Quality is a promise.

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In response to Seth's odd take on Joe Nocera's rant about iPod product life and Apple's reluctance to even address the issue. Here's some of what Seth had to say:

"Should we be angry when an iPod breaks after two years? Joe Nocera sent Apple a Nastygram in the Times yesterday (reveries).

I think it's misguided.
There's still a business called the Fountain Pen Hospital. When you buy a pen for $100, you expect that maybe you can get it fixed. But pens are now disposable fashion items, not tools that last a lifetime. What Steve Jobs has done, brilliantly, is turned the iPod into a fashion item."

No. What Steve Jobs has done, not so brilliantly, is fail to deliver on his brand's promise of quality.

Should we be unhappy when an ipod breaks after two years? At $200-$300+ a pop and with no moving parts, you bet. iPod isn't a running shoe or a tennis racket or a broom. It isn't subjected to enough abuse to just "break" one day. It shouldn't just fall apart or fail on its own after only two years.

Neither should a Brooks Brothers suit, for that matter. Or a Mont Blanc pen.

That's what cheap junk does: Fall apart on its own. That's the mark of what we like to call a commodity item. Buy cheap, replace often.

iPod isn't a commodity item. It's somewhat of a luxury item. Perhaps more importantly, it's an Apple product.

When I buy Apple, BMW, Canon or Oakley, I don't expect my product to break after only two years. On the contrary. When I buy a brand-name product, I am buying the promise of quality. That's what makes me choose to drop the extra green in the first place.

I own a pair of thirty-year-old Raybans. I own watches that belonged to my grandfather and survived two world wars. I own tweed jackets that are twice my age. They look and work as if they'd been in storage most of their lives. (They haven't. I use them all regularly.)

That's quality.

Here's the thing: If I know that my mp3 player is going to just die on me every 18 months or so, guess what? I'm going to buy something cheaper. Something that will still work well and look good and serve its purpose, but that I won't mind replacing often.

Let me say this again: There's nothing even remotely commodity-like about iPod (and certainly not the pricepoint). If Steve Jobs wants his products to be seen as commodities, he needs to drop the pricepoint to $50. (Funny that eBay pricepoints can be pretty revealing about the true value of a product.)

What I expect out of iPod is the same thing I remember from my old Sony walkmen, back in the 80's: I want to get bored with them long before they'll die on me. I want the option to sell them on eBay or pass them on to my friends or a younger sibling after I've upgraded to a newer model, and know that they'll work well for years. The point is that when I spend $200+ dollars on an mp3 player, I don't expect it to stop working before I am done with it.

Once the quality of an Apple, Nike or Mercedes product begins to resemble that of some cheap POS I could have just as easily bought from a no-name import house, it devalues the brand.

Luxury and fashion aren't synonymous with cheap. Quite the contrary.

A good suit shouldn't come apart at the seams after a year. A good mp3 player shouldn't just die before reaching adulthood. A good pair of optics shouldn't just fall apart after one season.

When we talk about brands, we talk about relationships and promises and expectations. What's the expectation here? What's the promise?

I don't expect my Magnavox TV to implode every five years. I don't expect my VW Passat to need a new engine every 100,000 miles. I don't expect my Canon EOS 20D to need a new sensor after 10,000 photographs.

I don't expect my iPod to just die after two years.

Come on, Seth. Get real, man.

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