Executive Summary: With readers ranging in age from 7 to 77, iLounge is committed to providing family-friendly and respectable editorial content and advertising. Effective immediately, iLounge will enforce site-wide policies on dangerous iPod accessories, knock-offs, and questionable vendor business practices in an effort to help our readers have the best possible experiences with their iPods and accessories.
As the world’s leading independent publication on iPod portable media devices, iLounge is concerned first and foremost with the interests of its readers, and is not affiliated with Apple Computer or the manufacturers of any third-party iPod accessories.
Since our founding in 2001, iLounge has catered to readers aged 7 to 77, and maintained contacts with iPod accessory vendors located across the globe. Because of these contacts and our reputation for objective, honest reporting, we have been blessed with the unique opportunity to learn about and test literally hundreds of iPod-related products. We review the majority of those products in our pages and “recommend” (B+ or B grade) or “highly recommend” (A or A- grade) the best of them to our readers.
There are some products, however, that we have deliberately declined to recommend or cover for various reasons. We do not like, recommend, or cover every product we receive, and do occasionally rate products with B- and lower grades. Our C ratings are reserved for average products, while D+ and D grades have generally gone to below-average ones. This update to our readers concerns the worst of those products – ones meriting D and lower grades – and discusses our policies on such products going forward.
The Larger the Room, the More Anonymous the People
The marketplace for iPod accessories – shorthanded as “the iPod economy” – has grown dramatically since 2001, and particularly over the past two years. While numerous reputable companies have entered the marketplace with well-made, original, and well-supported products, a handful of companies have sought to exploit consumers, other companies, and positive iPod media attention with a variety of harmful products and practices. Until now, these companies have largely operated under the radar, causing problems that iLounge’s editors may hear about and/or experience but generally do not publicize.
After several months of consultations with readers and vendors, iLounge has drafted editorial policies that address the most disturbing trends to emerge in the iPod marketplace: first, the proliferation of potentially dangerous iPod accessories; second, the alleged cloning of certain well-known accessories by knock-off manufacturers; and third, disreputable and/or illegal conduct by certain vendors of iPod accessories. While adopting such policies may modestly limit our editorial coverage and advertising, we believe that they are the responsible and appropriate response to the trust our readers have placed in us since our founding.
Dangerous iPod Accessories
What is a “dangerous” iPod accessory? One that can harm your iPod, itself, or you when used in the manner described in its advertising and/or instructions. Though many of the iPod accessories sold today have been tested to guarantee their safety and compatibility with all iPod hardware, some have not. iLounge is particularly concerned with Dock Connector accessories that are marketed as low-cost iPod 3G/4G/mini/photo battery packs, chargers, or cables.
We have tested and also received reader reports of these dangerous accessories. As just one example, a reader recently wrote to us because an USB data and charging cable he purchased had allegedly destroyed his iPod, and the vendor refused to take full responsibility for the defect. And we ourselves have tested products that make their own batteries – and likely the iPod’s internal components – sizzle from underregulated use of electric power.
Untested or undertested charging and cable accessories are most commonly sold by small retailers at “too good to be true” prices, and are either branded with the small retailer’s name or not branded at all.
They are most often sold without an explicit warranty and/or with an aggressive disclaimer that the vendor takes no responsibility for damage that may occur as a result of the product’s use. Occasionally even reputable vendors have been convinced to carry these products by unscrupulous business partners. Regardless of whether the manufacturer or retailer knows of the dangers caused by the products they sell, they are in most circumstances responsible to their customers for those dangers.
Perhaps in response to these accessories, Apple Computer has recently initiated the “Made for iPod” program, which we reported on from San Francisco last month. “Made for iPod” appears to be a licensing and certification process that will let customers know that Apple has tested and approved specific electronic accessory products. Vendors will pay a fee to have their accessories certified as “Made for iPod,” and thus their products will likely cost a bit more than others. However, the extra cost may be worthwhile to consumers if the products are guaranteed to be iPod-safe.
Starting immediately, iLounge’s policy on all iPod Dock Connecting accessories is as follows:
(1) If a Dock Connector-equipped accessory has been certified by Apple as “Made for iPod”, we will textually note it as such in our information box at the top of a product review. We ask that vendors inform us whenever their products qualify for this designation, and additionally in the event that any or all of their products no longer qualify.
(2) We will also post a conspicuous link to a Made for iPod information page so that our readers know the stated difference(s) between Made for iPod products and others.
(3) We will henceforth rate any potentially dangerous product we receive with a letter grade of F, and any defective product we test with a letter grade of D-. Our D+ and D grades will continue to be reserved for products that are markedly below-average in design or functionality. Any product previously or inconsistently rated with these letter grades will be adjusted to reflect this change.
(4) As iLounge may receive products for testing that have been hand-picked by vendors as non-defective or less dangerous samples, we will contact a manufacturer to discuss any product that receives verified complaints of defects or dangerous components from five iLounge readers, and reserve the right to conspicuously re-rate such a product to reflect readers’ concerns.
(5) We reserve the right to deny editorial coverage and/or advertising space to any product that we believe is dangerous or defective, but will continue to cover and objectively evaluate products that are safe and do not violate any other iLounge editorial policy, regardless of their Made for iPod designations or lack thereof.
(6) Finally, we will actively recommend to our readers that they exercise extreme caution before purchasing accessories that have not been properly tested for iPod compatibility and safety.
Cloning of iPod Accessories by Knock-Off Makers
A number of iPod accessory innovations are directly attributable to specific companies, with designs so distinctive that any informed person would recognize their “look and feel” as one company’s innovation. But recently, knock-off manufacturers have been cloning some of these distinctive designs, dramatically reducing the quality of materials used in the original products, and selling the clones for as little as 30% of the originals’ prices. One vendor contacted us recently to say that a clone was being sold on eBay under the same name as its products, and customers who bought the clones had called to complain and request replacements.
In drafting a policy on cloned accessories, iLounge has taken into account three key considerations. First, we cannot police eBay or the entire web for cloned products, but we can control what we feature on our own site. Second, we do not want to help knock-off artists profit at the expense of companies that have expended time and effort in the design of original, quality iPod accessories. Third, we do not want to become either an arbiter of business/legal disputes over patents or other abstract forms of creative invention, and will therefore limit our policy to a narrowly defined class of “clones.”
Starting immediately, iLounge’s policy on cloned iPod accessories is as follows:
(1) For purposes of this policy, a “clone” is any product that conspicuously duplicates the overall look and feel of a directly competing product.
The use of similar materials (i.e. plastic, metal, glass, rubber, or fabric) without other similiarities shall not constitute cloning. Cloning shall not be equivalent to alleged patent infringement, and iLounge will not act as an arbiter of patent or other rights between vendors.
(2) iLounge reserves the right to deny editorial coverage and/or advertising space to any company that sells cloned products.
(3) Any vendor that believes its product has been cloned may request that iLounge not provide editorial coverage of the cloned product. Please contact Dennis Lloyd ([email protected]) with any such request. However, iLounge reserves the right to determine the scope and nature of its editorial coverage, and shall have final discretion over whether and how to cover the product(s) in dispute.
(4) This policy is not retroactive and will only cover products first sold on or after February 1, 2005.
Disreputable and/or Illegal Conduct by Vendors
Most of the vendors selling iPod accessories are honest people with reasonable business practices and customer service policies. But a handful of vendors are less honest, reasonable, and customer service-oriented than the rest. Having had bad experiences with vendors ourselves, iLounge’s editors have wanted to help our readers avoid the same problems.
We more than occasionally hear from readers who have been sent incorrect or broken products, or never received their products at all. Worse yet, readers have complained that certain vendors do not answer e-mail and/or telephone messages, including repeated requests for post-order assistance, and in some cases refuse to honor their advertised performance specifications, pricing, or warranties.
We’ve already refused advertising space to some of these businesses, but that’s not enough. The same people hope to use our unpaid editorial coverage of their products to generate sales, and now there’s a new twist. In an attempt to generate controversy and attention, certain individuals are currently marketing iPod accessories that feature illegal narcotics, and have sought publicity in venues frequented by young readers – directly or indirectly including iLounge. We have refused to publicize or permit our editorial space or discussion forums to be used to publicize these products, but again, a further commitment is necessary.
While iLounge is firmly committed to the freedoms of trade and speech, we strongly oppose the abuse of those freedoms by companies that take advantage of their customers, either violating or encouraging the violation of laws. Editorially, we want to provide our readers with the best possible coverage of the iPod and iPod accessories – occasionally including news stories about iPod oddities and interesting cultural developments. But we have no obligation whatsoever to post materials or recommend vendors that we believe are not in iLounge’s or our readers’ best interests, and particularly refuse to direct attention to people or businesses that engage in questionable or illegal practices just because they’ve evoked the iPod name.
For these reasons, we have drafted the following policy regarding vendors that engage in or encourage disreputable or illegal conduct.
(1) iLounge reserves the right to limit or deny editorial coverage to any vendor that engages in, promotes, or encourages disreputable or illegal conduct.