Sleek and Sexy

May 22nd, 2005

After reading a Bayoshpere article, I started to write a comment that took on a life of its own. It grew to something more sophisticated than a mere comment, yet too meager to claim “Article” status. And, because of some foolish phpMyAdmin rummaging by yours truely, I’ve had to recreate this entry based on my recollection of what I was thinking this afternoon. A shorter version of this idea appears elsewhere. I present the unedited (and reimagined) version here. Subject: iPod.

I wanted an iPod for a long time and, after a bit of overtime last year, I had one soon enough (too soon as, to my dismay, I ordered mine just before the new version with multiple on-the-go playlists and other advanced features). I like having it. To help take my mind off things, I use it when I go for a run; thanks to an adaptor plugged into my CD player, my car thinks the iPod is a CD changer and I listen to it while driving; I take it on vacation in case I get a hankering for a particular song. Right now, my girlfriend is asleep and I’ll go out on the patio to work and listen to music. I use it anywhere that I don’t have access to my music cataloge. It’s never next to my computer unless I’m loading new songs onto it. It seldom performs double duty, instead serving as an audio device where I otherwise didn’t have one (or serving as a more powerful audio device, in a few cases). My iPod is a portable music library; I use it exclusively for music. As I said, I enjoy it and I recommend it to anyone who asks about an MP3 player.

Apple did its job well at the introduction of the iPod. They captured people like me who were taken in by the image without thinking much of the practicality of the thing. I recall that as a time when I didn’t have any idea about other products that could play and store all my MP3s. I recall that as a time when the iPod was the coolest thing to have for the form and function: sleek and sexy.

Right now, the iPod seems like a good thing for having fun, but not even worth being the device to use for business contacts and email and such. If there’s a good device for that business side and it can play MP3’s too, the iPod is sunk. It ends up that the iPod isn’t as sleek as it seems, even though it is as sexy.

However, as much as it pains me to say, Mr. Gates is probably correct, this time. A large problem for the iPod is that it’s not useful for those in the business world and that, while some hacks proport otherwise, it’s not useful for anything other than music. The iPod’s notes and contacts capabilities are clunky; to use the iPod as any kind of text reader is merely an afterthought, not anywhere near the main reason to buy one, a post-rationalization at best.

Even with its limited utility, though, Apple sends a message loud and clear: sleek and sexy sells. Creative Labs, Dell, and others have adpated to this message. The new Sony campaign shows their latest MP3 player worn as an earring. iPod shuffle redux. If the saying is true, Apple must be terribly flattered.

Alex is right: Apple won’t dominate this forever, but they’ll certainly enjoy it while it lasts. There’s something troubling, a disturbing pattern in the iPod models, though.

Everyone I know who worked at Apple and received their Christmas ’04 bonus in the form of the iPod shuffle was angry and practically (if not literally) gave it away. The shuffle isn’t useful for much and surely doesn’t stand in for a monetary bonus. The iPod photo seems a waste of creativity, frankly. The iPod mini was a hit, despite my logical mind being baffled as to why anyone would buy it, and Apple has done well because of it. It’s just something that I don’t get, though. And the iPod U2!? What the heck was that all about? If we don’t see a new “wow”-worthy innovation from Apple’s iPod soon, they risk losing the momentum built up around their product. Word is getting out about other players, that the iPod is not the only (or best) game in town. Apple would do well to squash that idea quickly by impressing us again.

According to a article from September 2003, “Apple has had a free ride, because competitors knew what to do but didn’t do it.” I argue that this is still the case. Competitors know they need to put the iPod in its place, that the iPod is certainly not the be-all-end-all player that many see it as. Competitors know that marketing is what they are missing and that, given options, many buyers would happily grab another product that does the iPod’s job better, faster, and cheaper. The iPod we know and love today might be crushed if, say, competitors put the word out that their devices serve multiple purposes. For some reason, that isn’t happening.

The iPod isn’t the product that it could be. I hope for a day when I carry one device to suit all purposes. I ditched the PDA because it’s too big and heavy. My laptop is nice, but it’s not small enough to flip open and write appointments in. The cell phone works well, but if there’s one thing I hate it’s composing even a basic sentence on that thing. The iPod is great for music, but that’s all I’d ever use it for due to the screen size and controls. There are other products out there that multi-task. Apple needs to have a product where the function mimicks the form: sleek and sexy.

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