Nano takes polish off Apple

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Has Apple finally put a dent, or at least a scratch, in its shiny brand image?

Whoever came up with the saying "It's just a scratch" hasn't witnessed the recent ruckus over Apple's Nano iPod music player. Apple is facing a torrent of press scrutiny, Web postings and a lawsuit over scratches marring the surface of the tiny Nano.

Complaints argue that the device-particularly the black model-scratches too easily, and normal wear and tear quickly renders the screen a disaster. Apple's rebuttal so far has been to defend the materials used as being the same as those in previous iPod iterations, and to promise to replace all damaged devices. The company also said in late September, when the problems first arose, that only "one-tenth of one percent" of Nanos sold had been affected. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment for this story, but confirmed that its policy of replacing scratched Nanos will continue.

Halo effect

"It does tarnish the Apple brand that prides itself on high quality and design," said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "It is a claim that needs to be addressed. ... The Apple `halo effect' can go both ways. Once the product looks problematic, the negative halo effect can spread the same as the positive one."

And perhaps worse than the scratch-for Apple at any rate-is the bad press. Complaints from prominent journalists to long-time Apple fans to envious competitors are rife on the Web. Wall Street Journal tech columnist Walt Mossberg, who professed (and still maintains) the Nano is the "best combination of beauty and functionality of any music player I've tested," wrote that after less than one month his own Nano is "badly scratched" with some scratches so large as to "impede functionality." (He recommended Apple begin offering a tough case with every device and advised they research a tougher coating for future Nanos.)

Apple fan and Web designer Tyler Hall started after posting his Nano scratch problem in an Apple support forum; he says his message was deleted and he was sent an email saying the scratch problem was not a relevant topic.

"I can't help wondering whether all of this bad press might frighten some shoppers away from the iPod Nano and give the Apple brand a few scratches as well," wrote Alyce Lomax of TMF Lomax last week in a Motley Fool column titled "Nano Trouble Could Bruise Apple."

Test drive

Mr. Enderle said, "The Web is what made this lawsuit possible. It showed that a lot of people had this problem."

Not everyone agrees. PC Web site Ars Technica, known for its tech product dissections, took the Nano for a test drive, literally dropping it out of a speeding car. Its verdict was that even though the Nano did scratch after its intense treatment, it still worked and was quite durable.

Van Baker, an analyst with GartnerG2, said, "It's just an example of too many lawyers with too much time on their hands ... and most people will see that."

Still, he did point out that while he has no evidence, one could argue that the reason the video iPod, released just five weeks after the Nano, comes with a case is because of the Nano scratch debate.

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