PC Mag’s Ulanoff on iPod nano scratches: ‘I could see a jealous competitor planting the story’

“In recent years, anti-iPodders have been running something of a smear campaign against Apple, with a gamut of complaints that the unit’s batteries either don’t last as long as promised or cannot be replaced. A recent class-action suit settlement has proven either that the disgruntled are right or that Apple is tired of fighting them and the resultant bad press,” Lance Ulanoff writes for PC Magazine.

“More recently, Apple enjoyed, as it often does with any new hardware release, extremely laudatory press and reviews for the new Apple iPod nano—and it was all well deserved. This is the thinnest, most beautiful digital music player I have ever seen. I saw it within 24 hours of its official launch and was dazzled. I remember remarking to Mike Kobrin, our lab analyst for digital music players, that the nano was a fingerprint magnet, but I also figured that a soft cloth or my shirt would make short work of the smudges,” Ulanoff writes.

“Now, just a few weeks later, we’re hearing about scratched screens. This could be a big problem, since one of the nano’s key selling points, and something I appreciated as well, is the small yet brilliant color screen, which shows off album covers and your personal photos in surprising detail. Scratches here are not only unwelcome, they could be hard to ignore,” Ulanoff writes. “…the nano’s screen must be as scratch-prone as that of any other portable media player made with the same material. In published reports, Apple has, in fact, stated that the nano has the same screen material as the iPod mini. So where are all the angry mini users?”

Ulanoff writes, “I decided that it boils down to this: nanos are fine. People are careless. Rub plastic or even glass against a rough enough surface and it will get scuffed. Who knows, maybe this is on purpose. Without scratch-prone iPods, there’d be no market for iPod cases. This is all obvious to anyone with half a brain.. The conspiracy theorist side of me sees the disproportionate response as a symptom of something other than reality—like it’s being generated. Why would a complaint about nano by such a relatively small group of consumers (Apple’s already sold more than it can make) be deemed worthy of news reports? I could see a jealous competitor planting the story and feeding reporters or, more likely, blogs, details on how to scratch nanos and how impossible it is to remove the scratches.”

Full article here.
Ulanoff explains that he understands the difference between the small batch of iPod nanos that are susceptible to screen cracking and that Apple will replace those units for free. Ulanoff is referring to the so-called screen scratching issue, the same as our own SteveJack discussed recently on our opinion pages.

From SteveJack’s most-recent opinion article, “iPod nano ‘screen issues’ really just FUD?” dated September 26, 2005:

I could scratch the iPod or the iPod mini’s screen to the same effect as I could scratch the iPod nano screen, that much seems “clear” to me. Not that I’m going to go scratching up my screens. You see, I keep my iPods in cases right out of the box. I’m funny that way; I like to protect my tech gadgets and I don’t expect them not to get marred up if I mistreat them.

Imagine that you work for one company or another that’s staked a large part of their future on competing with Apple’s iPod and/or iTunes Music Store and is staring at the same fate as Rio square in the face. You know that you can’t compete and you know you’re about to be out of business sooner than later. Would you and your coworkers actually stoop to anonymously posting on Apple’s support and other websites that you’re having so-called “iPod nano screen issues?” Would you? Who knows? I just bring it up because I’m sitting here looking and poking at a 3G iPod screen, a two-month old iPod mini screen, and a 4GB iPod nano screen and they all seem pretty much the same “hardness” to me.

Yeah, maybe I’m crazy and Apple totally forgot to test the iPod nano during development and before they committed the design for the manufacture of tens of million of units. That would be bad for Apple, huh? I wonder how bad the negative publicity will be for Apple even if this is all just ginned up nonsense? Maybe even worse than if it were true? Maybe not, who really knows? Anyway, all of this this iPod nano “screen issue” stuff sure does make for a good story or a thousand variations of a story, though, doesn’t it?

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Apple iPods have always been far too scratchable, protective cases required to keep iPods pristine – September 30, 2005
invisibleSHIELD offers rugged, clear protection for Apple iPod nano and other iPod models – September 30, 2005
The Motley Fool: Apple did the right thing in quickly addressing cracked iPod nano screens – September 28, 2005
iPod nano ‘screen issues’ really just FUD? – September 26, 2005
Apple responds to iPod nano screen issues – September 27, 2005


  1. Color me surprised. Ulanoff siding with Apple, and even doubting the FUD? Amazing. But like Paul Thurott, it’s a good step in the right direction…but it’s only 1 step.

    That being said, I have to say, I think he’s right. I think that people are the problem here, not the nano. We see a smaller, more durable device, and we tend to unconsciously subject it to more punishment than we would normally. Why, I don’t know, but we may not even think we’re doing it at the time. My iPod has scuffs and scratches on it, I admit it’s my fault for carelessly handling it those times. However, It is still a usable device. In the long run, I think Mossberg is right. Apple should provide a carry case with the iPod nano right off the bat. That way if people complain about the scratches and scuffs, Apple can at least say “Why? We gave you a case to protect it, didn’t we?”

  2. All this is BS, My iPod Photo has scratches and the screen cracked too. So what is the problem. The problem is people are whinning about the namo and they get a free replacement and I had to throw out my iPod Photo. Crock of Sh*t.

  3. I still get a chuckle when I glance at any demo rack of iPods, and notice that the iPod nanos are all scratched up WAY more than the other demo iPods. It must be the iPod nano goblins scratching them up with steel wool when nobody is watching.

  4. I agree that maybe the issue has been hyped more than it deserves but when you see people like Mossberg commenting that HIS nano got scratched then you have to take it a bit seriously. I think Apple should make the nanos a mm or so thicker and either coat them or make them with a super hard material. Cell phones have screens that go through a lot of abuse and don’t get scratched easily so we know the technology is there.

    I don’t think this would keep from buying a nano now if I were in the market for one. However, Apple makes insanely great products and so is held up to a different measuring stick than the competition. They should (and with all the hype I think they will) improve the product.

  5. The Nano demos I saw the second day they had been on display looked like they had been there for years.

    Some of the screens were almost opaque they were so badly scuffed up!

    You apologists need to get a clue about this issue.

  6. It’s like this, Apple pulled a really nice business move. Just as the competition started to gear up and produce “like iPod” quality devices, Apple innovated unexpectedly.

    Not only rendering hard drive based music players almost obsolete overnight, but snatching up a substantial part of the world’s flash market to boot, leaving the competition with shattered business plans.

    That’s got to hurt and I’m sure some competitors resorted to FUD campaigns as revenge.

    Apple has demonstrated one thing in all this, they control the ace, and that is they have the power to change what the public desires at a moments notice if it suits their purpose.

    For Steve Jobs, the treachery of John Scully, all those years in exile from Apple, pushing the NeXT computer and failing, allowing someone else to run Pixar while he signed checks to pay for it, must have really hurt.

    A new book should come out in sequel to “The Second Coming of Steve Jobs” and instead be named “The Revenge of Steve Jobs”

    Go get them Steve!

  7. Polycarbonate is strong (not eassily shatterable) but scratches easily, while acrylic can stand scratches better but easily shatters (also turns yellow after a bit of UV – sunlight exposure), glass is better but adds a LOT of weight and cost… it’s a catch 22 and I think polycarbonate is the best for this application and it definitely has something to do with the thrid party producing casing for it… the problem was Apple couldn’t produce a intern product (Nano Tube) in time.

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