Apple Computer Inc. faced a lawsuit that alleged the company knew its nano portable music player was defective but still decided to press on with the product's release last month.
The credit card-sized nano, which replaced the best-selling iPod mini and is smaller than the traditional iPod, met with rave reviews. But users quickly started grumbling on Internet message boards that the device's screen scratches too easily.
Consumers have filed a proposed class action lawsuit in San Jose, California on Wednesday, claiming the nano scratched "excessively during normal usage" and alleged Apple released the product knowing the problems and led consumers to believe it was durable -- forcing them to shoulder the cost of replacing defective music players.
The complaint blamed the nano's defectiveness on the film of plastic resin that covers it to protect it from damage. Previous versions of the iPod were coated with thicker and stronger resin, the suit said.
"Rather than admit the design flaw when consumers began to express widespread complaints ... Apple concealed the defect and advised class members that they would need to purchase additional equipment to prevent the screen from scratching excessively," the complaint said.
A spokesman for Apple, whose main offices are in Cupertino, California, could not be reached for comment.
Sales of iPods account for nearly a third of Apple's total sales, and the company has a share of about 75 percent of the U.S. market for all MP3 players. The company's shares, which have soared thanks to overwhelming demand for iPods, hit a new 52-week high of $56.98 on Friday.
Apple admitted in late September that some iPod nano screens cracked too easily, but blamed that separate issue on vendor quality problems and said it had occurred in less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nanos sold at that point.
The plaintiff named in the California lawsuit, Jason Tomczak, bought a nano in September that he said quickly became so scratched he could not view the screen. Apple replaced that device because of a battery problem, but the complaint said the replacement nano also became so scratched that Tomczak decided to return it.
The lawsuit will require a judge to grant it class action status. Because Tomczak and other complainants were required to pay a $25 fee to return the nano, the suit seeks the return of those fees along with the device's original cost and several other forms of damages.
The suit, filed by law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, said Apple has "failed to remedy the problem in any meaningful way" and claimed Apple deleted postings on its Web site that relate to the scratching problem.