Apple’s Broken Promise: Sweat Destroys iPod Shuffle, Which is Designed for Use While Sweating

I wish I could take back.

I recently wrote a runner’s buyer’s guide for my AskMen fitness column, and one of the products I recommend was the iPod Shuffle.

Maybe it’s not too late. Okay, here is my notice: I take it back. Fellow exercisers, don’t buy the iPod Shuffle as a motivational workout companion, because you might get a bit of sweat on it, or it might be humid, and then it will die, and Apple will quote the terms of it’s “Apple [we don’t] Care” program and say it’s not covered because it’s “water damaged.”

And then you’re out of luck.

My Shuffle died. And I barely even sweat on it.

First off, let’s examine the product. It’s tiny. It has a clip. Therefore, it seems just perfect for exercise. In fact, there are promoted FAQs on the Apple site saying it’s great for running. They’ve also got their Nike partnership specifically targeted at runners using iPods.

But the product can’t stand up to a little sweat, or even humidity.

And this is where you discover that Apple is full of it. According to a recent PCMag article, Apple’s newly patented water-damage detection software, “includes a system that helps avoid humidity from triggering a false positive.”

I didn’t take a bath with my iPod Shuffle. It didn’t go through the washing machine. I went for a run on the coast. I live in a dry climate, but 30 minutes into my first run in a coastal environment killed my Shuffle dead. It had been clipped to my shirt sleeve, and it just didn’t like the humidity. I spent the rest of my vacation having to listen to stupid nature for motivation while running.

The lack of music did cause me to notice a black bear foraging nearby, which was kind of cool and frightening at the same time, but that’s not my point.

My point is that when I got home I took the Shuffle into the Market Mall Apple Store in Calgary and they used a little magnification device to show me that the water damage detector had gone off, and therefore the best they could do was offer me 10% off a replacement device using their recycling program, or something.

Things quickly became not about the money. These products are cheap and I can afford to pay for a new one. I was getting annoyed, however, because there was a principle involved. After getting nowhere with the Genius I asked to speak to a manager.

Maria the manager came out and repeated precisely what Genius-boy had. I’m not the type of person who backs down easily, especially over a principle. I explained in detail about how it had not been submersed, how it was humidity damage, how the thing is designed for exercise, and what if someone sweats on it, etc.

All of this fell on deaf ears. The policy about the magical water detection device boils down to: if A is B, then C. In plain language: if water detection is positive, then go away. No exceptions.

Shamefully, I’ll admit that I mentioned my purchase history (it’s huge). This made no difference. Everyone gets the same treatment. If A is B, then C.

I can see the basic point of Apple wanting water detection technology. If someone drops their Apple product in the toilet or takes it swimming, they don’t deserve a new one. However, something designed for exercising should be able to withstand a little humidity and/or sweat. And when it doesn’t, it should either be fixed or replaced free of charge.

That’s not happening with the iPod Shuffle. The product fails basic robustness, and the water detection fails for being too sensitive. It’s a double whammy where the customer loses.