Although Apple’s portable media devices have always been renowned for their ease-of-use, the unfortunate reality is that like any other electronic device, sometimes things don’t work quite the way that they should. These problems can be caused by anything from actual hardware defects in the device to more straightforward software-related problems that can be fixed with a little bit of understanding and effort on the part of the end user.
Further, the iPod, iPhone and iPad have spawned a massive accessory market, and although there are certainly many lower-end accessories out there, even accessories from the best and most reputable companies can sometimes encounter problems.
This article is intended to assist our readers with some useful information and resources about exactly what to do and who to contact when you are having problems with your iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes, or third-party accessories. Although not intended to be an in-depth article on troubleshooting problems, we provide some basic information on how to determine if you have a software or a hardware problem, and some information on how to report these problems and hopefully get them resolved.
Diagnosing your Situation
At some point just about every user is going to discover that their device isn’t working quite as it should. This could be anything from sound quality problems (sometimes exhibited by “skipping” or sound distortion when playing back files), missing or corrupted information on the device (tracks don’t show up properly), or complete failure (the device doesn’t come on, or displays an error message instead of showing the main menu).
Apple maintains a fairly detailed step-by-step guide to working through some these basic problems, and the first step that should be taken should always be to work through the iPod troubleshooting assistant, which covers all past and current iPod models and will take you through the stages of solving most common issues. While Apple does not provide a comparable troubleshooting assistant for the iPhone and iPad, many basic problems with these devices can be solved by using the same principles.
The exact steps used by the troubleshooting assistant will vary depending on your device model, but Apple traditionally has boiled these down to what it used to call the “Five R’s”—Reset, Retry, Restart, Reinstall, and Restore.
Generally, these “Five Rs” are sufficient to address most software-specific issues, since by the time you’ve gone through the entire process, you’ve effectively erased your iPod, returning it to factory default “out-of-the-box” settings, and reloaded your content onto it. If your issue was being caused by a problem with the iPod’s internal database or the way content has been stored on it, then it is very likely that this will have solved the issue.
Also keep in mind that even problems that may seem hardware-related are not necessarily so. We have observed many cases where a simple reset of the iPod (the first of the Five Rs) has fixed problems such as stuck hold switches, Click Wheel buttons that do not respond properly or unresponsive home or volume buttons on iOS devices.
The ability to quickly restore an iPod, iPhone or iPad in the event of problems is also a major benefit to using automatic synchronization of your iPod content and maintaining your iTunes library on your computer. In this case, a restore is an extremely simple process, generally only involving the time required to wait for your device to be restored from a backup and reloaded. On the other hand, if you’re managing your content manually and not maintaining a library on your computer, you will need to backup your iPod before restoring it (our guide on Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer can assist in this process).
For iOS devices—the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch—synchronizing to iTunes for a full restore is often faster and sometimes more important even in the era of iCloud. While iCloud can restore your applications and data, only purchased music will be reloaded onto your device, unless you also subscribe to iTunes Match. Other types of content such as audiobooks, movies and TV shows can only be automatically restored from iTunes, however.
Specific information on this process can be found at the following links:
In the very least, this process is intended to eliminate the obvious causes of most iPod, iPhone and iPad problems. Once you’ve gone through this process, including reloading your content completely from iTunes, if you are still having problems, there are usually only three other likely possibilities.
1. A problem with your media content
The possibility always exists that the content may be the problem. This is especially true if you are encountering playback problems such as skipping within tracks or audio distortion, but can also manifest itself in the form of missing tracks or even lockups and/or spontaneous restarts of the device while playing back content.
The obvious first step in this case is to play back the content on your computer to see if the same problem exists. If so, then this may simply be a case of improperly encoded content or other problems with the media files
However, it is not uncommon for content that plays back fine on your computer to have problems playing back on your device. If this problem persists, even after the Five Rs above, there may still be a problem with that particular content. Some iPod models have been known to have problems with content encoded at odd bit-rates or from certain third-party encoders.
Content playback problems are most common with video content, since there are a wide variety of different encoders and options available, and iTunes does not provide a direct conversion method for most types of video content. It is not uncommon, however, to encounter encoding problems with audio content as well.
The best way to confirm that it is not your content is to attempt to either download a track from the iTunes Store (there are free downloads available), or, in the case of music, rip a CD through iTunes into MP3 or AAC format. If content downloaded from the iTunes Store and/or content you’ve ripped yourself through iTunes plays properly, then the problem is likely your files themselves, and not a physical defect with the device.
Note that making this determination is important, since if you return a device to Apple for service, the first thing they are going to do is erase it and load it with standard content from their own library. If this content plays properly, then your device will be returned to you with no problems found.
While traditional iPods are more seriously affected by potential content problems, iOS devices are not entirely immune to this problem, although the increased capability of an iOS device will generally make it somewhat more obvious whether the problem is content or device-related; if only playback within the Music or Videos apps are affected while your games run fine, then it’s much more likely the problem is with your content.
Similarly, applications on an iOS device are normally “sandboxed” in such a way as to not affect the rest of the system. It’s very uncommon for a rogue application to cause device-wide problems, although some exceptions exist for apps that are allowed to run in the background such as audio, navigation or voice-over-IP applications. Rebooting your device will generally clear these processes, however, or you can force them to close from the multitasking tray by following Apple’s instructions in iOS: Force an app to close. If the problem goes away when a particular app is closed, then you should check the settings for that particular application or even remove and reinstall it if necessary.
2. A problem with your computer
There is of course always the chance that your computer could be the problem as well. Apple’s own troubleshooting assistant suggests using a different USB port, and in particular avoiding a connection through any kind of a USB hub. However, if at all possible, try going through the restore process and reloading your device on a completely different computer—perhaps a computer at work or a friend’s place. This will help to determine if the problem is your computer (or your particular iTunes installation), or a problem with the device.
It’s also not a bad idea to try a different USB cable if you have one available, just to ensure that the cable is not the problem. If you are using a third-party dock or cable, be sure to test your original Apple cable to ensure that the problem is not the third-party accessory. If the device works fine with the original USB cable, the problem is likely the third-party accessory, and should be addressed with that particular manufacturer rather than Apple.
Computer-related problems are usually manifested as problems with the device being identified by the computer in the first place, or problems syncing and transferring content, including content not appearing properly, or all of your content suddenly disappearing after a sync. However, computer communication problems can also sometimes be responsible for corruption of data on the device, which can manifest itself on an iPod as distorted audio, skipping tracks, or lockups and reboots on an iPod when playing back these tracks or even simply navigating your library. Although this second situation is much more rare, it can and has happened. Note that iOS devices are a bit more immune to this sort of corruption problem due to the way that synchronization is handled with iTunes.
One important side note: For the iPod classic and nano, and former traditional iPod devices, do NOT disconnect your iPod while it’s showing the “Do Not Disconnect” screen. It is important to understand when syncing your iPod that iTunes copies the content first, and then updates the database on the iPod. Disconnecting the iPod before this database has been updated can most definitely result in newly-added tracks not showing up at best, or a seemingly blank iPod at the worst. Further, it can result in issues with the iPod database that may not even manifest themselves immediately. If the iPod will not eject properly for some reason, try shutting down and/or restarting your computer instead. Note that this is not an issue with iOS devices as they use a different sync protocol that does not rely on iTunes to write directly to the on-device databases.
Regardless of whether the issue is with your computer or the on-device database, the Five Rs performed on a different computer will likely resolve the issue.
3. A problem with your device hardware
As Sherlock Holmes once said, “Once you’ve eliminated the impossible, what ever remains must be the truth. No matter how improbable.”
If you’ve gone through the Five Rs, and you’ve eliminated the content or the computer as a potential source of the problem, it is very likely that the device is in some way defective. This could be a hardware problem with your specific device, or possibly a known bug in the actual firmware or iOS version.
If your device is exhibiting major problems, such as a failure to startup, frequent spontaneous rebooting, or lockups, then chances are it’s more than a firmware glitch or known bug and the unit itself may be defective.
However, if you’re experiencing a more minor issue, it could very well be a known bug, particularly if you’ve recently updated your firmware or iOS version via iTunes. Our own iLounge Discussion Forums are always a good starting point to see if anybody else is having similar problems, in which case it may not be your device specifically, but just a problem in a recent firmware update.
Note that with traditional iPod models you can also check this by downgrading your firmware. This can be done by going through the “Restore” process in iTunes, but holding down the OPT key (Mac) or SHIFT key (Windows) while clicking the “Restore” button for your iPod. This will prompt you as to which firmware package you want to choose, and you can select the previous firmware. Being a restore, this will of course wipe out everything on your iPod, but it will also replace your current firmware version with a previous release, provided you already have it downloaded. Note that it is not possible to downgrade the firmware on an iOS device without resorting to much more advanced “hacking” methods.
If you’re having a problem with an iOS device, one additional troubleshooting step that may be worth trying is to restore your device back to
If however, this is more than just a known bug, or the problems are severe, it will be time to look at getting your device serviced.
Many users choose to “jailbreak” their iPhone, iPod touch or iPad in order to install third-party applications that are not available through Apple’s App Store. Many of these applications take the form of system extensions or “hacks” that allow your device to do things that are not normally permitted by Apple, such as using a different home screen system. Unfortunately, many of these third-party unofficial “hacks” will leave preference settings and other files behind that will still be included in your standard iOS device backups. Even if you restoring to a factory state without re-jailbreaking and restore your iOS backup from iTunes, remnants of the previous jailbreak will likely still be present on your device and may create problems. In this case, the only way to guarantee that you have a “clean” device is to restore to factory settings and effectively start from scratch without restoring your previous backup.
If your device is less than a year old, or if you have purchased AppleCare for it, you can get it fixed under warranty either by visiting an Apple Store or contacting Apple using the information that can be found on their support site at http://www.apple.com/support/contact.
Note that you do not have to have purchased your device from Apple in order to take it into an Apple Store or contact them by phone for service. As Apple is the manufacturer, they will cover warranty repairs on your device regardless of where you purchased it.
If you are unsure whether your device is still covered under its original warranty or an AppleCare extended warranty, you can confirm your status by visiting Apple’s Support Site at www.apple.com/support, selecting Check Your Service and Support Coverage and simply entering your serial number:
Note that you can find your serial number either in the iTunes Summary screen that is displayed when your device is connected, in the Settings, About screen on the device, or by squinting at the back of the device.
Keep in mind that a warranty is, by definition, a guarantee against manufacturer’s defects and problems that occur during the normal course of use. If you have mishandled your device in any way, such as dropping it, immersing it in water, or otherwise using it outside of normal parameters, your warranty may be void, even if such accidental damage was not your fault. The point is that a warranty is not insurance.
Note that if you have purchased AppleCare for your device and registered it with Apple, this will be indicated in your support coverage information. AppleCare will be automatically registered if purchased with your device from Apple; if you have purchased an AppleCare retail box from a third party you may need to register it yourself at http://www.apple.com/support/applecare. From here you can also view a list of all of your AppleCare agreements by selecting the “View” option and signing in with your Apple ID.
Documentation—The Journal of Irreproducible Results
In the event that your device needs to be serviced, one of the most important things you can have on-hand is detailed information on the nature of the problem and what you have specifically done to diagnose or fix it. In many cases, this can save a technician needless troubleshooting, as well as support your case and demonstrate that you have taken some basic steps to confirm that the device is in fact non-functional. The more information you have available, the more likely your case will be resolved quickly. This is especially true when visiting an Apple Store in person for service.
In other words, documentation that details the exact symptoms of a problem and conditions under which it occurs is usually much more helpful than just broad statements. For example, compare the following two statements:
“My iPod doesn’t work. It’s locking up all the time. I don’t know what’s wrong!”
as opposed to:
“When I connect my iPod to my computer to sync new content to it, it copies between 400 and 500 tracks and then locks up, after approximately five minutes. When I disconnect it and look at it, there’s nothing on it. I have tried to connect it to different USB ports and even different computers with the same problem, and I have tried synchronizing different content to it, with the same results each time. I am using the latest version of iTunes, and I have restored and updated the iPod several times.”
Which of these statements is more useful and more likely to get you the assistance you need?
There is also always the dreaded possibility that a problem may not be reproducible on demand, which can make it difficult for the Apple Store Genius to confirm that the device does in fact need to be repaired or replaced. Detailed documentation on when and under what conditions the problem occurs can help your case in this situation, particularly if you can demonstrate that the problem has occurred repeatedly and is not just a “one-off” type of occurrence. There is no guarantee that this will be sufficient if the problem is intermittent, but it can certainly help to show that you’ve taken some steps on your own in troubleshooting the problem, and likely with some persistence the unit can be repaired or replaced.
In short, make sure you keep note of what happened when you went through the Five Rs process, the process of confirming that your content was not the problem, and that your computer was not the problem. The Genius will still likely want to attempt to reproduce the problem on their own systems, which is why it is even more important to ensure that you have gone through this process yourself. If the problem is your content or your computer, is is likely that the Apple Genius will find no fault with the device under their testing conditions, and you will have wasted both your time and theirs.
Note that when sending in your device or visiting an Apple Store, the normal approach is to replace the unit rather than repair it. Make sure you have a backup of whatever is on your iPod, iPhone or iPad before bringing it in or sending it in, since even if the Genius doesn’t wipe the device clean during testing, if there is a problem found, you’re likely going to get a replacement unit.
These replacement units are normally not new retail boxes, but rather refurbished “service units” that the Apple Store keeps on hand. They will swap your unit out for a refurbished unit, and send your original device in for repair or disposal, depending upon the severity of the problem. If your device can be repaired, it will likely become a refurbished “service unit” for somebody else in the future, or simply be sold off as refurbished stock at a discounted price.
The replacement unit that you receive will have the same warranty expiry date as your original device, or up to 90 days from the date of replacement, whichever is longer. Refurbished units that are purchased from an Apple Store do carry the same one-year warranty as a new iPod, however, and are eligible for AppleCare.
AppleCare—Is it worth it?
AppleCare is Apple’s own extended service plan—similar to an extended warranty although with a few minor additional benefits such as extended telephone support for setup and configuration problems. The most significant part, however, is that it extends the original warranty for an additional year. It can be purchased at any time during your device’s initial one-year warranty period (you do not have to buy it at the same time as you buy the device), and it is transferrable to somebody else in the event that you sell or give away your device.
AppleCare sells for $59 for an iPod touch or iPod classic, $39 for an iPod nano or shuffle, and $29 for an Apple TV. An enhanced version, AppleCare+, is sold for the iPhone and iPad; it’s $99 for either device, and includes coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage in addition to all of the other benefits of the standard AppleCare program. Basic AppleCare is not available for the iPhone and iPad; users must opt for the more expensive AppleCare+ even if they simply only want an extended warranty.
So is any of this worth it? There is much debate about this, but it largely depends upon how you plan to use your device and how long you think you’re going to keep it. Remember, though, that with standard AppleCare you do not have to make the purchase up-front—you can buy it at any time up to the day the original one-year warranty expires. Even AppleCare+ can be bought after the initial device purchase, but you have only 30 days and will need to bring your iPhone or iPad into an Apple Store for inspection to confirm that there is no pre-existing damage.
As a rule of thumb, users with an active lifestyle and a hard-drive based iPod model will likely find AppleCare a reasonable investment. The hard drive is a moving part, and is the most likely point of failure in any iPod model, particularly if it is used as part of an active lifestyle (walking, running, cycling, etc). iPod nano and shuffle owners are less likely to find this to be an issue, and the lower replacement cost of these devices may more easily justify taking the risk—a $39 AppleCare package on a $49 iPod shuffle doesn’t really make a lot of sense unless you really want the extended telephone support options.
AppleCare also provides for battery replacement should your battery’s actual life drop below 50% of Apple’s published specifications during the coverage period.
Note that the standard AppleCare plan is still not insurance—merely extended warranty and phone support coverage. Much like the original warranty, damage caused to the iPod through either neglect or simple accidental damage is not covered.
The AppleCare+ version for the iPhone and iPad adds the additional benefit of coverage for up to two incidents of accidental damage such as dropping your device or immersing it in water, reducing the cost of replacement to $49 per incident from the normal cost of $149 – $299.
AppleCare should generally be looked at in comparison to extended warranty options that may be available from other retailers. The major advantage to standard AppleCare, however, is that you can decide to purchase it at any time during the original warranty period—or within the first thirty days in the case of AppleCare+—whereas most retailers require you to purchase their extended warranty at the time of sale.
Out of Warranty Repairs
So what if your device is out of warranty, either due to its age or because of actual damage to the device? In this case, Apple themselves can still repair your device for a fee, but you may also want to consider any number of other third-party repair services.
A list of repair services can be found in our Company Directory, under the “Repair / Battery Replacement Services” section. Note that the inclusion of a repair service in this list does not indicate an endorsement by iLounge and the normal common sense approach to purchases by Internet, phone or mail should be applied. A discussion of service and repair issues and feedback from our readers about different services can also be found in our Service & Repair Forum in our iLounge Discussion Forums.
The same basic troubleshooting principles apply to third-party accessories as for an iPod, iPhone or iPad, although these are often much simpler to troubleshoot. As mentioned above, if the device is displaying issues, always try it without the third-party accessory to see if that may be the cause of the problem. Many retail stores, including Apple Stores, provide floor model display units. If your particular speaker system is on display at a store, this can be a good way of troubleshooting your problem as well—simply bring your iPod, iPhone or iPad with you and try it out on a display model to see if the same problem occurs.
Note that Apple does not provide any support or service for problems with third-party accessories. Generally, if the device works fine without the third-party accessory, then Apple considers it to be in a working state and will not address the issue further. Exceptions of course would be problems such as audio output from the Dock Connector, which could easily be demonstrated on multiple accessories from different manufacturers. If a problem is occurring with a third-party accessory, however, the specific manufacturer of that accessory should be the first point of contact.
Our Company Directory mentioned above also includes contact information and web sites for a large number of third-party iPod, iPhone and iPad accessory manufacturers. Warranty and repair policies will vary between manufacturers, and the original manufacturer’s warranty and their support site should provide additional information in this regard.
Note that our iLounge Reviews also provide useful pre-purchase information on a wide variety of accessories. Chances are that an accessory with a positive review should be relatively problem-free and have minimal compatibility issues, although obviously there is still always the possibility of a defective unit from even the best manufacturers.
Reporting Bugs and Feature Requests
Lastly, for those users who encounter actual bugs in iTunes or in their iPod or iOS firmware, or simply would like to make a suggestion to Apple for something that could be implemented differently, Apple provides a useful set of feedback links for iTunes and each iPod, iPhone and iPad model. These can be found at http://www.apple.com/feedback.
Note that feature requests are a matter of subjective opinion, and although Apple reads all of these, its difficult to say what kind of process is used to evaluate them. Bug reports, on the other hand, are definitely reviewed and usually fixed in future updates, particularly if they are straightforward, well-documented and reproducible.
Obviously if you are having a problem specific to your own device, you should not simply assume that it’s a bug and report it here, as this is for general reports, not specific repairs or user assistance. However, if you’ve determined that some behavior you’re experiencing is not specific to your device, or has occurred specifically as a result of a new firmware update, then the Bug Reports pages above should at least make Apple aware of the problem so that they can hopefully fix it in a future update. Always keep in mind, however, that Apple cannot fix what they cannot reproduce, so as much detail as you can possibly provide when submitting a bug report is much more useful in allowing Apple to hopefully resolve the problem.
Reporting Problems with iTunes Content
The iTunes Store provides a great source of content for iPod, iPhone and iPad users, but with the staggering amount of content available from the iTunes Store it’s not uncommon to run into a problem with a purchased item from time to time. Problems can include downloads the don’t properly complete, items that are corrupted in some way such as having distorted video or missing audio, or even in some cases an entirely wrong item gets downloaded—a music track by a completely different artist or an episode from a completely different TV show.
Rather than relying on reports made through a web browser, Apple has instead built a facility directly into iTunes for reporting problems such as these. This has the advantage of ensuring that Apple can easily identify the exactly purchased item that is affected. Unfortunately, the feature for reporting these problems isn’t necessarily obvious.
To begin, you need to go to your Apple Account Information screen in the iTunes application to view your iTunes Store purchase history. You can do this by selecting View My Account from the Store menu in iTunes, signing in with your Apple ID and password, and then clicking the “See All” link in the “Purchase History” section of your Account Information screen.
This will display your most recent purchases at the top of the screen, with previous orders summarized below it. You can view the detail for any of your previous orders by clicking on the arrow to the left of the order date.
From here, you can report a problem with any item in your order by clicking on the “Report a Problem” button. A “Report a Problem” link will appear beside each item in that particular order.
Clicking one of the “Report a Problem” links will open up a screen where you can choose the nature of your problem from a drop-down list and enter additional details about your particular problem. iTunes support representatives will contact you via e-mail to respond to your problem report. The usual result is that they will fix the problem on their end if necessary and then place the item in your account download queue to be re-downloaded the next time you connect to the iTunes Store to download other new content or use the Check for Available Downloads option on the Store menu in iTunes.
For more information, be sure to check out our Complete Guide to Using the iTunes Store.