What the Muses Deign: iPod – a revolution, really
by Porruka, firstname.lastname@example.org, October 26, 2001
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Apple announced iPod, a new music player, to the world on October 23. It set up a special press event, sent out special announcements, tried to build the buzz. The buzz did build in the Mac Web, complete with renderings and “spy shots” whose provenance we hopefully will never know. But what about the real device? Now that the specs are available, the price known, what will iPod mean to Apple?
Apple is continuing to look outside of the “box,” if you will, trying to regain relevance in a commodity computing world. For the faithful, it’s another opportunity to support the mothership, and indeed, get a cool gadget. Apple is still thinking along the lines that integration will be the savior of the company; perhaps it’s right. One of the proposed selling points to the iPod is its integration with iTunes. Apple is making life easier for some subset of existing Mac users.
Price. But I’ll get to that more below. Features. What about this device can be considered revolutionary, as was promised in the press invitations? The recharging via FireWire? It's a nice simplification, I'll give them that. HD size? Nope. Making the device multipurpose by allowing unused space to be used as a portable FireWire drive? Maybe, but does that mean that you have to sync the songs through iTunes to get them to the device? You can’t just copy them and have them work? The interface? It looks fairly clean; the proof will be in the management tools. The battery? Perhaps, but this is likely more of a technology exercise to learn how to make it work well and experience the materials for future use than a breakthrough at this point.
Price. It’s both bad and ugly. But this is where Apple has hidden its “revolution.” I have no doubt the materials and manufacturing for this little gem are expensive. There are cool features (when you look at them outside the context of making a device for sale to the masses, even the masses of the Mac faithful). But Apple has to understand that, just like when it designs computers, you have to compete in the marketplace for what is turning out to be a shrinking number of discretionary dollars (or marks, or francs, or euros), and to attempt to make a best-of-breed device priced as such is going to have a hard time swimming upstream against the current economic climate, regardless of how spiffy it is.
But what about the revolution? Dictionary.com gives, in addition to Apple’s preferred meaning – “a sudden or momentous change in a situation” – the following definition: “Return to a point before occupied, or to a point relatively the same; a rolling back; return,” and unfortunately, that seems to be where we are.
All the features mentioned under the “bad” category are there because of the price. All the integration, all the interface, all the HD space (or lack thereof) could all be forgiven if the device were priced to move rather than to be admired. And hence the revolution, the return to a point before occupied, is the return to the announcement of the Cube, a machine that but for its price, might have filled an important gap in Apple's product line, that of a compact machine with flexible display sizes. What niche does the iPod fill? That of those wanting a better portable music experience (and apparently laying the groundwork for other devices in the future). It’s a valid niche. It might be a useful product ... for those who can afford it.