Tough break on getting that new iPod

Apple's music players prove so popular that they are hard to find

December 27, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - You're probably reclining in digital contentment under the tree, snuggling with your shiny new iPod.

No?

Join the club. Around the globe, gadget lovers who hoped to get one are learning that Apple Computer's diminutive music players are in short supply. Many electronics stores said they had sold all but the most expensive models - which prompted some shoppers to spend $500 for the high-end iPod rather than do without.

The scarcity of the iPod, a white, digital music player about the size of a computer mouse, affirms its status as the It-Thing, the technology industry's answer to Pilates and Orlando Bloom. Oprah, Moby and 50 Cent like it. At 5.6 ounces, it's an inanimate celebrity.

"We've been running around for the past couple of days trying to find it," said Joey Balinski, 16, looking downcast after coming up iPodless at another store. "I would have asked for it for Christmas a couple of years ago, but I figured by now it would be easier to find."

Alas, it's not. By afternoon on Christmas Eve, Joey and his father, Joey Sr., had searched Circuit City, two Apple Stores, a Best Buy and a Fry's Electronics - and they were headed to another Best Buy.

The Balinski men's feet might have been weary, but their resolve remained strong. "We'll keep going until we find it," Balinski Sr. declared.

One caveat, though: They were searching for the $300 or $400 model, and had passed over a few iPods with 40 gigabytes of storage for $500. "With what you pay for a 40-gigabyte iPod, you could get a whole computer," he said.

Carl Mannheimer, expressed a similar sentiment. "I'd probably do the 20, and that's what they're out of," he said.

He was looking for an iPod to store his jazz, Black Sabbath and Eagles tunes and his datebook. It was his third trip to the Apple Store looking for one.

Though Apple expected the iPod to be popular, its success seems to have outdone the company's lofty hopes. In Apple's annual report to investors last week, the company said it sold about 939,000 iPods in the 12 months to October; it sold 381,000 the year before.

"It still beat our overestimating expectations," said Kawika Holbrook, assistant manager at the Apple Store at Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair in Santa Clara, Calif., noting that his store had sold thousands since Thanksgiving.

Plus, fate may have conspired against a few iPod lovers. A large FedEx MD-10 airplane that caught fire Thursday in Memphis, Tenn., had a load of iPods, Holbrook said.

"The picture was being passed around the Net, and we were like, `No!'" he said.

Apple has not said whether any iPods were damaged, or whether that affected late-season availability.

It might be worthwhile for late iPod shoppers to wait a couple of weeks. Apple's biggest event of the year, Macworld San Francisco, begins Jan. 6, and industry watchers expect that Apple will either drop the iPod's price or add features.

Demand appears poised to stay high, despite some disgruntled users. A San Francisco law firm filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, on behalf of iPod owners whose built-in batteries have died. The plaintiffs seek free battery replacements, legal fees and a few other concessions.

"It's been selling extremely well," said Brett Boxwell, general manager at a Best Buy. "With downloading technology it's been extremely popular. Some stores ran out."

Boxwell's store had one 40-gigabyte model left in the display case at 1:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. By 1:40 p.m. it was gone.

IPod's competitors also seemed to do well this year - two 40-gigabyte players from Creative were in the case, but none of the cheaper models.

"I'm considering buying one," said Diep Le, who was at Best Buy picking up a protective case for her father's iPod. She said she had trouble finding accessories for the iPod, which her father has had for six months.

Despite the shortage, she said, the iPod has an edge over similar models from Creative and Dell.

"For a lot of people, the iPod seems more portable, and it's trendy right now," Le said. "They did a good job marketing it."

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