Rob Walker writes in NY Times Magazine from the perspective that the iPod is already an iconic product, and he tries to undertand why:
- Two years ago this month, Apple Computer released a small, sleek-looking device it called the iPod. A digital music player, it weighed just 6.5 ounces and held about 1,000 songs. There were small MP3 players around at the time, and there were players that could hold a lot of music. But if the crucial equation is ”largest number of songs” divided by ”smallest physical space,” the iPod seemed untouchable. And yet the initial reaction was mixed: the thing cost $400, so much more than existing digital players that it prompted one online skeptic to suggest that the name might be an acronym for ”Idiots Price Our Devices.” This line of complaint called to mind the Newton, Apple’s pen-based personal organizer that was ahead of its time but carried a bloated price tag to its doom.
Since then, however, about 1.4 million iPods have been sold. (It has been updated twice and now comes in three versions, all of which improved on the original’s songs-per-space ratio, and are priced at $300, $400 and $500, the most expensive holding 10,000 songs.) For the months of July and August, the iPod claimed the No. 1 spot in the MP3 player market both in terms of unit share (31 percent) and revenue share (56 percent), by Apple’s reckoning. It is now Apple’s highest-volume product. ”It’s something that’s as big a brand to Apple as the Mac,” is how Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, puts it. ”And that’s a pretty big deal.”
….If you want to understand why a product has become an icon, you of course want to talk to the people who dreamed it up and made it. And you want to talk to the design experts and the technology pros and the professors and the gurus. But what you really want to do is talk to Andrew Andrew. Andrew Andrew is a ”highly diversified company” made of two personable young men, each named Andrew. They dress identically and seem to agree on everything; they say, among other things, that they have traveled from the future ”to set things on the right course for tomorrow.” They require interviewers to sign a form agreeing not to reveal any differences between Andrew and Andrew, because to do so might undermine the Andrew Andrew brand — and since this request is more interesting than whatever those differences might be, interviewers sign it.
….Before I really had a chance to ask a question, Ive spent about 10 minutes talking about the iPod’s packaging — the way the box opens, how the foam is cut. He talked about the unusually thin and flexible FireWire cable, about the ”taut, crisp” cradle that the iPod rests in, about the white headphones. ”I remember there was a discussion: ‘Headphones can’t be white; headphones are black, or dark gray.”’ But uniform whiteness seemed too important to the product to break the pattern, and indeed the white headphones have become a kind of secondary, unplanned icon — as Apple’s current ads featuring white-headphoned silhouettes now underscore. It’s those details, he said, that make the iPod special: ”We are surrounded by so many things that are flippant and trivial. This could have been just another self-important plastic thing.”
….What, then, are the pieces? What are the technical innards of the seamless iPod? What’s underneath the surface? ”Esoterica,” says Schiller, an Apple V.P., waving away any and all questions about the iPod’s innards. Consumers, he said, don’t care about technical specs; they care about how many songs it holds, how quickly they can transfer them, how good the sound quality is.
Perhaps. But some people are interested in esoterica, and a lot of people were interested in knowing what was inside the iPod when it made its debut. One of them was David Carey, who for the past three years has run a business in Austin, Tex., called Portelligent, which tears apart electronic devices and does what might be called guts checks. He tore up his first iPod in early 2002…..
Very interesting even if you have neve reven used an iPod in real life.