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I, for one, welcome our trendy mp3 player overlords
October 23, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

Happy birthday, iPod! Kinda hard to believe that only 5 years ago Mefites were speculating about what Apple's breakthrough device would be. And then we found out. And have been talking about it ever since. Love it or hate it, 5 years later it's "one of the most successful consumer electronics products ever."
posted by allkindsoftime (63 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The overwhelming success of the iPod does represent the complete triumph of form over function, doesn't it. While the disk capacity and form factor of the device are huge positives, in my view, the lack of configurability and relatively poor usability of the user interface are huge minuses.

With well over 14,000 songs on one of my IPods, and no search functionality to speak of (even though the tracking wheel does make a pleasing clicking sound when you turn it), getting to the song I want to play the best fits my mood tends to be a lot more labor intensive than I'd like.

I suppose this problem could be handled with savvier genre management done on the computer, but five years later, I'm still on the fence about how much of a breakthrough this thing

I still couldn't live without it, though.
posted by psmealey at 10:23 AM on October 23, 2006


I'll wait six months. It'll store twice as much and have a color screen. That's how it always happens.
posted by ColdChef at 5:39 PM EST on October 23


ColdChef wins at the intarwebs.
posted by GuyZero at 10:29 AM on October 23, 2006


I don't know, psmealey... something that didn't exist just over five years ago, and yet now "couldn't be lived without", seems to be the definition of "breakthrough."
posted by JeffL at 10:33 AM on October 23, 2006


And there you were, you naysayers, saying nay.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:36 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


There once was a 'pod' that caused pleasure
With an 'i' in the front, for good measure
It looked really pretty
And stored all your ditties
And the MeFites discussed it at leisure.
posted by ORthey at 10:37 AM on October 23, 2006 [3 favorites]


Well, I did have a Rio five years ago (for about 2 years, at that point). It wasn't great (stored about, what, 40-50 tunes? But it more or less peformed a similar function.

I'm not saying it's not breakthrough or great, just that it could be a lot better from a usability perspective.
posted by psmealey at 10:38 AM on October 23, 2006


I'll wait six months. It'll store twice as much and have a color screen. That's how it always happens.

/me looks at the mini that he bought a couple of months before the nano was released and sighs.
posted by octothorpe at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2006


Google maps 37Signals with Flickr iPod.
posted by loquacious at 10:52 AM on October 23, 2006


So this tracking wheel can feel my touch as I dial up the sound or nav down a list. Fine. Why can't it determine my heart rate through my hand and scotch up a playlist that synchs to my current rage-level? Why can't it sample the ambient level around me and cancel that out? I need more privacy when I'm out in public.
Why won't it open my garage door? And how bout a frickin' laser?
posted by hal9k at 10:52 AM on October 23, 2006


It's a fad.
posted by mazola at 10:57 AM on October 23, 2006


My iRiver H10 is red like a faded fire engine. Jealous?

You're jealous.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:58 AM on October 23, 2006


I agree with the form over function thing, to a certain extent. I like the aesthetics when it's out of the case and in my hand, but I also want volume and track skip buttons on the top edge of the thing so that when it's in the case I can still work it. That would mess up the nice smooth lines, though.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:59 AM on October 23, 2006


Uh, you know they make cases with holes, right? Like holes just where the buttons are?

Also, am I the only person who wished you could still buy the monocolored versions?
posted by dame at 11:03 AM on October 23, 2006


Back then I didn't think it'd be a huge hit because there were already alternatives available (true).

So, that'd be a "swing and a miss" for me for underestimating the power of marketing.
posted by clevershark at 11:08 AM on October 23, 2006


Holy shit, I've been a member of metafilter longer than iPods have existed.
posted by drezdn at 11:13 AM on October 23, 2006


nice post, just in time to celebrate the hard drive failing on my ipod photo. *sigh*
posted by carsonb at 11:17 AM on October 23, 2006


I totally disagree about form over function. I think it functions like 90% of the people want, without being overly complicated. I don't care about the iTunes store, but iTunes itself is the kicker for me. It's brain dead easy I don't have to/don't want to think about it.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:19 AM on October 23, 2006


Strange, I have no iPod, yet I don't feel that I'm missing out on anything. Another useless gadget, as far as I'm concerned, but I'm glad you like yours.
posted by Roger Dodger at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


The insanely dorky original iPod ad.
posted by cillit bang at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2006


Is this something I would have to own ears to understand?
posted by CynicalKnight at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2006


Which is to say, that the iPod marketing campaign was shit-to-nonexistent for the first couple of years. I wish the haters would accept that it took off because people genuinely liked the product, rather than spouting bullshit.
posted by cillit bang at 11:26 AM on October 23, 2006


So it's just a nicer looking nomad? This was supposed to be a big deal?
posted by imperium at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2006


A dorky spoof of aforementioned dorky ad.
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2006


This quote from one of the linked Cnet articles sums things up for me: "It is the Walkman of the early 21st century." Just as my "Walkman" in the 80s was rarely a Sony, I expect that inexpensive and feature-rich Chinese and Korean "iPods" will be just as popular in another 5 years as the Apple iPod, if not more so.
posted by vorfeed at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2006


The form over function argument just doesn't resonate with me:

1. My ipod does everything I want it to really well. Whatever trade-off may have been made doesn't affect me.

2. In some ways form really is function for a device like this. In order to function, my music device really must fit in my pocket. Same for other stuff like cameras, it may take awesome pictures, but if it doesn't fit in my pocket I'm not going to have it with me when I want to take a picture of something.

3. It really is the awesomest thing ever in the whole world. At least, for someone who already has food, clothing, shelter, etc.
posted by snofoam at 11:36 AM on October 23, 2006


With well over 14,000 songs on one of my IPods, and no search functionality to speak of

With up to 20,000 songs on your iPod, you need an easy way to search and enjoy your collection. A brand-new, built-in search function lets you use the Click Wheel to type out the name of the song, artist, album, audiobook, or podcast you’re looking for, and your iPod returns results instantly as you select letters.
posted by designbot at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2006


"It is the Walkman of the early 21st century." Just as my "Walkman" in the 80s was rarely a Sony, I expect that inexpensive and feature-rich Chinese and Korean "iPods" will be just as popular in another 5 years as the Apple iPod, if not more so.

I think it will be nigh impossible for apple to maintain their current level of dominance in this niche, but I also think there is more room for differentiation in a device like the ipod, and apple does have patents on stuff like the scroll wheel, so I think it will be hard to imitate in the same way anyone could make a handheld tape player.
posted by snofoam at 11:49 AM on October 23, 2006


The insanely-dorky ad did a good job making the "iPod point", you must admit.

"The fun you have on your Mac, now made clickity-click portable. Now go outside and get a life, you geek."

Until it reached critical pop-culture mass, that was a PERFECT sales pitch for Mac users.

To this day, though, Apple's still steadily pushing the point that it's not an MP3 player, it's a portable extension of your Mac. (Hence the name.) And you have to admit that with every software rev, it's getting more and more true... (Music, Movies, TV, Podcasts, iPhoto albums, Contacts, Calendars, half-assed Notes, etc.) and that's not even counting the file-storage and bootable partition-ness.

Really, considering how much stuff a modern iPod carries, it might as well be your whole Home folder.

I suppose that's coming soon.
posted by j-dub at 11:49 AM on October 23, 2006


form over function

Or to put it another way, a good useable design can triumph over worse designs that are better on paper.

That's a good thing.
posted by smackfu at 11:52 AM on October 23, 2006


With well over 14,000 songs on one of my IPods, and no search functionality to speak of (even though the tracking wheel does make a pleasing clicking sound when you turn it), getting to the song I want to play the best fits my mood tends to be a lot more labor intensive than I'd like.

All iPods (other than the shuffle) now have a search function. The iPod didn't need one originally due to the relatively low capacity, but now they're up to 80Gb, it's been added. I'm pretty sure it's been added to 5G iPods too (and maybe earlier), but don't quote me on that.
posted by influx at 11:55 AM on October 23, 2006


So it's just a nicer looking nomad? This was supposed to be a big deal?

I, as I listen to my 30g Zen Extra Nomad that i bought for $99, have to kind of agree. Makes you kind of wonder why Creative has never invested in say, a TV ad. They might sell a few of these things,

Yes, the ipod is a massive marketing success. but it's not 'the coolest invention ever" or whatever. Portable mp3 players are the coolest invention ever. Apple happens to sell a lot of them.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:55 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


or to put in another way:

"I can email all my friends and see what's happening all over the world! AOL is the coolest invention EVER!!"
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:57 AM on October 23, 2006


I'm pretty sure it's been added to 5G iPods too (and maybe earlier)

I even have the search function on my new 2G Nano.
posted by arcticwoman at 12:04 PM on October 23, 2006


I bought one a few days ago. My first. It is black and nano and pretty and good, and I am a consumer whore. Hi!
posted by blacklite at 12:20 PM on October 23, 2006


Do people actually use that search feature on the new iPods? I could have found the song much faster than the demo with the original search function.

The overwhelming success of the iPod does represent the complete triumph of form over function, doesn't it.

Completely disagree. I think it functions very well and that Apple's done an okay job with adding new stuff. What I'd like to see:

- ability to have certain playlists set to random by default
- ability to set playlists to show albums, not just songs
- smarter smart playlists
posted by dobbs at 12:21 PM on October 23, 2006


I think it will be nigh impossible for apple to maintain their current level of dominance in this niche, but I also think there is more room for differentiation in a device like the ipod, and apple does have patents on stuff like the scroll wheel, so I think it will be hard to imitate in the same way anyone could make a handheld tape player.

I didn't mean iPod clones or imitators. I was thinking of small, cheap, rugged, feature-rich players imported from China and Korea. The Asian mp3 market is already like this. Apple has very little market share in South Korea, for example. As mp3 players become less of a novelty and more of an everyday thing, I expect the US market to follow suit.

Right now, most people buy iPods for three reasons: everybody has one, they're cute, and they're supposed to be easy to use. As people get used to mp3s and mp3 players, the latter reason falls away... and price and selection will chip away at the first two reasons. Apple is already losing share in the small-player-for-the-gym market -- SanDisk sells tons of their $50 and $100 players. I expect the trend to continue with larger players, as flash memory and small hard drives become more affordable.
posted by vorfeed at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2006


the ipod is a massive marketing success... Portable mp3 players are the coolest invention ever. Apple happens to sell a lot of them

Frankly, I don't understand that argument.

The iPod didn't succeed in an environment where everybody had a predisposition to buy Apple products, no matter what the merits. Apple had to fight an inordinate amount of bad press and negative branding that had them labelled as 'underpowered', 'overpriced', and 'beleaguered'.

That the iPod took off at all is a testament to the product itself. It won the DAP war review by review, not through marketing dollars.
posted by mazola at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2006


Uh, you know they make cases with holes, right? Like holes just where the buttons are?

Uh yeah, I realise this. But when the case is in a pocket you still have to take the thing out of to adjust anything. The top edge controls would make things easier.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:36 PM on October 23, 2006


jimmythefish, sounds like you're looking for this, this, or this.
posted by designbot at 12:47 PM on October 23, 2006


Apple actually did spend a lot of marketing dollars to get ahead. How many Rio or Creative adds do you remember seeing from back then ?

The original iPod is like the Apple I compared to Rio's Altair and Creative's IMSAI.
posted by rfs at 12:59 PM on October 23, 2006


That the iPod took off at all is a testament to the product itself.

I haven't seen the research on this, but I'm skeptical of this claim. The first two generations of iPods were lousy with problems (inconsistent battery life, firewire problems, terrible product support policies, etc.), but the early adpoters (Apple and Mac devotees are a stubborn and loyal bunch and stuck with it.

Once they had this steadfast group of early adopters, the right price point, and a market that had already beeen , wearing their highly visible white headphone cords, the marketing blitz had enough of a foundation upon which to take off. Having survived the abysmal Newton Message Pad experience in the early 1990s, I think Apple was very cautious to spend huge marketing dollars here, before there was some adoption in place already.

I think, in a way, the iPod succeeded rather in spite of its relative lack of quality (though again, storage capacity was a huge feature advantage over its comps). Apple just learned that you needed to have at least niche adoption before you can gear up for a full-on advertising assault.
posted by psmealey at 1:10 PM on October 23, 2006


apologies for the abysmal proof-reading... posting at work, so a bit pressed.
posted by psmealey at 1:12 PM on October 23, 2006


Strange, I have no iPod, yet I don't feel that I'm missing out on anything. Another useless gadget, as far as I'm concerned, but I'm glad you like yours.

I suppose you could have been talking to anyone on this thread, but if you intended that towards the FPPoster, I don't own one, for what its worth. I have a gig of music on my phone and that works just fine for me.

That said, there's only about 70 million people who would disagree with you.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:16 PM on October 23, 2006


I think, in a way, the iPod succeeded rather in spite of its relative lack of quality (though again, storage capacity was a huge feature advantage over its comps). Apple just learned that you needed to have at least niche adoption before you can gear up for a full-on advertising assault.

The iPod did one thing right in the early days: it managed to balance all its major problems so that there was always something worse about any competitor you looked at. For example, the Creative Nomad Jukebox had a larger capacity and was cheaper than the 1G iPod, but it was also quite a bit larger and the interface wasn't as nice. Smaller players like the Diamond Rio line were quite a bit cheaper but couldn't hold as much music.

The only place where Apple definitively lost out is price, but then the people who were buying iPods in the first place were used to paying more for Apple product because they were, by necessity, Mac users. Remember that for the first couple of generations, iPods were only for Macs.
posted by chrominance at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2006


psmealey, you seem to be ignoring the period when the iPod reached the tipping point, which was mid 2002 (when the Windows models debuted) to mid 2003 (When Apple started the silhouette adverts). During that time an enormous number of Windows users bought iPods, with very little visible advertising.

Also, you overrate Apple fans' loyalty. Very few of them would buy an Apple product if it isn't genuinely better in some way to the alternatives.
posted by cillit bang at 1:30 PM on October 23, 2006


I think, in a way, the iPod succeeded rather in spite of its relative lack of quality (though again, storage capacity was a huge feature advantage over its comps). Apple just learned that you needed to have at least niche adoption before you can gear up for a full-on advertising assault.

So everyone who has ever bought an iPod was either blindly loyal or easily fooled?

I'll agree that Apple has marketed the iPod just about as successfully as one could expect to, but you seem to confusing 'clear message' with 'smoke and mirrors'.

The 1st Gen iPod really was leaps and bounds above the competition. The core elements that we expect in a good MP3 player in 2006 were there in 2001. Those who tried the original iPod quickly were convinced. Read the reviews. Apple 'got it' early on that it's the entire eco-system that makes the experience. Others are still learning this lesson.

Marketing may have contributed the iPod's success but it wasn't a substitution for the product itself.

If that's how things worked, 2005 should have been Creative's breakout year.
posted by mazola at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2006


I'm still using my 5-year old 1G 10GB iPod, I'm listening to it right now. I've replaced the battery once. Other than that it has given me no problems at all, so I'm a bit puzzled about the issues of quality people keep mentioning. Maybe I got lucky.

I think I'll finally update to the video iPod when I buy my MacBook Pro next year, and give this one to my girlfriend or my dad or something.

It's a great device, and has definitely become the "Walkman" of this decade and perhaps the next. The fact that so many car manufacturers mention "iPod input jack" or "integrated iPod compatibility," rather than "MP3 player input/compatibility" is pretty telling as to how it's defined the genre, even if it didn't originate it.

"The only place where Apple definitively lost out is price, but then the people who were buying iPods in the first place were used to paying more for Apple product because they were, by necessity, Mac users."

Obviously, price wasn't and isn't an issue to non-Mac users when the PC-compatible versions came out, or now, since they're still buying more iPods than anything else.

BMW and Mercedes-Benz sell a lot of cars, y'know? People will pay extra for "perceived" or "reputed" advantages, and for style and cachet.
posted by zoogleplex at 1:43 PM on October 23, 2006


The overwhelming success of the iPod does represent the complete triumph of form over function, doesn't it.
Completely depends on what your function requirements are, doesn't it? No matter what Apple does with the damn thing, there will always be someone bitching because it doesn't do "A" or have functionality "B" (cue the three "it doesn't do Ogg" haters)

In the case of a portable, personal item like the iPod, form must be considered just as strongly as function. They go hand-in-hand. It's meant to be hand-held and manipulated...preferably single-handedly. It also has to exist as a stable platform when worn on the body, with easily accessed and touch-learned controls. Thus the clean, simple control layout. For me, the biggest drawback to the original iPod design is the hard-drive and the weight. They've just about solved that with the Nano, though. If anything, I'd say that the iPod (especially with the Nano) is a very successful synthesis of form and function, rather than the triumph of one over the other.

Is it the most perfect design? Nope. Is it a smart and thoughtful design. Yes.
YMMV.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:49 PM on October 23, 2006


I love my new 80gig iPod with video, but I have to say there's one thing that irritates me about it, and this is only with 45 gigs (or so) worth of music on it: why can't I select by letter when I'm in the "Artists" or "Albums" pages? The Rio Karma that I previously had worked like this:

- Go to Artists page
- Get a list with "All", "0-9", and then the letters of the alphabet along the left side, and a list on the right side (no need to change pages when you selected one of the subcategories).
- Select "A" and just get the artists that start with A. Hit back, and just go back to the letter selection.

As much as I like the iPod's new search and scroll functionality (bringing up letters as you scroll extra-quick-like is nice), it's just not quite as functional as the Rio's method was.
posted by antifuse at 2:10 PM on October 23, 2006


I suppose my litmus test for success is that, five years after its release, my first generation 5GB iPod is still my primary (and only!) audio player, effortlessly managing and serving up a somewhat large (80GB-ish) music collection.

I don't think I'm the only 1G iPod owner to say something like that.

I'm not sure if the users of competing products in 2001 will claim the same.
posted by mazola at 2:17 PM on October 23, 2006


So everyone who has ever bought an iPod was either blindly loyal or easily fooled?

Let's keep our false dichotomies to political discussions, shall we? Obviously, with few exceptions, if the product is inferior, the marketing won't work.

I just think it's the most fetishized consumer product on the market right now, and as such, is a bit overrated. You can get the similar features/functionality from at least a half dozen other MP3 players/phones, but it's cache and hip factor (extending from the super cool design and the advertising campaigns) keep it at number one.

During that time an enormous number of Windows users bought iPods, with very little visible advertising.

I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt on that one. As a Mac user and early iPod adopter, I seem to recall significant prelaunch advertising activity for the Windows model, but it could well be that this recollection is either faulty or distorted by my own world view.

In either case, I'd really be interested to take a look at their spend data to do a real case study on it.

Also, you overrate Apple fans' loyalty.

If I seemed to, it's only through making an oversimiplification in order to make a point. Many of us should remember the gargantuan flop that was the Newton. Apple devotees, to generalize, are a savvy bunch that wouldn't tolerate inferior product.
posted by psmealey at 2:19 PM on October 23, 2006


how bout a frickin' laser

My iRiver has a laser. Two of them, in fact. Used for the optical SPDIF input and output. Turn them on in the dark and they RULE. Well, if you are being particular they are red LEDs. But they still look wicked in the dark and you can set them pulsing.

I think a big part of Apple's succes with the ipod was that it did so little and came with virtually nothing in the box. You had to buy add-ons to do pretty much anything more than play back a song (record, radio, memory card, armband, FM emit, etc). And despite all the early marketing about how white it was, all the owners seemed to go crazy buying all these different plastic, latex, rubber, and leather condoms for it for wildly inflated prices.

All these extra gadgets added up to a huge 3rd-party market eager to market to ipod owners - many of whom seemed to possess disposable income in greater abundance than early owners of other mp3 players. Apple generated a huge ecology and affiliate marketing racket very quickly with online and retail sellers going crazy stocking ipod "accessories".

The other mp3 player makers never really figured out that "less is more". They killed a lot of their 3rd party potential by bundling so many accessories with their players.
posted by meehawl at 2:25 PM on October 23, 2006


I'm just pissed that I bought my 60GB iPod six days ... six frickin' days!!! ... before the 80GB model came out.

Also, never muck with your iPod in any way unless you also have the computer it syncs to at hand. Half my vacation this year was spent recovering files from a disastrous attempt to copy files from my iPod to a friend's computer.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:36 PM on October 23, 2006


meehawl: The other mp3 player makers never really figured out that "less is more". They killed a lot of their 3rd party potential by bundling so many accessories with their players.
He speaks the truth- I like my iPod precisely because it's clean, elegant, and simple. I don't want 30 extra buttons that jut out at odd angles and make the device too bulky for my pockets. I like that it's slim, regularly shaped, and does everything I need from it- play music- exceedingly well. It syncs up seamlessly, and I don't have to worry about it- it just works.

There is an occasional yearning in the geek part of me for a device that's loaded with features (that's why I always sucker myself into buying these pda phones that I don't even need) but I like my ipod for its simple functionality. It's like those expensive coffee makers that are stainless steel, have clean lines, and just one button. They don't have a lot of options for the user- but they make coffee very very well.
wolfdaddy: I'm just pissed that I bought my 60GB iPod six days ... six frickin' days!!! ... before the 80GB model came out.
Sadly, he also speaks the truth. I know why they don't tell you about these things, but it pisses me off to no end. At least in my case, my 60GB had two months' of use before the 80GB were announced... and since I was migrating from a 15GB, I still have a lot of space to fill before I feel that pinch again.
posted by hincandenza at 2:50 PM on October 23, 2006


"I'm just pissed that I bought my 60GB iPod six days ... six frickin' days!!! ... before the 80GB model came out."

So did we. In fact, two days before the 80G came out. At either Best Buy or CompUSA, I forget... and they let us bring it right back if we weren't happy. Which we weren't, since the new model came out. :) So we returned it, then ordered an 80G from Apple, which showed up only a couple of days later.
posted by litlnemo at 4:03 PM on October 23, 2006


Strange, I have no iPod, yet I don't feel that I'm missing out on anything.

Yeah, but you're still not as cool as the Fonz.
posted by fungible at 4:45 PM on October 23, 2006


I occassionally call my iPod a "Walkman."
posted by five fresh fish at 5:25 PM on October 23, 2006


Choice magazine named it one of the top ten shonky products.
posted by oxford blue at 6:44 PM on October 23, 2006


Choice magazine named it one of the top ten shonky products.

Shonky?
posted by doctor_negative at 8:22 PM on October 23, 2006


shonky
From Wiktionary
Jump to: navigation, search

English

Adjective

shonky

1. (Australian slang), of poor or dubious quality.
posted by oxford blue at 9:05 PM on October 23, 2006


I still say it's a fad. Invest in a good portable victrola and you'll be much happier.

kidding! even I caved.
posted by jonmc at 6:54 AM on October 24, 2006


But when the case is in a pocket you still have to take the thing out of to adjust anything.

I don't. You can just do it through the material. Or get a remote.
posted by dame at 7:11 AM on October 24, 2006


TiVo I believe is about to have a birthday too.
posted by PetBoogaloo at 11:38 AM on October 24, 2006


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