A few months ago, Stephen Ironside, a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, USA, confronted a minor but modern tragedy: The iPod that filled his life with song had stopped working.
The device was out of warranty, and Apple would not fix it free. So he left it in a drawer until he happened to read a blog posting on www.crunchgear.com that described how he might fix it—with a small, folded piece of paper. Ironside celebrated by posting thanks on the blog: “I’ve been on CDs for months. You saved my life (and my iPod).”
The author of the blog post, Matt Hickey of Seattle, says that using paper as a shim to put pressure on the hard drive has worked on about 70% of the failed iPods he has encountered—even though he is not sure why it works.
Gadget-fixing is adapting to the modern era. Neighbourhood repair shops are all but gone and, along with them, the repairmen who could offer casual advice, even when that advice was whether it was worth repairing the device. But websites can help users find and share solutions that can save a device from the landfill. If the job is too tricky, a number of Internet-based firms offer highly specialized repairs via overnight mail.
Some sites, such as www.macfixit.com, www.fixmyxp.com and www.macosxhints.com, are devoted to a single product, while others, such as www.avsforum.com, sponsor debates on a big product area, in this case home theatres, televisions and stereos. People with laptops that have suddenly gone blank can turn to www.notebookforums.com or NotebookReview.com, and there are even a few sites such as www.highdefforum.com for fixing TVs.
Yaniv Bensadon, the chief executive of www.fixya.com, started his site after he moved back to Israel from the US and found that his electronic items would often malfunction in the new environment. The manuals and the support offered by the manufacturers rarely helped. His site groups questions and answers to problems and organizes them according to product type, brand name and model number. The page for the Microsoft Xbox 360, for instance, lists more than 100 questions with answers. Most provide a single solution, but one common problem, overheating, has 81 posts debating the best fix. All but about a dozen of the questions had answers, although some were a bit brief.
“Like any other consumer out there, I had problems with my Xerox printer, Palm Treo 700, Belkin wireless router and even Sony portable DVD,” Bensadon said. “On each of the problems I posted, I received a great solution within 5-10 hours.”
Fixya rates the people who offer advice. Anyone can claim to be an expert on a topic, but their rating will rise or fall with the quality of their answers. The site also offers paid services from users who charge about $10-20 (Rs394-788) a problem.
Spare parts, too
Knowledge is only half the battle. A number of sites specialize in providing spare parts but also pack in the information on how to install them as the incentive to use the site. For instance, www.pdaparts.com sells replacement screens, batteries, cases and other parts for Palm Treos, iPaqs and other personal digital assistants (PDAs). Videos describing the process of opening the cases—probably the trickiest part of repairing today’s electronics—can be downloaded from the site.
Most other gadgets come with batteries that are easy to replace without custom tools. Replacement batteries for cellphones are often marked up by the devices’ manufacturers, while third-party replacements are often available for 60-80% less. Companies offering replacement batteries for iPods often offer better batteries with higher capacities and longer lifetimes. For instance, www.ipodjuice.com sells a 1,200-milliamp hour battery that will replace the 600-milliamp hour battery that shipped with a fourth-generation iPod—an improvement that lets the website claim the repaired iPod will “last 100% longer”.
For those who do not want to get their hands dirty or wait for an answer, dozens of businesses specialize in fixing some of the most common problems. Prices depend on the item and the damage. Replacing a screen on a fourth-generation iPod, for instance, costs $94 for parts, labour and overnight shipping in both directions. Replacing the battery on an iPhone costs $79.
You can take the device to an Apple store for a new battery, and it will cost only $65. But you may not get the same device, a concern if the gadget is personalized.
Shannon Jean, the founder of TechRestore.com, a competitor in Concord, California, says the data on a device can be more valuable than the gadget itself. An iPod or a laptop may carry thousands of dollars worth of music and an immeasurable amount of documents, spreadsheets or other information.
“When there’s data involved, that defines what people will pay, especially when there’s downtime involved,” he said.
©2007/THE NEW YORK TIMES
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