Oops. Did I Say That?


In case you missed it at the time, I did, early last week Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris was quoted in a Chicago Tribune article, “Pain in the Pod,” saying something incredibly dumb and I’m not trying to be mean here. You know that old saying, “There’s no stupid questions.” Well there are. Plenty of them and I’ve asked my fair share. Same principle applies in this situation. If you’re a spokesperson for a company there is indeed stupid answers. It’s just a fact. This one rates around the Forrest Gump territory. Here’s the passage in question,

An Apple spokeswoman, Natalie Kerris, said iPods have a failure rate of less than 5 percent, which she said is “fairly low” compared with other consumer electronics. “The vast majority of our customers are extremely happy with their iPods,” she said, adding that an iPod is designed to last four years.

The designed to last four years is one of those excuse me endings like blah, blah, blah, blah and, oh yeah, I’m pregnant, gotta run. Upon reading Natalie’s oops your reaction would probably be tempered by your personal outlook on life. Sarcasm might induce a, “Thanks for the generosity Apple,” cynicism might react with, “Right, it’s two years tops,” or the optimist might think, “Hey, I got another nine months.” I tend to lean towards the skeptical-hopeful side of things so I probably would have thought she couldn’t have said that and then, thinking I had no way to verify it without work I wasn’t prepared to do, would foolishly assumed my iPod would be one of the few that Apple’s manufactured obsolescence wouldn’t degrade.

As it turns out Natalie now says she was misquoted by the reporter. She maintains she said the iPod is designed to last for years, not 4 years. We could go through all the reactions on this as well but I believe Natalie. I assume she’s a pretty bright bulb and knows how to do her job. The reporter probably knows how to do his too so let’s not make a drama out of it. Tag it a simple misunderstanding.

Since the whole thing now laid out on the table, I would have rather she said, forever, not for years or 4 years but for ever. I’m not sure a company making anything can promise for ever but it’d be nice to hear. At the very least tell us it’s designed to last decades. I mean the Eight-Track is still kickin’. I figure an iPod should last twice as long.

(story brought to my attention by Apple Insider)



This is rediculous. If I pay ~$300 for anything, I expect it to last at least 10 years (actually, $30 per year is still too much). I guess I won’t be purchasing one of these things any time soon. Thanks for the tip.

Amos Moses Griffin

That military grade iPod sounds rad… but I’m not paying three times as much so point well taken. On a side note military grade anything sounds cool. Good useage there SP.


I think the point made by Joel about diminishing returns is very true. MTBF of components is just one aspect, by the way. Sure, it would be possible to make a unit that lasted “forever”. But would you be willing to pay three times as much for a “military grade” :-) iPod with a life expectancy of, say, 10 years, or ten times as much to last 15 years?

Amos Moses Griffin

As far as whose fault the misunderstanding is I’m not prepared to cast blame on either party simply because I wasn’t there. As “A reader” mentioned could have been an editor looking for headlines. Who knows? It happened. My point was wrapped in an assumption. The assumption being iPods can last a very, very long time but my assumption was flavored by my ignorance of how the internal mechanics of these things work.

SP, thanks for the info. Helps me “get it” all a bit more I understand iPods are subjected to a lot of wear and tear and they’re continually being replaced by newer versions, though I see this as the marketing-consumption side of things. I just think it’d be nice to have the option of keeping an iPod for 30 years (under normal wear and tear blah, blah). Probably wouldn’t do it but the option is nice. Instead of having to replace it in four years because that is its manufactured longevity. I get that people don’t really keep gadgets very long, myself included, but I assume we currently have the means, technology and ingenuity to create a hard drive that’ll last for say fifty years. Maybe we don’t but I assume we do. Do we? And if we do then I’d like to think Apple would create the iPod to last as long as the current technology allows.

Suppose what I’m rambling on about is, if my assumptions were correct, I’d rather Apple or any company make their products to the meet current technological limits instead of creating them based on the consumption habits of its users. Though Joel makes a good point about diminished returns, R&D, and batteries.

Maybe I’m getting too old. Turning into one of those “when I was a kid my Product X would still work after being in a street-fight with a washing machine and a lawnmower.” I fear I’m turning into my grandfather :)


ryan: sorry… what are the gumstick one’s called… shuffles, that’s it… sorry… scratch “mini” and replace with “shuffle” in the above.


HATE to nitpick (:) not really) but iPod mini’s did have hard drives :p


An interesting point to make on your 8-track comment, your 8-track tape has never been replaced and has been used with the frequency of your ipod?

ipods (non-nano/mini) are HDD based devices, and are used in a similar fashion to walkmen. This in itself degrades the expected lifetime of the unit – i’m not sure I’ve seen too many people running around with their laptop in use and being subjected to the same sorts of relatively violent forces that the ipod does incase of comparisons there.

Battery life is another difficult topic. Battery lives have always been problematic – how many people own a phone over two years and continue to get even 75% of new performance from the battery? (Hands up anyone with a phone *over* two years old? What’s that, designed to last two years? ;))

It’s another example of engineering. Sure, you could do more on the front of lifespan of the product, but there’s a diminishing return at some point for extended lifespan from the money put in in both R D and manufacting/parts. No one is forcing you to purchase this product, it’s a choice, one requiring responsibility to understand the limitations before buying in (as with all choices).


For microdrives, I believe typical MTBF is about the same as other hard drives, which is approximately 300,000 hours (or 30 years) “under normal conditions”. However, without exaggerating, almost every year I have at least one hard drive failure. I was never sure how manufacturers get those estimates; my experience with hard drives certainly does not confirm it (even those in desktops, that never moved around), but anyway.

On flash-based units, flash memory can usually withstand about 1,000,000 write cycles. Assuming an average song size of, say 4MB, that works out to about 500,000,000 songs for a 2GB unit. So that’s probably not an issue. :-)

However, as someone else pointed out, in both cases, battery may be a weaker link (since its not replaceable in iPods).

Finally, does anyone really keep a gadget around for more than four years anymore? Even if they lasted forever, how many people would keep them forever? If they do, then probably Apple’s marketing/advertising departments are not doing their job. :-) So, I think the whole discussion might be moot…


I know four years doesn’t sound very long, especially compared with the longevity of home stereo components. But the iPod is a portable device and subject to a lot of abuse. Think about how long a typical cell phone lasts … and it (most likely) doesn’t have a hard drive.


Well I’m not sure of the details of how the interview was conducted but here’s some possible reasons for the confusion:

– The reporter is an idiot (which I think is what you’re saying ‘a reader’)
– They had poor cellphone / phone reception
– They weren’t speaking at all and the quote was in electronic form
– The spokesperson for apple had a cold that day
– The spokesperson for apple isn’t a native english speaker
– The reporter isn’t a native english speaker
… and many others.

The point here (as I said above) is that the correct sentence isn’t “It lasts four years.”, it’s “It lasts for four years.” Based on that alone you can assume she meant ‘for years’ instead of ‘4 years’.

A reader

Hello? Someone in this story is a nincompoop. Probably the reporter, but possibly the spokesperson or an editor.

Here’s the deal: Repeat out loud after me:

1. It lasts four years.

2. It lasts for years.

Hear anything different? I thought so.

In sentence 1, anyone who’s a native speaker of English will emphasize the word “four”. In sentence 2, anyone who’s a native speaker of English will emphasize the word “years”. There’s no getting around it. No native speaker would emphasize it any other way.

And only a nincompoop listener would fail to detect that difference.

Or maybe an editor thought the story was wrong and changed it behind the writer’s back.

But, sorry, there is *no way* anyone could get those two spoken sentences confused. No way. Ain’t gonna happen.

Brandon Eley

I think Apple hardware is still made to very high quality standards, and I have always found that Apple hardware ran for much longer than it’s “estimated” life expectancy.

I know people with 100 Mhz PowerPC Macs that are still used in day-to-day work! Hardware fails, eventually, because there are moving parts that wear out, and silicone boards that short circuit. Age eventually gets to everything.

I’ve had consumer electronics die after 1 year, so if my iPod lasts 4 or more years I’ll be very happy with it. By then I’ll be ready to get a newer model with much more storage and a larger screen.

Of course, many more iPods will last much longer than that. I have a feeling the market for used iPods isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.


Guys, Apple hires the best of the best. Do you really think that the Chicago Sun-Times (a middling paper) does the same? Those are JOURNALISTS you’re talking about, here. You know, the people who can’t figure out that Hezbollah shooting tons of rockets into Israel to kill civilians is a bad thing. The same people who saw nothing wrong with Jayson Blair. The same people who never tag any group as being “liberal” “left” or “far left” and then claim that they are completely unbiased. Sheesh. Who believes anything they say anyways?


Given the way people treat their iPods (I’m basing that on co-workers and my fellow commuters), it’s a wonder that they last two years. One co-worker charged her iPod 2/3 times a day every day and didn’t uderstand why it died just short of a year.

Amos Moses Griffin

Ryan- Yeah, I’d imagine it’s best for Apple if you replace your iPod every two years and so long as they continue to create beautifully functional gadgets I don’t really have a problem with it and even if I did it’d be kinda silly to hold on to it.

SP- Seeing as how I know next to nothing about the mechanics of modern technology, I’ll take your word that 4 years is an impressive life. It just seems so short to me. I’ll take what I can get but is four years really the best that can be done at this point? I’m actually curious. I don’t know this stuff.


Even if whe said “four” and not “for”, an target MTBF (mean-time between failure) of 4 years is fairly impressive, especially if we are talking about hard drive units. If the design actually achieved that MTBF, it would be even more impressive. My only complaint might be that such a number sounds too high, not too low.

Honesty of this kind should be appreciated, not reprimanded. On the other hand, over the years, I’ve learned the sad truth that it is easier to hide a fact, than to properly explain it to the vast majority of people, except if absolutely necessary (which is to say, rarely). I guess this would apply even more to marketing.


Ever since the original story I thought to myself… “shouldn’t she have said ‘designed to last for four years’ if she meant four as in the number?”

Marketing reps don’t usually make grammatical ‘mistakes’ like that and are purposefully trying to say things in a way that’s hard to misunderstand.

Of course she meant FOR YEARS!

Personally though I don’t think Apple wants you to keep your iPod anymore than 2 years at the most. Mine’s coming up on 2 years in the winter and it feels about right to replace it, probably after Macworld. :)

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