Wi-Fi or 3G. This is a shame.

Apple needs to think about the cloud the way Google does — as the future of mobile services. You shouldn’t be tied to a USB cord to access files. You shouldn’t need a PC to use a “post-PC” iPad. You shouldn’t have to email a map link from your computer to your iPhone.

Yeah, you might say I agree with Dan. Apple has a well deserved reputation for being ahead of the curve and creating needs we did not know existed. When it comes to supporting our mobile lifestyles, it’s time for Apple to start delivering on its brand promise.

3 thoughts on “How a $50 iPod Shuffle cost me $1,000

  1. David,

    Unfortunately the price for accelerated technology is on the rise. Apple could probably do more, but they don\’t have much incentive. So sorry, but over time you will come to enjoy the new MacBook and all it can do.

    Cheers my friend.


    • The thing is . . . I don\’t consider a MacBook or iPod as particularly advanced or accelerated. In fact, cloud-based storage (like Amazon\’s new service) make the device-synchronized-to-a-laptop model look backward. I do agree with you that Apple has little incentive right now to untether its mobile technologies. And I\’m typing this reply on my new MacBook. I just don\’t like the way I got to this point. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. It\’s one of the things I loved most about switching to Android. I just don\’t need to sync it, I buy and upgrade all my apps over the wire. I put my music on Grooveshark, although I\’ll be moving to Amazon, since Grooveshark has since been removed from the Google app store. I have an app, called Lookout that backs up all my apps and data to the cloud when I am not using it. Synching my iPad and old iPhone is still a mess and takes forever when you have a lot of music.

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