New IPod, Old Firmware

The iPhone 2.0 software has been out for three weeks now, giving iPhone and iPod touch users alike access to a host of new features. But some iPod touches available at your local Apple Store still feature the old firmware. And if you happen to buy a new touch that still ships with the 1.14 software installed, you'll have to shell out another US$10 to upgrade to the 2.0 version, even though that update has been available since July 11.

I know this, because that's exactly what happened to me last week.

On July 31, I went to the Emeryville, Calif., Apple Store to "refresh" the aging and bloated sage iMac my mom had been using for the last several years. We picked up a new iMac, a new AirPort Base Station, and--as a last-minute purchase--a new 8GB iPod touch.

After a couple of hours of migrating, updating, and configuring my mom's new Mac I set out to put the icing on her cake and unwrapped her iPod touch. But when I synced it with her new computer I noticed that the OS version on the iPod was still 1.14--not the three-week-old version 2.0.

I put in a call to Apple's tech support line to get to the bottom of why a "new" iPod touch would have such old firmware on it and what I could do to bring things up to date. After about five minutes on hold and a brief exchange of information, I had a pleasant, but surprising conversation with an Apple tech I'll call "Tina." It went something like this...

Tina: OK Jeff, how can I help you with your iPod touch today?

Me: Well, my mom bought this from the Apple store last night and when I opened it the OS on the iPod was version 1.14 not the current 2.0 OS. I was wondering how I get the 2.0 update.

Tina: You can get that update for $9.95 from the iTunes Music Store.

Me: OK. Wait, I have to pay for the update?

Tina: Yes. The OS update is free for iPhone users, but iPod touch users have to pay for the update.

Me: But the iPod was purchased last night. The OS update came out three weeks ago.

Tina: Well, what probably happened is that the old inventory at the store you went to hadn't been completely sold out since the update, which is why your iPod has the old OS on it.

Me: Are you sure I have to pay for the update? It doesn't seem like I should have to pay extra for something that's been out for three weeks.

Tina: I wish there was a special web site that I could tell you to go to, but, unfortunately there isn't. Sorry.

Me: OK, thanks.

Tina: Is there anything else I can help you with today?

Me: Nope, that'll do.

Tina: Thank you for calling Apple.

On the chance that "Tina" was merely misinformed about Apple's policy, I waited a few days and placed a second phone call to Apple's tech support line. I got the same answer as before--if I wanted the iPhone 2.0 update that shipped three weeks before I bought the iPod touch, I would have to pay the $10 upgrade fee. With the iPod touch, it seems, you get what comes in the box; you pay for anything else.

Macworld placed a couple calls to Apple's public relations department to confirm that this was Apple's official policy--the company had not gotten back to us by the time this article was posted.

In the greater scheme of things, the unexpected update fee would seem like small potatoes--after all, when you've already spent anywhere from $299 for an 8GB iPod touch to $499 for the 32GB model, what's another $10? Still, however minimal the cost may seem, it's an expense you probably didn't plan on having to pay if you're buying a touch at this stage in the game. So if you're planning on buying a touch, it may be a case of buyer beware--that "new" hardware may not be as new as you thought. And the price tag may be a few dollars more than what you thought you were going to pay.

[Jeffery Battersby is a regular contributor to Macworld.]

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