Birthday iPod

July 31, 2005

Family, Music, Technology

I have used an MP3 player on my computer ever since Justin Frankel released the first version of Winamp in 1997. Those early versions were great – and a little bit creepy. Justin had the habit of embedding bizarre, nearly occultic, messages and symbols in the About pages. But the software was innovative. And it allowed me to play with my CD collection in a whole new way.

And in 1998, my wife bought me my first portable MP3 player for Christmas. The device was a 128MB player from a company called Sensory Science. still has a link with a description of this ground-breaking device. I loved this thing. And I could take my music (or twelve to fifteen songs of it) anywhere I wanted to go. It was especially great in the gym. I could tune out everything while I lifted. So, for the past few years, I’ve ripped every CD that I own so I can load it onto a portable player. But in the meantime, technology has marched on.

Last year (in December) I started to listen to podcasts. I used either iPodder or Doppler as the feed aggregator. I used either iTunes or Windows Media Player as the MP3 player on my computer. My first podcast was the Daily Source Code with Adam Curry. After hearing his feed, I got hooked. As you know, I listen to dozens of podcasts – some on a more frequent basis than others. But the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis can be found on my home page.

Well, at Christmastime last year, my mother-in-law sent us “gift cards” in lieu of selecting a present, wrapping it and then mailing it to us. So I used my gift card to buy a new portable MP3 player – an Apple iPod Shuffle. I loved my RaveMP, but I needed a bit more space for storing podcasts. And I wanted to play around with an iPod. So a Shuffle made perfect sense.

And I have used my Shuffle and enjoyed it immensely. And Dana has enjoyed it as well. She has used it at basketball tournaments for the past four months.

But it does have some limits.

  • It does not store very many songs. Well, that’s not quite true. Compared to my RaveMP, it stores a ton more. My RaveMP would store about fifteen songs. And the Shuffle stores approximately one hundred and fifty songs. But this is only a fraction of my collection. Currently, I have over three thousand songs stored on my computer – all but three or four of these songs were ripped from my personal CD collection. So while the Shuffle stores a whole lot more than the RaveMP, it is still small – when compared to my complete collection.
  • The Shuffle is cumbersome to load up with songs. Yes, it is very easy to connect to my machine. But if you allow it to sync with your whole library, you get some interesting results. For example, I have Christmas music in my library. And I don’t want a random Christmas song thrown into a workout mix. So I’ve been syncing with a specific playlist. But that means that I have to keep this playlist up-to-date. So I spend time building different mixes for different listening venues. It’s lots of fun – but somewhat tedious to continue to maintain.

Nevertheless, the Shuffle has been a great addition to my musical life. But my wife has been watching me over the past few months. After watching me fiddle with podcast aggregators and diddle with players, my wife thought I’d love a full-blown iPod.

And she was right. I really think that the iPod is a sweet little gadget. Is it cool because it is new? Not at all. I’ve used digital music for eight years. I’ve had a portable player for seven years. And I’ve listened to podcasts for almost a full year. But the iPod (and iTunes) integrate all of these tools in a very simple and stylish package. In fact, it is fair to say that Apple did not create any of the technologies that make up the iPod. Even the shuttle wheel is not their innovation. It was developed by Synaptics (the makers of laptop touch pads). But Apple did design and engineer a sweet package. And they did develop an astounding brand identity.

But that almost sounds like what Microsoft has done with the Windows product and brand. Do I mean to say that Apple took a page out of Microsoft’s playbook? That’s exactly what I mean to say. If we set aside all the “evil empire” rhetoric, we need to realize that Microsoft is about design and engineering as much as it is about marketing polish. Both of these companies have synthesized ideas from multiple sources and created a compelling package that consumers are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to use.




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