So I went into an Apple store in San Francisco last week to replace an iPod I received in July.

Here's the context: It had been sitting in a cradle in my office, used only twice to record interviews. But when I fired it up last week for another interview, I got the sad face--the equivalent of the blue screen of death signifying a critical component failure.

Anyway, I moseyed up to the always-crowded Genius Bar and settled in for a long 45-minute wait. Sure enough, the resident genius told me, my iPod was dead. The good news, he said, was that I was well under the year warranty. I was surprised when he told me the even better news was that I also was within the six-month exchange period in which I would have to pay nothing.

My question is: when is a warranty not a warranty? I would think if you have a year warranty, if the device fails there should be a money-free exchange. Instead, I was told that since the store has to send the device back, you're paying the shipping fee and given some long gobbledygook about you getting a new iPod instead of having your old one repaired.

But why should I pay at all for a device that, through no fault of my own, suddenly fails--particularly if I'm led to believe I have a year warranty on it? The store did have replacement iPods in stock, so it wasn't as if they had to send for a replacement.

I had heard that if you order a replacement through the website that there would be a $30 charge for shipping, but why charge if you bring the device back to the store? Is it just me, or does this seem an odd policy for a company known for great service and cool, workable technology?

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