iLounge updates re-review policy, explains “revving” | iLounge Article

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iLounge updates re-review policy, explains “revving”

As part of its ongoing efforts to provide clarity and transparency in its editorial policies, iLounge today announces an important update to its policy on reviews of iPod accessories, along with an explanation for readers as to the reasons for the update.

The Policy

Prior to September 6, 2005, iLounge permitted product “re-reviews,” addendums to (rather than replacements of) existing reviews that explained differences between “version 1” and “version 2” of an updated product. In order to keep readers properly informed that more than one version of a product was available, and that significant differences between versions could exist, the original rating and review text were preserved alongside the updated text and, where applicable, rating.

Because of abuse of this policy, as further described below, and effective September 6, 2005, iLounge will no longer re-review iPod accessories except in its sole discretion, and unless the following criteria are met: (1) the new product’s (a) name or (b) packaging and web site must conspicuously identify that product as a second or newly updated version of an earlier product; and (2) the company must provide a full description of the update for possible publication. These requirements are designed to give us, our readers, and resellers, an easy way to distinguish between old and new versions.

Having spoken with a number of iPod accessory manufacturers about this issue, iLounge’s editors fully understand that companies are facing tremendous pressure to get new accessories to stores before actual or perceived deadlines, and that this “rush to ship” is at least partially to blame. However, we believe that proper testing of finished units (with all supported iPod models) and attention to details in design will dramatically improve both consumer and reviewer experiences with products, eventually reducing or eliminating the need to ship “second versions” altogether.

Why Update the Policy: Several Specific Examples

In recent months, re-review requests have gotten entirely out of hand. We have previously made clear to manufacturers that we review only final accessories, and are not interested in reviewing prototypes or pre-production samples. Regardless, a number of manufacturers have shipped us “final, reviewable” accessories with major problems, only later to ask us to quickly look at “another version” that supposedly fixes those problems. Just a few examples from the last month alone include replacement internal batteries that can impair proper operation of the hard disks and/or controls of first- and second-edition iPods, iPod cases that used headphone ports that were much too small or misaligned, and a car charger that randomly interrupts iPod playback. There are unfortunately many other examples.

Virtually every iPod accessory maker will have a problematic product at some point, but companies differ in how they handle the problems. Sometimes, we are told after the fact that the problems will only affect the first unlucky 500 or 1,000 purchasers of products. Other times, companies say that they have recalled affected inventory, and some actually do, but with others, we still see units with problems sitting on store shelves months later. Some post web site advisories to let consumers know that updated versions are available. Others release fixed versions without any notice or explanation to customers.

Even if a company isn’t perfect, there are ways that it can do better by its customers than others. Belkin, as just one example, marked its updated Digital Camera Link packages with stickers that indicate a revision 2 unit is inside, and posted a web site customer advisory on the subject. In our experience, the company has also been consistently forthright in disclosing product issues, which its representatives attribute to two related things: a desire to keep customers satisfied in the long-term, sustaining the company’s brand, and the economic advantages of resolving problems before tens of thousands of units wind up in consumers’ hands, rather than after.

Other than limiting our need to re-review products, our updated policy is intended to have two effects. First, we hope to make all iPod accessory makers aware that a short period of internal pre-release testing of “final production units” prior to shipment will reduce consumer, reviewer, and manufacturer surprise and disappointment. Second, prior to the release of any new iPod hardware, we hope to inspire discussion on accessory revision labeling and marketing so that iPod owners can feel comfortable knowing what they’re getting.

If you’ve heard enough, you can stop reading. Below, we provide some additional information on the re-release process -  often known as “revving” - for the benefit of readers who might want to learn more about the subject, and what we’ve been dealing with.

“Revving,” Explained

In the software world, a small update is commonly called a “point release,” with feature improvements or bug fixes small enough that version 2.0 isn’t warranted. Instead, the name “version 1 point 2” (1.2) or “1 point 5” (1.5) suffices. With the notable exception of Apple Computer’s Mac OS X (10.0 to 10.4) operating systems, consumers have come to expect most point releases for free, and companies often supply them as such.

But the hardware and accessories world is very different. Manufacturers don’t widely advertise a practice known as “revving” (short for revising or revisioning) whereby electronic components inside devices may be rearranged, enhanced, or even cut back for different reasons. The end result is a Power Mac motherboard revision B, a quietly released second-generation color iPod that emits less noise, or an accessory such as Griffin’s iTalk or Belkin’s TuneBase FM that mysteriously improves features as the months go on. A revved iPod case, while less common, may adjust the size and placement of holes, change certain materials (fabrics, adhesives), or improve the precision of stitching or other fit and finish elements.

Revving and Consumer Expectations

As with software, there is a tension between consumer interest in receiving “revved” products free of charge, and the desire of manufacturers to continue to improve their products without fear that customers will line up for free replacements. On one hand, some manufacturers claim that future revisions of their products are designed to appeal to and satisfy new consumers. If you buy early, they theorize, you are buying on the strength of the product as sold, and not what it may later become.

By contrast, consumers and their advocates have suggested that fixing bugs and improving features after a product’s release harms early supporters of the product, putting them at a disadvantage relative to those who wait for months for the dust to settle. Additionally, consumers often rightfully point to more serious hardware bugs and defects as breaches of product warranties, and suggest that they are due replacements when products fail to full meet their advertised claims. The appropriateness of these views varies from product to product, issue to issue, as some problems are truly trivial and insignificant, while others are more serious and potentially even illegal.

The Consequences of Revving

These opposing viewpoints have led to unfortunate consequences. Some manufacturers keep quiet about improvements, and some savvy consumers now hold off on buying products they might otherwise want until a second- or third-generation version is unveiled. A number of dedicated Mac fanatics, for example, now refuse to buy any Apple computer with a “revision A” logic board, no matter how tempting the designs may be.

In this scenario, everybody loses. Consumers refrain from consuming. Manufacturers and resellers lose sales. Reviewers hold back from expressing their full praise. For many reasons, this is the opposite of what everyone would prefer to see: one great product, properly tested and marketed, widely sold and widely enjoyed.

So Why Does Revving Happen?

In the iPod business, top manufacturers suggest that there is an intense pressure to release add-ons before their competitors, and before Apple changes or discontinues supported products. The former problem is more serious than the latter, but both are legitimate issues.

As the iPod economy has expanded, more companies from outside the iPod business have decided to try and take pieces of the still-expanding accessory market pie. Many have little or no experience with the iPod itself, or with certain segments (say, cases) of the iPod market, so they subcontract other experienced companies to supply them with design and/or manufacturing skills. Most recently, the subcontractors have been manufacturers in Southeast Asia that promise to churn out new cases and electronics at low costs and on minimal notice. Some are better than others, but there are many that cut important corners to hit their low price points and fast delivery times.

That’s why this strategy isn’t as wise as it initially seems, especially for smaller iPod accessory vendors. As we’ve seen in recent months, both with products we’ve reviewed and those we’ve passed on reviewing, “first to market” accessories are more than occasionally sloppy, and require significant additional tweaking and supervision in order to become worthwhile for most consumers. Sometimes iPod accessory vendors will sell the untweaked versions just to get them into stores and start making money, and revise them later, resulting in revisions 2 or 3. From what we have gathered, this is one of the more common reasons for iPod accessory revisions.

Another reason is legitimate manufacturing oversight. A competent manufacturing company with competent partners has tested its products, but doesn’t realize that a problem affects them. Later, the company fixes the problem in a follow-up revision.

A third reason is that iPods change. An accessory designed for third-generation iPods doesn’t work fully on fourth-generation iPods or iPod photos, like Belkin’s Digital Camera Link. Or an accessory designed for all iPods surprisingly proves incompatible with only iPod photos manufactured prior to February 2005, like Griffin’s AirClick. Companies have to go back and fix these accessories, and the result is a revision.

This is exacerbated by notoriously secretive Apple, which provides scant clues prior to product changes, the discontinuation of some models, or the appearance of new models. The result is that add-on manufacturers are forced to change packaging, marketing, or entire product designs without notice. After January’s release of the iPod shuffle, for instance, many packages suddenly could no longer promise that their contents would work “with all iPods,” while July’s discontinuation of black-and-white iPods and renaming of iPod photos instantly outdated the packages and advertisements for many subsidiary products.

As a result, many iPod accessory makers now take for granted that they’ll need to update their packages and/or products every several months. Some have opted to hold off on releasing new products at all until after Apple unveils new iPods. Since the exact date and time of new iPod releases is virtually unknown, and subject to frequently erroneous rumors that Apple rarely addresses, this process is far less scientific than art, based on pure guesswork rather than facts.

Regardless of the specific reasons for a given revision, the result has been consumer confusion. We receive letters and comments from readers asking why things they’ve purchased look or work differently from items we’ve reviewed, or in some cases, not at all. While it is not our responsibility to resolve these issues on behalf of manufacturers, we want to do our part to publish correct information, and the intent of this editorial is to help our readers - and some manufacturers - better understand the complete picture as we’ve been seeing it.

Concluding Comments

Since its inception, iLounge has been committed to providing the best possible coverage of iPods and iPod accessories, and takes our readers’ interests to heart when considering and formulating editorial policies. We hope that the information above has helped to explain iPod accessory re-releases, and our thoughts on providing updated coverage of them going forward. Please use the Comments section below to discuss this updated policy; we will read (and appreciate) your thoughts.

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Comments

1

I worked in the newspaper business for five years. Never did any of the newspapers I worked for (three) make such a big production about policy.

Don’t explain, just kick ###.

Posted by iPod, do you? in Lawrence, KS on September 6, 2005 at 3:05 PM (PDT)

2

This site sounds like it’s run by lawyers, not iPod users.

Posted by Beavis Smith on September 6, 2005 at 5:09 PM (PDT)

3

We post our policies conspicuously so that our readers and all companies can be on the same footing. If you prefer not to be informed as to our policies, don’t read the articles labelled as such.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on September 6, 2005 at 5:20 PM (PDT)

4

I think this is a very sensible and responsible attitude to have in response to iPodlounge testers being obviously abused by iPod accessory manufacturers. To have it explained will benefit all who might otherwise be worried. Thanks for going to the effort of explaining this policy adjustment.

Posted by Sailinghome in Hong Kong on September 6, 2005 at 10:53 PM (PDT)

5

Is there any file sharing software for MAC? I just got one and have always enjoyed Limewire on my PC. Please advise…

Rob T

Posted by rst69 on September 6, 2005 at 11:38 PM (PDT)

6

Bravo to Jeremy for laying it all out on the line.  I have found Ilounge to be an honest source of the best information available.  I always read their reviews before purchasing any Ipod related product, and have yet to be disappointed.  Good job, keep up the good work.

Posted by miatachris on September 7, 2005 at 9:22 AM (PDT)

7

It’s unrealistic to expect manufacturers to develop products to suit editorial deadlines. The internet makes it easy for manufacturers to gather customer feedback and improve products, and editorial needs are unlikely to persuade them to give this benefit up. In return for their loyalty, buyers of early products can be offered discounts, or free replacements, as products are improved.

You could argue that ilounge and not manufacturers is to blame for the confusion. What causes the confusion is in part ilounge’s need to be first with reviews. Relying on manufacturers to send products in for review, instead of buying them like everyone else from the shops, does not help.

Being first, rather than tenth or twentieth, to publish a review of a new product is a big advantage in terms of click throughs and ilounge is understandably reluctant to give this up. The first looks format is specifically designed to publish reviews first, often before products are in the shops. By contrast, publications like Consumer Reports wait to buy products from the shops and then take however long it takes to thoroughly test them, before publishing.

I am not saying Consumer Reports is better or worse, but adopting a similar policy on reviews would solve ilounge’s problems with confusing reviews.

Debbie Procter

Posted by wrapper on June 18, 2006 at 3:46 AM (PDT)

8

I think the post above suggests a considerable misunderstanding of iLounge review policy, and the aforementioned policy on revving.

1. The “First Looks format” does not publish reviews first. First Looks are not reviews. They are collections of photographs accompanied by initial impressions of a product, minus ratings and final conclusions.

2. The point of this article was to explain to readers/consumers that companies routinely change products after they are released in stores. As noted, we only review final production hardware - virtually always in final packaging. To suggest that we are to blame in any way for what happens after we review a product is preposterous; to the contrary, it is fairly common for companies to make multiple “in-line” changes to products during their multi-year lifespans, and we simply cannot track all of those changes over time. There are now around 1,000 accessories on the site, and it’s hard enough to add new ones, let alone go back and re-examine all of the old ones.

3. No one is expecting manufacturers to meet our editorial deadlines; we most often review products when they are either in transit to stores or just becoming available to the public, and have very little interest in seeing pre-production, non-representative hardware. In fact, we turn down more chances to “review” unfinished products than we ever discuss. Additionally, that which you see on the site has been reviewed, and thoroughly, as that which is initially available to consumers. To “wait to buy products from the shops” would achieve nothing different - unless by “wait,” you mean “wait until the manufacturer releases second or third revisions of the product.”

4. There is a policy benefit in reviewing products as they initially appear, rather than waiting until the fourth or fifth iteration: this encourages companies to “get it right” the first time rather than dropping sloppily developed products into consumers’ hands with the expectation that the complaints will fall off later. We want our readers to know what to expect, good or bad.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 18, 2006 at 2:56 PM (PDT)

9

Hi Jeremy, That’s an interesting reply. I’ll accept your claim that the point of the article was to explain that companies routinely change products after they are released in stores, although it seems inconceivable that anyone who has bought an iPod or iPod accessories would not already know this. ( I’d put a smilie in here but I don’t know how).

When it comes to the point of First Looks, we’ll have to agree to differ. I still think there’s more commercial benefit for ilounge from running First Looks, than there is clarity for readers. The commercial benefit to ilounge of the First Looks published about two weeks ago on Power Support’s water resistant case for the iPod nano is clear. A search on Google shows lots of other sites have linked to your story, with lots of click throughs for ilounge. The benefit for readers is less obvious. What’s the point of telling readers about a product that isn’t on sale? You run a risk because in featuring the product, you only have the company’s word for what it will be. Power Suppport may decide to change it before releasing it, or may even decide not to launch it at all. As and when the product does go on sale, you could say told you so, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that at the time of publishing First Looks, you only had the company’s word for it and could have misinformed your readers when what you want is for readers to ‘know what to expect, good or bad’.

I’m not saying that you’re trying to dupe your readers: I know your intention is to provide independent, well researched editorial. The reality is, you face enormous pressure to be first to publish and like any good editor, you’ll break a leg to beat your competitors, except rather than breaking a leg you have First Looks.

I was interested by the points you made about thorough reviews and the impact of your reviews on manufacturers. How do you decide what a thorough review is? Is two weeks long enough? I read your review of iGlaze for iPod video, which you tested for two weeks and found problems with the bond formed by the adhesive with the iPod. If the company uses the same adhesive on iGlaze for iPod nano, did you not test this for two weeks and only discover the problems from your extended review of the video version? And did you publish a First Looks on iGlaze, it doesn’t show up in search results on the site? If you’ve removed it, why?

When you say there’s a policy benefit from reviewing products as they first appear, I’d be interested to read which manufacturers have stopped dropping sloppily developed products into consumers hands with the expectation that the complaints will fall off later as a result of ilounge’s editorial policy?

Best wishes

Debbie Procter

Posted by wrapper on June 23, 2006 at 8:44 PM (PDT)

10

Debbie:

1. “...it seems inconceivable that anyone who has bought an iPod or iPod accessories would not already know this.” If the point of your smile was to suggest that you’re kidding about this, okay, but really, virtually no average reader knows that.

2. “What’s the point of telling readers about a product that isn’t on sale?” To make two points that may or may not be obvious already: first, we don’t sell this stuff. iLounge isn’t a store, and we’re not here to push products on people. Our goal is to provide timely information on products in the marketplace, focusing on items we think are innovative and/or interesting.

Second, the “marketplace” as we see it is larger than just one country, and iLounge is read all across the world. The company you cite, Power Support happens to be a Japanese company with a U.S. subsidiary. The water resistant/Splash case and mirror/Illusion case are both available from Power Support in Japan, but were delayed for posting on the company’s U.S. site. So this isn’t a case of “taking a company’s word for it” - we have final product in our hands. Why cover it now? See above: because we found it interesting and wanted to share it with our readers.

3. You’ve made three assumptions about “commercial benefits for iLounge,” “lots of click throughs for iLounge,” and “enormous pressure to be first.” I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but you’re really not on target with any of these things. First, if “commercial benefit” was our goal, there are certain strategic changes we could make that would benefit us far more commercially. Second, we really don’t get “lots of click throughs” for First Looks pieces. Third, none of us feels “enormous pressure” for anything around here. Ask Dennis - this is a lounge, not some pressure cooker, and we don’t obsess over click throughs, commercial benefit, etc. Really.

4. Please don’t make assumptions about what I will and will not personally do in pursuit of my job (“break a leg”). You don’t know me or my motivations. On that note, I think it’s time now for you to divulge your profession and interest in all of this. You seem way too concerned to be anything less than a personally interested party.

5. There are three stages of iLounge editorial coverage of iPod accessories. The first stage is an entry into our accessories guide, which is data-based and generally opinion-free. The second stage is a First Look or “preview,” which is photo- and text-based, mostly factual and low on opinions except on occasion. The third and final stage is a review, which has photos, facts, opinions, and generally test results. The initial entry morphs into a preview, then into a review. So when you ask “where’s First Looks for iGlaze,” the answer is, “it evolved into a review, and that’s our final word on the topic.”

6. We decide what’s thorough on an item-by-item basis. The problem with the iGlaze video specifically was a combination of the strength of adhesive, surface area of adhesive, and the response of the Click Wheel on the 5G iPod. We didn’t see the same problem on the nano version.

7. You’d be surprised by the number of companies that have come to us and said specifically that they’ve worked hard to get a sequel product right because of concerns over the iLounge review they’d receive with obvious defects. To name just one from the last three days, Better Energy Systems told us, in reference to its new nano cases:

“Based on your feedback we improved the design of these cases to make them more protective…”

In this case, we saw the product ahead of release, and provided comments that would help improve it before it got into consumers’ hands. Our goal is to see people have good experiences with their iPods and accessories, and we do what we can to help this happen.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 24, 2006 at 1:25 PM (PDT)

11

Good read on the policy. Nice to see someone’s finally giving a good description of revving and putting it out in the open.

Although I must say to Debbie -

This is a freakin’ iPod accessory review site, not CNN or the AP. Stop busting the guy’s balls and appreciate the reviews, jeez.

Posted by jdandison on September 4, 2008 at 10:57 AM (PDT)

12

Yeah Debbie! BOO! (to 2.5 years into the past)
Give Jeremy (and everyone else) a break.

Posted by Elliott Scott on November 25, 2008 at 12:26 AM (PDT)

13

I know I’m replying to an old issue here, but I’ve reached the conclusion that your anti-revving policy hurts the consumer, as I have learned first-hand recently.  Preventing addendums to established reviews leaves me doubting the reliability and accuracy of ANY review posted on your site. 

A few weeks ago, I read a review of the XtremeMac InCharge FM.  Its favorable review here made it seem like exactly what I was looking for, especially since it was apparently able to tune to 87.9fm.  After reading the review here, I decided to take the plunge and purchase one, only to discover that it DOES NOT tune to 87.9 after all, and isn’t powerful enough to work satisfactorily on any other frequencies in our over-saturated area.  So I wasted $50 on a transmitter that doesn’t do what I need it to do—an addendum, perhaps even submitted by a reader, something as simple as “(as of x/x/xx, the transmitters sold no longer tune below 88.0fm in compliance with new FCC regulations)” could have really helped me out here.

By way of comparison, look at the way WebBikeWorld—which reviews motorcycle gear—handles their reviews.  They post addendums, updates, owner comments, even rebuttals/explanations/etc from the manufacturer.  The result is a wealth of well-organized, up-to-date information that leaves me feeling like a savvy, informed consumer instead of like a fool.

Please think about updating your policy.  Outdated, inaccurate reviews will only cause readers frustration.

Posted by Jinkeez in Buffalo, NY, USA on January 21, 2009 at 1:47 PM (PDT)

14

I can not play my iPod Classic 120 GB (Black) on TV through the iPod AV-USB-Video cable. Neither photos nor video. What to do?

Posted by Dr. Mohamad Sultan on May 18, 2009 at 5:53 AM (PDT)

15

As a consumer (and one who really appreciates your reviews) I appreciate the stand you are attempting to take with mfgs.  I do believe that the accuracy of reviews would be improved by including model numbers of the items.  In some instances this would also help with revving as many mfgs make subtle changes to model numbers.

It would also help with items like the Belkin TuneBase you mentioned.  It’s difficult to tell the iPod and iPhone versions apart - especially when the paid advertising on the review of the iPhone model links to retailers selling the iPod. 

Being able to know the specific model number being reviewed would be helpful for both revving issues and purchasing decisions.

Posted by John Richardson on July 11, 2009 at 7:03 PM (PDT)

16

Je cherche le clear boost pour i phone 4s

Posted by Bourgouin on December 1, 2011 at 3:33 PM (PDT)

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