CUPERTINO, CA: Apple Computer's stunning success with the iPod may have finally hit a bad note.
Apple easily dominates the digital-music market. The company has sold 42 million iPods, 76% of them in 2005 alone. The skyrocketing sales pushed revenue for Q4 2005 to $5.7 billion, a record for the company.
Now, however, critics like rock legend Pete Townsend are warning about hearing damage from iPods. And Apple now faces a class-action lawsuit, alleging that it has failed to warn the public of potential hearing damage and loss.
And Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) has expressed similar concerns about whether such devices are leading to premature hearing damage.
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for research firm NPD Group, doesn't think these concerns will hurt Apple. He compared the lawsuit to those who sue fast-food restaurants for not informing customers that the food might make them fat.
"There's public sentiment that consumers need to take some responsibility for their own behavior," said Rubin, pointing out that Sony Electronics faced similar complaints with the Walkman, but didn't see any repercussions.
Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, disagrees. He said the debate could affect parents' decisions to buy their children an iPod.
But what may hurt Apple is its silence about these issues.
"This is when you find out if you have good PR or bad PR," says Enderle. "It's how you handle problems such as this. Their PR has been mixed."
He pointed out Apple's slow response to complaints about the iPod's short battery life, as well as those about how the iPod Nano's screen scratched too easily.
"Their marketing is first-rate," said Enderle. "But their PR doesn't seem up to the task of dealing with negative news."
Apple declined to comment for this story.