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iPod Mania

Posted June. 10, 2006 03:34,   


[The Cult of iPod (2005), written by Leander Kahney]

When the iPod was first introduced under the description: “smallest, thinnest, and able to store the most songs (maximum 1,000)”, the public showed a cold reaction to this hard drive based digital music player. The iPod was not the first digital music player, nor was it the cheapest or with the largest disk storage. Some critics said it was “priced by idiots” or “pretending to be innovative.”

However, the iPod started to shine as time went by. About 10 million units were sold within three years. The three year record of Sony’s Walkman was three million units. Business 2.0 predicted that by 2010, one out of 15 people on Earth will own a digital music player and that the iPod will have the greatest market share.

How did the iPod make such a huge success, and how is it changing our lives?

The Cult of iPod, written by the publisher of the IT online news service Wired News, searches for the answer to this question. The author gives the following explanations for the iPod’s success: extraordinary insight in the essence of a new music media, the synergy of software, hardware and content, a simple, elegant design, and marketing fueled by consumer passion.

The iPod expanded the personal music space created by the Walkman. If the Walkman was a shallow trench surrounded by music contained in a single album, the iPod is a valley containing enough music to fill a disco. If the Walkman was a garden, the iPod is a huge piece of land.

This was made possible by Apple Computer’s corporate culture that brought together hardware (iPod), software (iTunes) and online services (Music Store).

Apple was criticized as an old company that insisted on integrated manufacturing when the rest of the PC industry was separating software and hardware, but the company turned this weakness into a strong point.

Apple’s power is also in its design. The iPod is assembled with parts from various IT companies. IT manufacturing companies marveled at Apple’s extraordinary skills.

It cast ‘magic’ on the previous model that looked like an FM radio receiver with it numerous buttons, and gave the design a simple touch. Turning the usually black earphones into white was an especially good move.

Afterwards, the marketing of the product was done not by the company but by the consumers. Big-scale marketing in United States usually reaches $200 million a year, but Apple only spent $23 million the first year and $45 million the next year on the iPod.

The public volunteered to make noncommercial Internet advertisements and became iPod missionaries themselves. Huge stars such as David Beckham joined the league by showing themselves in public holding an iPod. The term “cult” in the book’s title refers to the trend that resembles religious worship.

The iPod even introduced an interesting cultural revolution. At nightclubs the line dividing the producer (DJ) and the consumer (dancer) disappeared. Due to the ‘shuffle’ function which enabled music to be played randomly music assumed a life of its own. Critics say it is the loss of artistic control, but some also see it as a reflection of modern man’s desire to control time and space through his musical imagination.

Once again, we are reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s famous words, “The medium is the message.”

Chae-Hyun Kwon confetti@donga.com