Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Whither the iPod Revolution?

What makes the iPod unique is that it embraces a delicate balance of features, functionality, style, size, and price. No other manufacturer has been able to achieve this balance. Apple designers are exceptional in their approach to the inevitable compromises of industrial design. It's all about prioritizing capabilities:

1. Hardware interactivity
No other player has the ease of use of the iPod. NONE. It's not just the scroll wheel but display, ease of one-handed operation, and its large, easy-to-operate buttons.)

2. Software (OS, syncing, PC interface via iTunes).
No other player has as intuitive of interface as the iPod or the ease of interoperability with its PC software counterpart. It is staggeringly easy to move from song to song, album to album, etc. on the iPod and even easier to keep music synced via iTunes. In the end, it is the vertical integration of desktop to iPod via iTunes and the ITMS that makes this player second to none. The masses appreciate ease of use and techs should even more so. The average tech might be able to make his kludgy mp3 player work but the WISE tech knows his time is worth something and will always opt for the more elegant solution.

3. Size.
Who wants a big clunky thing in their pocket? For example, people want to run with their mp3 player strapped to their arm. The iPod is amongst the smallest HD players made (maybe the smallest, it's hard to keep track). The importance of this design feature cannot be overstated.

3. Style.
Yes, the iPod is trendy but in a way that is highly unusual in the world of tech marketing. It is a product that is also the best at what it does. Personally, I wish Apple would advertise it more.

4. Price.
Compare product pricing and you'll find that the iPod is competitive. Go out and look at a comparable player from, say, Rio. The Kharma is the same price! Why would one spend $299 for a Rio when one can get an iPod for the same money?

As for things like battery life and missing features? This is the place where Apple shows its design genius. The battery is the same technology used in the other players and is not made by Apple. However, Apple does want the smallest player possible and since size is more important to the customer than battery life, they usually choose size. Meanwhile, the mp3 bricks that have 20-50% more battery life simply don't sell as well. Why? Because people prioritize their needs. They do the research and make a choice.

The same philosophy is true of extra features. Extra features could be part of the iPod lineup but they aren't. Why? Does Apple not know how to include them? Will it make the iPod too expensive to market? Of course not. Extra features that very few people use simply get in the way of the iPod's primary selling point: user friendliness. For those not paying attention, this is a core Apple (no pun intended) design philosophy across their entire product line. Apple prefers to produce elegant technology solutions. They eschew feature bloat because it gets in the way of the user experience. This is the bottom line with all of their products.

Oh, and as a technology manager at a major university, I've seen every desktop computer and mainstream media playback device ever made. When all is said and done, I recommend Apple products up and down the product line because they cause me the least support problems. Does that make me selfish? Maybe. But my time is valuable and recommending products that are hard to use is just mean.


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