HP dismisses iPaq complaints

Amid a declining handheld market, HP fends off users demanding a recall of 'defective' iPaq devices

Hewlett-Packard has dismissed claims that many of its iPaq handheld computers are defective and warrant a recall, saying that most of the bugs mentioned in a recent complaint have already been dealt with.

The complaint comes at a bad time for HP, which is currently integrating the popular iPaq -- made by recently acquired Compaq -- into its own product line. The handheld market has long since exited its boom phase, and western European sales actually declined 18 percent in the second quarter, according to Gartner Dataquest.

The company last week issued a statement to ZDNet UK in response to a recent petition by disgruntled iPaq users, which demanded that HP come up with a solution to a number of hardware bugs that are perceived as being persistent and widespread. The petition racked up more than 1,400 signatures within a few days of going online.

However, HP said that the problems mentioned in the petition had mostly been fixed. "The majority of issues noted in the petition appear to have been taken from our Customer Advisories, and... solutions have already been developed and made available to the public," the statement said.

The company said it would continue to deal with problems on a case-by-case basis, and said that the hardware problems did not require any action outside of normal service arrangements. "In cases where the solution is associated with hardware that needs to be repaired or replaced, this is accomplished under the terms of the warranty and service programmes," HP said.

IPaqpetition.com launched on 22 July and within eight days had garnered about 1,400 supporters, the petition's operators said. The petition addresses the perception of many users that the iPaq hardware -- by far the most popular handheld computer based on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system -- has so many recurring faults that users should be entitled to a replacement.

If nothing else, the petition could mean bad publicity for Hewlett-Packard, which is scrapping its own Jornada line of handhelds in favour of the iPaq. With the Compaq merger, HP is currently the dominant handheld maker in Western Europe, with combined western European sales of Jornada and iPaq even outstripping those of PDA market leader Palm, according to industry analysts Gartner Dataquest.

What separates the iPaq Petition claims from routine customer service problems, the petitioners say, is that the problems experienced often recur after several rounds of repairs, and keep showing up after the unit's warranty has expired. "Many times the unit comes back still not fixed, or the problem returns at a later point, or the unit comes back with more problems than when it was sent in," said Sally Sinclair, one of the petition organisers. "Some owners have had multiple units sent to them for replacement and still do not have a completely repaired product. We were appalled at the number of issues plaguing these devices."

Sinclair said that her own unit -- a 3630 -- began suffering from one of the problems listed on the petition six weeks after she bought it. An endless loop made it unusable. After returning the unit three times, the warranty has run out and she says she now faces paying at least $125 (about £80) for repairs that she feels may or may not be successful. "I feel very cheated and refuse to spend any more money on it," she said.

Other problems listed in the petition include highly visible dust fragments collecting beneath the screen, a speaker that stops working, a popping noise when audio playback begins, battery problems, moving parts that break off, Bluetooth failures, glitches in communications with SD cards and a sporadic failure to play alarms when the unit is turned off.

The organisers are planning to collect as many signatures as possible and then deliver the message to HP, although no deadline has been set. They are seeking the creation of a new repair programme or full refunds for the devices affected.

The petition notes that the devices listed, including the 3600 series, 3700 series and 3800 series, have been around for some time, the 3800 series arriving in October 2001. "Having given HP/Compaq a reasonable period of time to resolve the issues causing these devices to be defective, the undersigned believe that we have no choice except to conclude that HP/Compaq knowingly and willingly sold and continues to sell defective products to consumers," the petition states.

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