Saturday, August 11, 2007

iPod Reliability Survey

This summary presents models that are significantly less or more reliable than average. Only one model, the iPod 40 GB Click Wheel, was more than two standard deviations from average.

Average failures:  13.7%
Standard Deviation: 7.54

Models with failures > 1 STDEV *above* average:

Model Failures
iPod 10 GB Scroll Wheel 21.5% stdev+0.2
iPod 5 GB Scroll Wheel 23.0% stdev+1.7
iPod 30 GB Dock Connector 24.0% stdev+2.7
iPod 40 GB Click Wheel 29.9% stdev+8.6

Models with failures > 1 STDEV *below* average:

Model Failures
iPod Nano 2 GB 2.8% stdev-4.8
iPod 60 GB Video 3.2% stdev-4.4
iPod Nano 4 GB 4.2% stdev-3.3
iPod 30 GB Video 4.3% stdev-3.3
iPod Mini 6 GB (Feb05) 6.4% stdev-1.2
iPod with Color 20 GB 6.6% stdev-1.0
iPod Shuffle 512 MB 7.0% stdev-0.5

In a single survey sample of a population, only results greater than one standard deviation from norm can be considered relevant. Across multiple surveys of a population, results less than a standard deviation may be relevant if they show a certain consistency. Since we have run only this one survey, we can only speak with confidence of the above models. However, we present the following tables and charts with more detailed information:

Survey Data

The 40 GB Click Wheel iPod appears to have been a lemon. With a failure rate more than two standard deviations above average, it's the indisputable problem child of the iPod family. Many readers reported going through three to five of them before the 1 year warranty expired and Apple refused further replacements. Not all 40 GB iPods were so unreliable -- the 40 GB Photo was near the average failure rate -- so we don't know quite what the problem was. However, we think it's telling that Apple currently offers a 30 GB and not a 40 GB iPod.
The current video iPods appear to be quite reliable, although they also haven't been out long. The previous "4G" Color and Photo iPods appear to be more reliable than their predecessors, and we hope this is a trend. The iPod Nanos seem to be doing well, as we would expect from a device with solid state storage, although there was an Apple-acknowledged defect early on.
There are a remarkable number of original 5 GB iPods still in service today. We found that many owners reported a battery failure but replaced the battery and continued using their iPod. While failure numbers for this original model look quite high, we must note that many of those "failed" iPods are still working and are in use.

Problem areas
Apple's biggest problem appears to be iPod's non-removable battery. As a battery is used, it slowly degrades, providing less charge capacity. Like laptops, the more you use it, the faster you use it up. A good battery will last for a thousand cycles or more, but it won't last long at the end. Under heavy use, an iPod's battery can run through a hundreds of cycles in a year. We don't really know how "good" Apple's batteries are; some owners of five year old iPods report getting almost half their original battery life, while owners of more recent iPods report battery lives of an hour or less. Clearly, your milage may vary.
Thanks in part to a class action suit, Apple now offers a battery replacement service for iPods. For $59 (originally $99) this program covers round-trip shipping, battery and bench time. Given that some iPods are glued shut and require gentle heat to open, this seems like a very reasonable charge. Confident do-it-yourselfers can obtain an iPod battery from several reputable companies for less than $40 (plus shipping) and carry out the replacement themselves. (For comparison, a battery for a Canon PowerShot Digital Elph is $50, and the Canon Digital Rebel battery is $70. PowerBook and iBook batteries are $129 or more.)
Of course, an easily-removable battery would make all of this moot, at some cost to iPod's size and weight. (We're not holding our breath.)
Hard drive failure accounts for as much as half of reported problems. Carrying around a device powered by a delicate spinning drive does seem like a recipe for disaster; sometimes we find it amazing that hard drive based music players outlast their warranty at all. The newer flash-based iPod Shuffle and Nano have no drives and show markedly better reliability (Nano's scratch-prone facing aside). Active users should strongly consider Shuffle and Nano.
Early iPods appeared to suffer from damaged FireWire ports with some regularity. Such reports diminished after the introduction of the iPod with Dock connector. Aside from the advantages of a high-density, multipurpose interconnect - capable of handling Firewire, USB, audio, remote controls and power - Apple's Dock port appears to have increased the effective durability of iPods.

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1 comment:

Emily said...

Very informative posting. I have bought my iPod batterylast week and they were great. The prices were very inexpensive, the installation was easy, and the battery is lasting a very long time.