Can a few bad apples -- like product-quality complaints and potential lawsuits -- spoil the bunch for loyal fans of Apple Computer ahead of their biggest party of the year?

As enthusiasts devoted to Apple prepare to descend on San Francisco next week for the annual Macworld conference, at least two online petitions have collected hundreds of signatures from potential plaintiffs seeking to file lawsuits over claims of defects in the iBook laptop.

Another growing source of complaints surrounds Apple's wildly popular iPod line of digital music players, which many enthusiasts believe will get an upgrade at Macworld with the introduction of smaller, less-expensive models and a range of case colors.

In California, a lawsuit seeking class-action status is expected to be filed in January against the company over the claim that Apple's warranty does not run long enough to cover problems with the player's battery.

Apple has won raves over the years for its sleekly designed computers. The company, with a market share of around 2 percent, is able to command higher prices due in part to Apple machines being perceived as more secure and reliable than PCs running Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Taken together, both consumer campaigns against a company that prides itself on high standards for design and engineering threaten to cast a shadow over Macworld, historically a forum for Apple and its charismatic leader, Steve Jobs, to showcase new products and innovations.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on both questions of pending litigation and the claims of defective computers.

Users of Apple's iBook have been reporting problems with their iBooks in increasing numbers in the last few weeks, according to Ric Ford, president of MacInTouch, an independent site for Mac users.

But Ford attributed the increased chatter more to the fact that some users have narrowed in on the cause of the long-standing problems rather than the impending start of the Macworld show.

"I don't think it's really related to Macworld," Ford said. "I think the problems have been there, but people are starting to understand the source of the problems."

The difficulties stem from the iBook's logic board, or motherboard, users say in discussion forums and on message boards -- including boards on Apple's own website. Many users report replacement units have the same problems with display and video output.

Most of the complaints pertain to a particular iBook model with dual USB ports, and many users say the problems started to show up just after the computer came out of warranty.

One of the petition sites, BlackCider.com, which uses as its logo an apple with a screw run through it, has 408 signatures from potential lawsuit participants.

Site owner Michael Johnson also offers T-shirts with the site logo on the front and "Ask me about my logic board" on the back.

The other website, created by Brendan Carolan at PetitionOnline.com, has collected 850 signatures and calls on Apple to either extend the iBook warranties or offer a replacement.

Neither Johnson nor Carolan was immediately available for comment.

The claims of problems have also extended to the company's higher-end PowerBook line. Macworld magazine, in its December issue, said it had to return three of six 15-inch aluminum PowerBook G4s it ordered for testing purposes because of defects.

Meanwhile, a video making the rounds of the Internet shows a man spray-painting the message "IPod's unreplaceable battery lasts only 18 months" on iPod posters.

The filmmaker, Casey Neistat, said in a note on his website that he decided to make the film after his unit essentially died in September and he was told the battery could not be replaced. Subsequently, Apple has begun offering a $99 battery replacement service.

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