My iPod Mini was dead. It had shuffled off this mortal coil and joined the choir invisible.
Well, the screen still worked. But the battery wouldn't hold a charge. And when I popped in the headphones, it produced an ear-piercing screech not unlike a Ted Nugent guitar solo.
Once again I was facing the fix-it-or-forget-it conundrum. This time, instead of littering the landscape with another dead gadget, I went the fix-it route.
CPR or DNR?
First I tried FixYa.com, an online support community. I could have posted my problem for free, but instead I paid $10 for instant advice from the site's "Elite Experts." Within minutes I received e-mail instructions to open the case and solder any loose connections I might find.
It was probably good advice, but it seemed a little too do-it-yourself for me, so I went with Plan B. I shipped the Mini off to Rapid Repair along with a $10 check to cover return shipping. The company promised to give me a quote within 48 hours of receiving my gadget. Two days later, a technician named Mike told me the bad news. The Mini's battery had swollen, busting connectors on the main board; the 4GB hard drive had 25 bad sectors, too. Total cost of repair: $140.
That was a bit more than my iPod was worth. According to Buymytronics.com, which buys broken gadgets and recycles or sells the parts, a Mini in this sad state would fetch precisely $8.04. (A brand-new, factory-sealed model was worth only $36.40.) On the other hand, I could buy a groovy new iPod Nano, with the ability to play videos as well as tunes, for about $150. That seemed like a no-brainer to me.
I asked Mike: Wouldn't it make more sense for me to toss the Mini and buy a Nano? Yes, he reluctantly agreed, as he watched $140 fly out the door. Then he offered to recycle my Mini for me and refund my $10, an offer I accepted.
Surprisingly, only about 5 percent of gadgets the company receives aren't worth fixing, says Aaron Vronko, cofounder of Rapid Repair, which handles 500 broken iPods a week, as well as Microsoft Zunes and game consoles. Most fixes are relatively easy and cheap, like replacing bad batteries or screens. Vronko's rule of thumb: If the repairs cost less than 60 percent of replacement, fixing makes more sense.
"You'll get another year out of it, and by then there will be new devices that offer more storage and features for less money than you'd pay today," Vronko says.
Technology has become so embedded in our homes that friendly geek repair techs like the ones at Rapid Repair may soon become a regular part of our lives, says Stephen Baker, VP of industry analysis for the NPD Group.
Right now, most gadgets are expensive to fix and support, says Baker. But as more gizmos connect to the Internet, technicians will be able to diagnose problems and correct them remotely, making repairs cheaper. That development will inspire bigger players to step in and dominate the multibillion-dollar at-home repair market now served by companies such as Best Buy's Geek Squad and Circuit City's Firedog.
"In the next few years, we'll likely see a major PC maker, electronics manufacturer, cable company, or phone company wrap all this stuff together and say, 'For X dollars per year, we'll keep everything running,'" Baker says. "Just as you pay someone to come fix your sink when it leaks, you'll have to pay someone to help you manage your electronics."