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On the subject of laser etching – Chris comments “My son Andrew had his iPod Shuffle engraved. When the Shuffle had an obviously non-related problem (bad phone jack), I took it to the Apple store for warranty replacement. Both Geniuses there took one look and said “No way — the etching voids the warranty.” Long story short, I argued, they stood their ground, I went home and wrote an email to the store manager to prove my case using language from the warranty. He then agreed to replace the iPod.” So there it is, laser away folks. Here is the letter that Chris wrote to prove is laser-etching-is-not-a-warranty-voider…===============================================
Apple Store Manager,

This March I bought for my son a 1GB iPod Shuffle (serial number XXXXXXXXXX) from your store. Some time this week, he noticed that one of the channels wasn’t playing, and I was able to determine that there was a problem with the phone jack. Today I brought the iPod to the store hoping to get it repaired or replaced under warranty. As soon as I described the problem to one of your sales people, he was all set to replace the unit on the spot, which I found impressive.

However, as soon as he saw that there was some laser engraving on the iPod not done by Apple, he just as quickly determined that the warranty had been voided. When I questioned him about this, he explained that this is true for any non-Apple engraving; he mentioned that he had another white iPod with engraving come in recently, and that he had to tell its owner the same thing.

I asked that he show me the iPod warranty and the language in it that supports his determination. He showed me a copy of the iPod AppleCare plan with sections 2.e.(iii) and 2.e.(v) highlighted. After reading it, I came to the conclusion that having non-Apple engraving does not necessarily void the warranty. I explained my reasoning, but couldn’t convince him that his claims weren’t supported by the warranty. (Before leaving the store, I probably let my frustration show a bit too much, and for that I apologize to both sales people.)

I have since spoken to Apple Customer Service on the phone, and though they can’t of course comment on my issue without seeing the Shuffle first, they were able to tell me that there is no blanket policy stating that non-Apple laser engraving voids the warranty, and that any such determination is up to the technician examining the unit, guided by the terms and conditions of the warranty. They recommended I take this issue up with the store manager.

From reading the warranty (as well as the iPod service FAQ on the web), I find that my son’s iPod Shuffle is still covered for these reasons:

First, from the highlighted section 2.e.(v), reading:

e. Limitations. The Plan does not cover:
(v) Damage to the Covered Equipment caused by accident, abuse, neglect, misuse (including faulty installation, repair, or
maintenance by anyone other than Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider), unauthorized modification, extreme
environment (including extreme temperature or humidity), extreme physical or electrical stress or interference, fluctuation or
surges of electrical power, lightning, static electricity, fire, acts of God or other external causes;

To begin, I reject the notion that laser engraving constitutes “modification” of the unit. Since the term is used pretty generally here, I looked to see if Apple has better defined it elsewhere, and found this in the standard Apple warranty:

This warranty does not apply…(e) to a product or part that has been modified to significantly alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple;

This clarification of Apple’s use of “modification” supports my claim that our Shuffle is still covered under the warranty, since the laser engraving in no way affects the operation of the iPod (just as Apple’s own laser engraving doesn’t).

Furthermore, even if the engraving did damage the unit, the limitations states that only *that damage* isn’t covered, not that the entire iPod isn’t. Since the defect in our Shuffle is with the headphone jack, which is not near the engraving, I am not asking that any possible damage caused by the engraving be covered, only that the defective part be.

The other section highlighted section 2.e.(iii) reads:

e. Limitations. The Plan does not cover:
(iii) Cosmetic damage to the Covered Equipment. If the defect is cosmetic, including but not limited to scratches, dents and broken
plastic on ports, and does not otherwise affect its functionality or materially impair your use;

On its face, this actually doesn’t apply at all to my issue, but rather states that if I were to purchase an iPod that came out of the box with cosmetic damage, and that damage didn’t limit the function of the iPod in any way, repair of that damage would not be covered. However, I argue that it would be unfair of Apple to want to have it both ways. That is, this language protects Apple from repairing any purely cosmetic damage it has caused, but per the policy stated by your sales people, Apple also wants to protect itself from repairing genuinely defective units strictly because of the same kind of cosmetic changes done by the customer. Since Apple naturally doesn’t want to treat its customers unfairly, it follows that it’s your store’s policy that’s in error.

Finally, after reading the iPod Service FAQ, I find that Apple considers third-party engraving to be not such a drastic condition. The only limitation stated there is that Apple will not re-engrave such units under warranty:

Will my custom laser engraving be preserved?
If your original iPod was personalized by Apple, your replacement iPod will be automatically personalized with the same text. If your original iPod was custom laser engraved by another company, your replacement iPod will not be personalized.

This is further proof that Apple does not have a blanket policy against third party laser engraving. Therefore, I will bring the Shuffle in again for you to examine. If you could let me know by email or phone when you’re scheduled to be in store over the coming week, I will make a point of dropping in during one of those times.

Thank you very much,

–Chris
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