The way we perceive/comprehend the iPod and its value as well as good and less than good aspects of the design of its system.
Where it rests within a wider context of digital dissemination and what it tells us of our current public/private relationship with a technologically advanced product; in contrast to our relationship with a previous music delivery technology, the record-player/turntable.
turntable_timeline_v1 The PDF Turntable Timeline shows examples of the variety and recent innovation in adapted use and as cultural archetype. Its media, whether known as black plastic, wax, vinyl, discs, platters, sides, or phonograph records, is the LP 1, a precious item, and more valued – for its survival, a miracle! – over a period of time. It must be protected from contact with anything other than the needle, Ownership implies caring for. A degree of dexterity is required to get the disk from its protective inner sleeve to the platter whilst only touching the edges, then the needle must be lowered delicately onto the spinning disk. The direct vibrations that transfer from record to needle/cartridge/tone-arm give an organic tangibilty to their sound. Records are a technology, and one which has not developed too far from its original form, but more importantly they are a medium that makes stored sounds portable. The media of Compact Cassettes and Compact Discs is to be dealt with elsewhere.
In order to have any music at all a century ago, either of two conditions had to be met: either people had to make it themselves, or they had to come within earshot of others making it. In this respect, the people of the 19th century differed in no way from their ancestors of the 18th, 16th, or 14th centuries, or indeed of any other period of historical time. They differ only from us.
Music is something we can all know intimately ie in a holistic sense, mind and body together. And we all know quite clearly what we like to hear and someone somewhere has, is or was making it and recording it. A collection of songs for personal use is only a single option from a wide array of the educational, instructional, therapeutic and social uses that mobile and networked sound-delivery devices could entrain. Recorded (L. ‘recordari’ to remember, to call to mind) music will endure; how will we present, distribute, pay for, organise and put it to use?
I have favoured Apple computers for roughly half my lifetime and as a consumer have like others been by turns amazed, baffled, incensed, frustrated, immersed, at every lurch, klunk, tweak and hike, but ultimately grateful for products which have so fully allowed me to practice design digitally. Popular music output over my whole lifetime is phenomenal in its depth and breadth, and the fact that it, or a large proportion of it could be shrunken and contained in a handy box is intensely impactful. One observation; in some ways reducing a 50 year tumult of musical out-pouring into a vast collection of similar files brings a flattening of the landscape, the peaks and troughs where each song is a particular cultural point, with antecedents and precursors, and removes any trace of the physicality which we have been conditioned to see as a large factor in our understanding of cultural products. It puts the context of age of a song at one remove.
Apple Computers are not perfect.2
A companies behaviour and its products are strongly linked and in the mediated heat of Silicon Valley myths are an essential feature of the landscape, elevating minor steps and character details into sisyphean labours while the products raisons d’etre are dissected publicly in fanatical detail all the while spawning a whole industry of books/commentaries/analysts. There is a business story here, of the jumble of the Apple Computers company itself. There is the context of Silicon Valley and that of world consumer electronics. These three condition the subject here; the facticity of the iPod, subsequently referred to as ‘it’. Originally an mp3 player which has extended its digital capabilities, it may represent or even be developed into an example of third age modernism if a version of convergence can ever be agreed. That singularity may soon occur.3
The iPod is heroic, a flawed product from a unique/isolated company from within a twisted system. Its really only the best it can be when predicated on the egotistical desires of fragmentationally-minded technologists whose aims centre on the mobility of information rather than human needs 4. It is permanently potentially a great product and although each incremental improvement generates a perceived higher value, it actually becomes more complex with more functionality/productivity and less simplicity.
It is (in the language of a 19thC novel) “inconstant’. It lacks the tangibility or cohesion of a single specific product, it being now part of a huge number of iterations (see below – at least 22 models +software/firmware upgrades). Yet it is perceived as almost a generic (as was the Sony Walkman although the only information this brings is that naming things simply imprints more firmly in the mind), in 2010 the tally is;
iPod Classic 6.5 Generation
iPod Mini Second Generation
iPod Shuffle Fourth Generation
iPod Nano Sixth Generation
iPod Touch Fourth Generation
Attended by a plethora (Superfluity. Gk ‘fullness’)/panoply ( complete or magnificent array. Gk. panopilia, ‘complete armour’) of accessories, Headphones and Headsets, Cables and Docks, Car Accessories, Cases, Power Accessories and Speakers (currently 50+ variations of speakers alone available on the apple website)
What is constant of course is the proclamation ‘Introducing the new iPod’. It is ‘forever’ new, which is simultaneously true and false. It is forever rewriting itself. Or rather the people who work at apple believe this string of revisions is somehow useful as a process, and perhaps reinforces the myth of apple as dedicated and driven innovators – rather than being seen as merely the makers of constant minor adjustments to what is in effect a very restrictive system of file distribution and playback. Apple designers in particular are positioned as leaders in design and crafting sleek, attractive/repellent objects (in the sense that they are ‘other’, smooth, unemotional but obviously physically precious and particular, subtly jeweled – approaching reptilian)
The speed of technological development and the product-release patterns and marketing of consumer electronics precludes the creation of any finished product. The process of product design has iteration and obselesence built in is consistently presented as the sublime peak of technological functionality and flawless object 5. The iConsumer is at best a testing ground for the manufacturers and marketeers, and although this would seem to entail some sort of feedback/development process the net result are passive consumers who are continually prompted to upgrade and/or waste existing models with no likelihood of R/R/R.
On one level the iPod is clearly a success story. It allows great portability of some digital music file types, but at the same time it is a closed, commercial system for doing simply that as part of a system – iTunes. The function of the product is a simple one, and the physical form and useability are equally simple and controlling/restrictive. The iPod is a black box, when it works it becomes transparent, when it does not work for some reason it becomes opaque; it is frustratingly hard to find out why. Is it battery failure, mechanical interuption, some sort of damage that cannot be assessed? The number of problems consumers have with the products is long and repetitive. (“my ipod kept freezing so i reset it and it erased everything most of which isnt on my computer so its gone for good why cant it just do whats its supposed to and play music’ I hate my iPod.com (for history see also http://ipodsdirtysecret.com)
Despite what Nathon Shedroff says in defence of the iPod product strategy about new models not actually superceeding old ones it does invoke ‘iPod-envy’ and the inevitability of a new issue, development or update makes it clear that the iPod is not a fully-fledged design, but very publicly a work-in-progress, an idea of a long-lasting product rather than its actuality. But then it conforms to any technologically-led development, its always liable to change. We are now not even sure if it actually should work perfectly, would that not obviate the whole geek industry of hacks, workarounds and tweaks that has grown up around it. (see http://www.ipodwizard.net) and on quite a deep human level we sympathise with its shortcomings, its almost childish desire to please seen in its constant re-invention. Plus our status as passive in consuming is re-inforced by what might be seen as a witholding of functionality by the company ie It is also widely known that there is an ongoing petition all over the Internet requesting for new firmware updates for older generations of iPods. Isn’t it a pity that owners of older iPods will make good with outdated technology when a newer firmware upgrade can be in use? (from oversite.org)
What types of meaningful experiences do people value? Here are 15 of the meanings that emerge most frequently and appear to be universal among people’s values. http://makingmeaning.org/
My own iPod score follow out of ten. Do the test yourself. It may indicate your attachment if you are an owner.
1. Accomplishment. Achieving goals and making something of oneself. 2/10
2. Beauty. The appreciation of qualities that give pleasure to the senses or spirit. 7/10
3. Community.A sense of unity with others around us. -2/10
4. Creation.The sense of having produced something new and original. -3/10
5. Duty. The willing application of oneself to a responsibility. 0/10
6. Enlightenment. Clear understanding through logic or inspiration. 6/10
7. Freedom. The sense of living without unwanted constraints.-2/10
8. Harmony. The balanced and pleasing relationship of parts to a whole. 5/10
9. Justice. The assurance of equitable and unbiased treatment. 1/10
10. Oneness. A sense of unity with everything around us. 4/10
11. Redemption. Atonement or deliverance from past failure or decline. 0/10
12. Security. The freedom from worry about loss.-5/10
13. Truth. A commitment to honesty and integrity. 0/10
14. Validation. Recognition of oneself as a valued individual worthy of respect. 5/10 (delus.)
15. Wonder. Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding. 8/10
The name ‘iPod’ was coined for use with the Apple music player by copywriter Vinnie Chieco. He was called in by Apple to help market the new product. Curiously, Apple had already registered the trademark ‘iPod’, originally intending it to use it for Internet kiosks – but these never saw the light of day. Unattrib.
Jonathon Ive 6. “The defining qualities are about use: ease and simplicity.” “A preoccupation with differentiation is the concern of many corporations”. The former is merely a stated aim rather a result and the latter’s ‘many’ should include Apple. Thirdly “Materials, processes, product architecture and construction are huge drivers in design. From a processing point of view we can now do things with plastic that we were previously told were impossible. The iPod is made from twin-shot plastic with no fasteners and no battery doors enabling us to create a design which was completely sealed.”
The influence of Dieter Rams for Braun designs on Apple’s Jonathan Ive is clearly seen but that is only one small aspect of any dialogue between them even though the surface appearance similarity is a comforting one. Direct heritage elements fused with advanced contemporary materials, which on a mass scale is tremendous for an enjoyment ethos of design. nb The development of metals, plastics and illumination technologies have seen the creation of surfaces which surpass even those sc-fi used to feature; fused, sleek, silvered, glowing, it is a new visual-tactile language used in every scale, from the corners of your ipod to the sweeping digital ‘studios’ from which news is broadcast.
Braun T1000 radio and PowerMac G5/Mac Pro.
Detail of the radio perforated aluminum surface.
Braun T3 pocket radio and Apple iPod.
Braun L60 sound system and Apple iPod Hi-Fi.
Ram’s work for Braun had aspired to being a standard and in some way anonymous, yet within an organised world of plenty.They surely were not originated or at any time trumpeted as world-changing icons of style or radical media reworks or vehicles of social change. Rather their aim was for a subdued but quality functional stability and expression, qualities that Apple designs and builds have also sometimes aspired to (and which their visual design and presentation have consistently overreached) 7. Then those famous braun products were not made in a time where all modes of communication and information are continually reforming to adapt to the enduring demands of technologies, changing the way we create, consume, learn and interact with each other.
In light of Dieter Ram’s 10 principles;
Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.
The iPod could be said to do well up until the 4th item on the list and thereafter its performance drops alarmingly.
On October 23, 2001 Apple Computers publicly announced their portable music digital player the iPod, created under project codename Dulcimer. The iPod was announced several months after the release of iTunes, a program that converted audio CDs into compressed digital audio files, and could organizes your digital music collection.
Oct. 15, 2006 — Oct. 23 marks the fifth anniversary of Apple’s iPod. CEO Steve Jobs reflected with NEWSWEEK’s Steven Levy (author of “The Perfect Thing,” a book about the iPod out this month)
see http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/ipod.html about the past, present and future of the device that changed Apple—and the world.
NEWSWEEK: During the iPod’s development process did you get a sense of how big it would become?
Steve Jobs: The way you can tell that you’re onto something interesting is if everybody who knows about the project wants one themselves, if they can’t wait to go out and open up their own wallets to buy one. That was clearly the case with the iPod. Everybody on the team wanted one.
Other companies had already tried to make a hard disk drive music player. Why did Apple get it right?
We had the hardware expertise, the industrial design expertise and the software expertise, including iTunes. One of the biggest insights we have was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless.
What was the design lesson of the iPod?
Look at the design of a lot of consumer products—they’re really complicated surfaces. We tried make something much more holistic and simple. When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there. We believe that customers are smart, and want objects which are well thought through.
Some people say that iPod might lose its cachet because it’s too popular—how can it be cool when Dick Cheney and Queen Elizabeth have one?
That’s like saying you don’t want to kiss your lover’s lips because everyone has lips. It doesn’t make any sense. We don’t strive to appear cool. We just try to make the best products we can. And if they are cool, well, that’s great.
What products, maybe outside technology, do you consider cool?
I like things that do the job and kind of disappear into my life. Like Levis. They just kind of get faded and disappear, and you don’t think about it much. If you look, you appreciate the design, but you feel something from them, too. A lot of quality is communicated through a feeling that people have. They don’t understand exactly why, but they know that a lot of care and love was put into the designing of the product.
Let’s talk about the iTunes store. How did you get the record labels, which had been resisting digital music, to sign up?
It was a process over 18 months. We got to know these folks and we made a series of predictions that a lot of things they were trying would fail. Then they went and tried them, and they all failed, for the reasons that we had predicted. We kept coming back to visit them every month or two, and they started to believe that we might actually have some insight into this, and our credibility grew with them to the point where they were willing to take a chance with us. Now, remember, it was initially just on the Mac, so one of the arguments that we used was, “If we’re completely wrong and you completely screw up the entire music market for Mac owners, the sandbox is small enough that you really won’t damage the overall music industry very much.” That was one instance where Macintosh’s [small] market share helped us. Then about six months later we were able to successfully persuade them to take down the barriers and let us move it out to the whole market.
Now people at some labels think that iTunes, with its dominant market share has too much power.
We’ve never once gone to them and asked them to lower their prices.
No, but you’ve asked them not to raise their prices, when some of them wanted to.
Our core initial strategy on the store was that if you want to stop piracy, the way to stop it is by competing with it, by offering a better product at a fair price. In essence, we would make a deal with people. If they would pay a fair price, we would give them a better product and they would stop being pirates. And it worked. If we go back now and we raise prices—this is what we told the record companies last year—we will be violating that implicit deal. Many [users] will say, “I knew it all along that the music companies were gonna screw me, and now they’re screwing me.” And they would never buy anything from iTunes again.
Do you think that it’s fair to the customer that the songs they buy from Apple will only work on iTunes and the iPod?
Well, they knew that all along.
At one point you were saying, “When our customers demand it, that’s when we’ll consider interoperability.”
Nobody’s ever demanded it. People know up front that when they buy music from the iTunes music store it plays on iPods, and so we’re not trying to hide anything there.
Microsoft has announced its new iPod competitor, Zune. It says that this device is all about building communities. Are you worried?
In a word, no. I’ve seen the demonstrations on the Internet about how you can find another person using a Zune and give them a song they can play three times. It takes forever. By the time you’ve gone through all that, the girl’s got up and left! You’re much better off to take one of your earbuds out and put it in her ear. Then you’re connected with about two feet of headphone cable.
IPods now have video, games, audio books and podcasts. Will iPods always be about the music?
Who knows? But it’s hard to imagine that music is not the epicenter of the iPod, for a long, long, long, long, long time. I was very lucky to grow up in a time when music really mattered. It wasn’t just something in the background; it really mattered to a generation of kids growing up. It really changed the world. I think that music faded in importance for a while, and the iPod has helped to bring music back into people’s lives in a really meaningful way. (Jobs bigger than jesus! ed.) Music is so deep within all of us, but it’s easy to go for a day or a week or a month or a year without really listening to music. And the iPod has changed that for tens of millions of people, and that makes me really happy, because I think music is good for the soul.
the ipod effect 8. In April 2007, Apple celebrated its 100 millionth iPod sale
My 3 major criticisms
1) its a black box 9. technologies have as their final stage of life a human legacy, extensions of that technologies original or intended usage. expanded by human ingenuity, curiosity or accident. This is one big difference from the record-player (see PDF above). The ipod for all of its system components is not extensible, can only be hacked by techies – its reductive in the way it engenders lack of involvement structurally. Yet it can seem increasingly central to life, no doubt we shall hear harrowing tales from future authors on the intolerable existential anguish of losing one in a house fire but the ipod promotes uniformity, apart from pointless conversations about model numbers and memory capacity there is no room for individuality in the usage. One ipod and 1000 people would not sound, any more that 1000 people with an ipod each would sound any better, it is not a musical instrument but an instrument of music.
“My Ipod I have fixed twice. That means that yes, I have opened it. It looked like it was cooked after yes, just over a year, but a little research and I found out that tightening up the hard drive cable is all I needed to do. Apple’s repair costs are of course uneconomical and it would have have been more economical to buy a new one had I not had the skill to do this myself” anon
b) closed system with iTunes. The dark side of the iPod and iTunes is the DRM (Digital Rights Management) and narrow range of supported audio formats. Apple uses its own DRM system called FairPlay. No doubt other vendors would like to license FairPlay so that they could compete by offering alternative music stores with protected content that plays on the iPod; but so far Apple has not permitted this. No doubt other vendors would like to offer alternative devices that play music purchased from iTunes; but so far Apple has not generally permitted this – I say “generally” because there is a deal with Motorola for iTunes-enabled smartphones and more such deals may be made.
Is this acceptable? It is archetypal vendor lock-in; you can only purchase protected music from one vendor, Apple; you can only play it on devices from Apple, or its chosen partners. Let me put this another way. The future of music is digital, with home media servers combined with Internet downloads. You may like the iPod, but are you happy to commit to Apple as your supplier for devices that will play the music you buy, forever? Alternatively, if some other device for home or pocket emerges in future, are you happy to re-purchase your music to support some other variety of DRM?
In mitigation, we are talking audio files here. You can unprotect iTunes music pretty easily, either by recording the audio via an analogue connection, or by burning a CD and re-ripping the CD to your PC. The snag in both cases is inconvenience and loss of quality. Generally you can go from a lossy format to a lossless type without any problem, but if you then re-rip to another lossy format, the compound effect of processing and re-processing the sound will spoil the quality. Fortunately, there is a better solution. Don’t buy music from iTunes; buy the CD instead. You can still use the iPod; the quality is better, and it is generally free of DRM.
IPod sales and iTunes usage will continue to grow but the market will grow even faster, causing their actual market share to shrink. When that happens, and Apple’s products become entirely marginalized, I don’t want to be stuck with a whole bunch of 99-cent songs encoded with AAC and locked with FairPlay DRM.
DRM is “almost always about eliminating legitimate competition, hobbling interoperability, and creating de facto technology monopolies.”
A closed concept is a concept where all the necessary and sufficient conditions required to include something within the concept can be listed. For example, the concept of a triangle is closed because a three-sided polygon, and only a three-sided polygon, is a triangle. All the conditions required to call something a triangle can be, and are, listed.
c) it is fetishized, even by its own marketing.
2) its not good design process.
Giles Slade interviewed 2010 Author of: Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America
“Steve Jobs came out recently and pretty much admitted that the iPod should be thought of as a disposable product. It is a slick, sleek thing, and you would never consider that it comes from a fundamentally dirty industry. In fact, the amount of toxins that go into an iPod is enormous. There are more than 68 million of these things out there, and they are full of cadmium, beryllium and lead. And Apple has deliberately created them so they only last a year. The company has a voluntary take-back program, but how many people use it? They won’t say. I am hugely personally disappointed in Steve Jobs. He turned into Darth Vader.”
3) it conditions cultural content/behaviour
People ‘become’ their playlists, or at least are represented by them to the extent that they are potentially definitve and hence delimiting. The fear that others will scroll your list/you and merely respond “Cool, cool, cool, sad, sad, cool, sad, sad, cool…”
People wait with baited breath and coo(l) over whatever new productivity/ innovation/bug-fix. The process of awaiting/anticipating/expecting/confidently predicting/knowing your current model will soon become outdated (if not actually obselete). The fact that development is startlingly/frustratingly/teasingly/incremental, what this sustains is just a state of arousal and rather than allow reflection on the central questions of digital freedoms and the development of truly effective tools the constant change merely distracts.
It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.Voltaire.
The transitions of the iPod over time, in an explicit public way, mirror the iterative process that designers use, before a final design is made and released, to arrive at and select an optimum form and function.
Its whole value rests on a cliff edge of uncertainty, the assumption that its data is held securely within, but this is a virtual security and data does dissappear. this is a fact-of-life which while not a direct threat to be warded off IS a distinct possibility but one that gets repressed, the emotional attachment and potential waste of the time and effort spent gathering the music files does not bear contemplation. Likewise the data is either visible (on), active (playing) and inert (off) so their is a satisfaction to be gained and indeed a latent need to keep switching it on again, waking it up, just for the reassurance that it is working, your stuff is all still there! So like all technological devices ( Old Fr. devis ‘purpose, contrivance’ and deviser ‘to divide, control’) it contains a fear of loss and the nullity of non-function.
For all the talk of ‘emotional’ responses to products which is merely a market force to make us happier/more ‘engaged’ with out products, to bind us closer to them, to make us more dependent upon them, we should look more closely, more objectively at what a product actually IS and how it is has been originated and not merely view it subjectively and in its immediacy. Its usage and sustainability, although attracting all the interest and energy, must only follow from its origination and motive, which must be checked over and analysed for worth and may then be rated in light of its effects.
It is not a case of looking to its past to inform us about its present state and future prospects. The idea that it might is an example of the ‘genetic fallacy’. This term was coined by two philosophers, Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel. The mistake they identified was of confusing the origins of a belief with its justification. But then a product is not a belief even though Steve jobs might like us to believe it was and any belief lies in the ability to make a better ipod; singular, if business pressures and flexible motives would allow.
It does seem to be an item that people do put their faith/dependency in as a device to aid them through life, at every moment of the day, performing myriad tasks and simultaneously allowing a choice, a retreat from others and/or access to networks. The ability of a device to perform complex tasks is in direct ratio to the private time we then invest considering its use and maintaining its future functionality and the public time we spend in comprehending it in a social sense. It is also an article of faith, there is a surety that it will change soon, it may be better, certainly more complex and potentially life-changing. Every new iteration micro-shifts our comprehension of it but its mutable status is inherently distracting.
1 There’s an app that allows one to listen to ones music library on the iPhone as long as ones computer at home is on — even if one is driving in a car.
2. One can be walking in a crowd, but separated by the use of “please rob me” white headphones. and privately emailing another continent.
4) Is it really innovative?
1. Not All Innovation Is Equal
Technical innovation will earn you lots of adoring fans (think Apple). Business-model innovation will earn you lots of money (think Dell).
2. Innovate for Cash, Not Cachet
If your cool new thing doesn’t generate enough money to cover costs and make a profit, it isn’t innovation. It’s art.
3. Don’t Hoard Your Goodies
Getting to market on time and at the right price is vital. If that means licensing your idea to an outside manufacturer or marketer, do it.
4. Innovation Doesn’t Generate Growth. Management Does
If you covet awards for creativity, go to Hollywood. Managers get rewarded for results, which come from customers.
5. Attention Deficit Has No Place Here
Every innovation worth doing deserves your commitment. Don’t leap from one new thing to another. If your creation doesn’t appear important to you, it won’t be important to anyone else.
Note on Media
An unreflective statement from a Wired interview with ‘Dr iPod’, Michael Bull: ” Apple is out front of a massively expanding market. Their machines are brilliant in every respect….
One of the interesting things is that with vinyl, the aesthetic was in the cover of the record. You had the sleeve, the artwork, the liner notes. With the rise of digital, the aesthetic has left the object — the record sleeve — and now the aesthetic is in the artifact: the iPod, not the music. The aesthetic has moved from the disc to what you play it on … ”
I have a different view on this question. With vinyl you had the disk, the platter, the grooves – they were the product, the sleeve was important in many ways too. But the aesthetic was never in the sleeve but the in product, the object, the sleeve was made of information, cultural, artistic, typographic, lyrical, tactile. And wrong, the aesthetic is in the medium, the invisible magic of sound, its emotive highs and lows, from binary digits, the digital is marvellous with its own technological aesthetic and social/networking allure. The artifact is just a quaint reminder of physicality, and by virtue of it being small and shiny is also archytypally precious, but also thus easily lost. The anti-aesthetic of the thing itself are the facts that you have to go to the bother of buying it, loading it, learning it, charging it, and connecting it and fixing it when it stops being a beautiful glowing friend and becomes inert. If you had no speakers or headphones how brilliant would it be? Most importantly the aesthetic resides in the deeper human experience of hearing music, incredibly, wherever or whatever you may be doing. There is a spectrum between hearing and listening along which the ipods delivery of music is fixed nearer the former.
“The other thing is that there’s a lot of illegal downloading. Half the people I’ve talked to so far download music illegally. The investment they’re making is going into the artifact, not the music. The market is moving toward the artifact, not the music to fill it.”
Thrice non. The market is for the music, all sorts for everyone, that is what people want. People though have been conditioned. Music is sound, in the air, intangible, notionally free, so for people to perceive music as free once it has no solid form but can be stored on a hard disk is a small step, and its very digitalty/maleability supports this pyschologically. People may like the ipod object, but only care about the object because of the work it does to hold their music, it is a impersonal object people would happily use without qualm if by chance they found one, as what would they have really deprived the original owner of? a container, a handset, a tool. No one ever described a Walkman or a cassette player a tool, but digital makes simple, unscalable tools of what might have previously been equipment.
Over 25 years how little has really changed in the way that Apple and the rest of the computer industry operates and provides delivery of systems and digital tools? The need for co-operation and discussion in defining the clarity, quality and accessibility of platforms and file formats is still urgent. Concerns over the value and sustainability of the iDevices and their future, beneficial, integration into our lives require imaginative solutions.
1. The whole process of mastering and pressing disks is a mechanist marvel. “The basic press structure is precisely what is needed for record making… two similar molds, both heated, mounted face to face with a hinge at the rear so that the machine opens up facing you. Enlarge these two molds to record size; to hold two record stamper disks, one below and one above (fastened in by their centers and around the edges), and you have the beginnings of a record press behind each stamper comes a sudden heat, using super-heated steam at three hundred degrees, then quick cooling by cold water, all of which must be controlled by the opening and shutting of appropriate valves – and automatically, since no human operator could maintain the exact desired cycle of hot and cold that produces the perfect record. The easiest record to make and the most common is the solid disk, of a single material all the way through, though the more complex records, such as Columbia’s old laminated disk, go through the same presses. Record and label are bonded together in the pressing. The operator of a pressing machine has beside him a “hot tray” on which is placed a dozen or so rectangular blocks of material, (shellac or vinyl) about half the area and two or three times the thickness of the final record. The biscuits are softened up on the hot plate until they are of the consistency of a soggy piece of fried mush, just about movable in one piece, and no more. With the press open, first a label, then a biscuit, then another label is placed in the press, and the top lowered. The automatic system then takes over unobtrusively; steam heats and flows the plastic material into every tiny groove; at the predetermined moment it is replaced by water, and the record is instantly hardened. The record is lifted out, and the next one is ready to go in.”
2. History of Apple 2003
Almost everyone agrees that Apple’s products are not only trailblazers but also easier to use, often more powerful, and always more elegant than those of its rivals. Yet those rivals have followed its creative leads and snatched for themselves the profits and scale that continually elude Apple’s grasp.
SOME OF THE MOST INNOVATIVE INSTITUTIONS IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN BUSINESS HAVE BEEN COLOSSAL FAILURES.
The Creativity Conundrum
Conventional wisdom has long answered that Apple is the victim of a single, huge strategic error: the decision in the 1970s not to license its operating system. Apple has since had many opportunities to reverse its infamous decision, but it hasn’t done so. And Apple’s creativity has produced plenty of other opportunities to compensate for the initial misstep. The company could, for example, have exploited an early beachhead in the $12 billion education market for PCs (it once dominated that market but now can claim only 10% of it), to push its way back into homes. But it failed to develop the aggressive sales force to do so. Apple has missed chances to own new markets, too. It introduced the world to pen-based computing with its Newton mobile device in 1993. Newton had its problems–it was clunky, hard to use, and probably ahead of its time. But it still seems baffling that Apple failed to capture a meaningful stake in the $3.3 billion market for personal digital assistants (PDAs), a business that by some measures is now growing faster than either mobile phones or PCs.
“Innovate,” Jobs bellowed from the stage. “That’s what we do.” He’s right–and that’s the trouble. For most of its existence, Apple has devoted itself single-mindedly, religiously, to innovation. Political economists have assigned tremendous significance to innovation since at least the mid-20th century. Innovation is at the heart of Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction, for example: the process of “industrial mutation” that keeps markets healthy and progressive.
But the paradox of Apple is in many ways more disturbing because its innovations haven’t been precommercial, like Xerox PARC’s; they haven’t been superseded, like Polaroid’s; they haven’t been frivolous, like those of the dotcom bubble; and they haven’t been destructive, like Enron’s. They’ve been powerful, successful, useful, cool. Since its earliest days, Apple has been hands-down the most innovative company in its industry–and easily one of the most innovative in all of corporate America.
When it was launched in late April 2003, iTunes became the first legal, pay-as-you-go method for downloading individual tracks of recorded music. Music fans and the recording industry alike loved it, and by the end of the year, more than 20 million songs had been purchased and downloaded. iTunes as touted as “revolutionary,” “groundbreaking,” and a “paradigm shift” for the market. Time magazine hailed it as the “Coolest Invention of 2003.”
But all its creativity certainly hasn’t put it at the top of the food chain. Where Apple was once one of the most profitable companies in the category, its operating profit margins have declined precipitously from 20% in 1981 to a meager 0.4% today, just one-fifth the industry average of 2%. And it isn’t just the hardware manufacturers that are devouring Apple. Its chief competitor in software, Microsoft, earned $2.6 billion in its most recent fiscal quarter (ending September 30). That’s nearly 15 times the $177 million in software sold by Apple in its most recent fiscal quarter and roughly equal to the profits that Apple has earned from all of its businesses over the past 14 years. In just three months.
With such examples as Apple in mind, a number of skeptics are beginning to ask whether our heedless reverence for innovation is blinding us to its limits, misuse, and risks. It’s possible, they say, to innovate pointlessly, to choose the wrong model for innovation, and to pursue innovation at the expense of other virtues that are at least as important to lasting business success, such as consistency and follow-through.
James Andrew, of the Boston Consulting Group, for example, argues that too many companies presume that they can boost profits merely by fostering creativity. “To be a truly innovative company is not just coming up with great new ideas, or products and services,” he says. “It is coming up with ones than generate enough cash to cover your costs and reward your shareholders.”
Three innovation models.
The first and most traditional is the integrator model, in which a company assumes responsibility for the entire innovation process from start to finish, including the design, manufacture, and sale of a new technology. In general, large, well-heeled companies–Intel, for example–do best with this model. Second is the orchestrator approach, in which functions such as design are kept in-house, while others, including manufacturing or marketing, are handed off to a strategic partner. This model works best when speed is of the essence, or if a company wants to limit its investment. When Porsche couldn’t meet demand for its popular Boxster sports coupe in 1997, for example, it turned to Finnish manufacturer Valmet rather than open another costly plant. Finally, Andrew says, there’s the licensor approach, in which, for example, a software company licenses a new operating system to a series of PC manufacturers to ensure that its product gets the widest distribution at the lowest possible investment cost. Microsoft.
From the beginning, Apple appears to have employed the integrator approach–the model with both the highest costs and highest risks. It was probably the inevitable choice for Apple’s innovation-venerating culture, which demanded something akin to absolute artistic control.
The ambition to build the “perfect machine” drove Jobs and his cofounders, A.C. “Mike” Markkula and Steve Wozniak, to strive to build everything, from hardware to software, in-house regardless of cost. Even in those early days, peers like Microsoft were moving to specialize in one dimension of computing or another. (Apple now farms out much of its manufacturing, but won’t say how much.)
This pursuit of perfection also led Apple’s founders to opt for a closed operating environment on the early Macintosh computers. A closed computing environment is easier to control than an open one. Applications can be written to integrate with one another seamlessly, making the system less buggy. A better user experience!
“There was a lot of elitism at the company,” says engineer and Apple alum Daniel Kottke.
Apple’s purist approach may well have made certain early innovations possible–networking, for example, which it introduced on the first Mac machines in 1984. Windows PCs didn’t have printer networking until the mid-1990s. But time and again, Apple’s obsession with controlling the entire process of innovation has also demonstrated the truth of Voltaire’s dictum that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Today, the company has just 300,000 independent and in-house developers writing programs and making products for its operating systems, including the latest, OS X. More than 7 million developers build applications for the Windows platform worldwide.
Apple has consistently rejected opportunities to adjust its innovation strategy to another model. Licensing its operating system to hardware manufacturers would have been an obvious choice. Yet when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he terminated the first and last licensing program, championed by former chief executive Gilbert Amelio. Jobs is reported to have told Apple managers that he feared “Mac knockoffs” would dilute the Apple brand.
At the heart of Apple’s innovation conundrum also lies a powerful cultural bias: the lionization of purely technical innovation. Ours is a material society. So it’s natural that when we think of innovation, we are more inclined to think of objects, things that we can see, touch, and feel, and of inventors such as the Wright brothers and Thomas Edison. It turns out, though, that the most economically valuable forms of innovation often aren’t the tangible kind. Instead, they are the innovation of business models. Even Edison-who held 1,093 patents (more than anyone else in U.S. history) and who invented electric light, the phonograph, and the motion picture–fared pretty badly when it came to choosing business models. He waged and lost one of the world’s first technology-format fights, between alternating and direct currents. And he abandoned the recording business after, among other things, insisting that Edison disks be designed to work only on Edison phonographs. Sound familiar?
You can be tremendous at innovation on the technical side, but if you can’t wrap that innovation into a compelling value proposition, with a dynamic distribution strategy and attractive price points, then the innovation isn’t worth much at all.
And it turns out that such value-driven business-model innovation is precisely the sort of thing that Apple is lousy at. The Mac was first marketed to high earners and early adopters of technology. A group of developers launched an unsanctioned project to design a lower-cost Mac for schools. The team found ways to take costs out of the Mac, such as cheapening the floppy drive and using a less expensive, smaller power supply. In the end, they produced a fully functional Mac with a parts cost of about $340. Even with the typical 60%-plus gross margin on Macs at the time, the computer could have retailed for $1,000–far less than the standard Mac. But when the team presented the Mac LC (for low cost) to management, the marketing department nixed it.
“They said things about the computer weren’t Mac-like enough, that it made the machine feel cheap,” says Owen Rubin, a former Mac software developer who was on the team. Apparently, one sticking point was the floppy drive, which didn’t inhale disks the way the original Mac did. Such subtle conventions cost money. Rubin and his team were sent back to the drawing board. The Mac LC hit the market in 1990, at $2,400. Adjusted for inflation, that’s more than $3,300 today, meaning that the Mac LC really wasn’t low cost after all.
There’s one last essential element to successful innovation that has often been missing at Apple: follow-through. As Howard Anderson, founder of both the consulting firm Yankee Group and the Boston-based venture capital firm Battery Ventures, puts it, “Innovation isn’t the key to economic growth. Management is the key to economic growth.” In practice, that means supporting product innovation with such things as a solid sales force, a strategy for collaborating with developers and makers of complementary products, and a strategy for customer ser-vice. “Companies that rely too heavily on creativity flame out,” Anderson says. “In many ways, execution is more important. Apple is innovative, but Dell executes.”
Apple’s dismissal of such mundane pursuits is another paradoxical by-product of its restless, driven culture of creativity. Things such as sales and service are gritty, not cool; plodding, not imaginative; boring, not sexy. Standing in a darkened hallway just outside the jazz-filled salon of the Musee d’Orsay, technology consultant and Apple fan Anthony Knowles puts his finger on it. “By the time their products hit the market,” he says, “they’re on to the next thing.”
The current focus of Apple’s marketing efforts is clear to anyone walking the streets of Paris (or driving up Highway 101 in San Francisco, for that matter). Brightly colored silhouettes of hipsters dancing to their iPods are plastered on bus stops and billboards and flapping against the sides of buildings.
It makes sense that Apple would make so much fuss over the gadget. Since it was first introduced in October 2001, Apple has sold more than 1.5 million iPods, or about 300,000 per quarter today. This means that in two years, Apple has achieved roughly the run rate for the iPod that it took 25 years to achieve with its home PCs.
No one knows the cost to Apple to manufacture and market the iPod, and estimates of its operating margin range widely: 2.5% to 18%. But even at iPod’s lowest list price of $299–and using a conservative margin estimate of 8%–it’s clear that the iPod contributed substantially all of Apple’s 2003 estimated operating income of $24.8 million, excluding onetime charges. Without the iPod, Apple is in trouble.
That’s why recent releases of competing portable music players take on great significance. Selling for as little as $299, the Dell DJ is about $100 cheaper than the iPod with the same 5,000 song capacity. (A $500 iPod holds 10,000 songs). A third product, a 20-GB unit made by Samsung to work with Napster 2.0, costs $100 less than the 20-GB iPod, or about $300, and boasts a lot more features, including a built-in FM transmitter–to play songs on a car radio–and a voice recorder.
In terms of its innovative legacy, the iPod and iTunes together probably represent Apple’s greatest achievement since the introduction of the Apple II in 1977. Promoting the Mac as the “hub of a digital lifestyle” certainly indicates recognition that Apple may do better to cut its losses in the PC business.
ITunes also deserves recognition as Apple’s first foray into business-model innovation. It is, after all, nothing but a novel distribution and pricing arrangement. Apple’s ability to get users to pay for songs, rather than steal them, also convinced the recording industry that digital-music delivery was worth supporting. Without this leadership, Roxio Inc.’s Napster 2.0 and Dell/Musicmatch might never have negotiated their own digital-rights agreements.
Still, Apple may have learned these important lessons only partially, and too late. The iPod works only with the iTunes service, and has a $0.99 fee-per-song pricing structure. Dell/Musicmatch and Napster offer consumers more choice. Their Windows-based players and services are interchangeable; they sell individual songs and let users listen to (but not keep) as much music as they want for flat fees of less than $10 per month. Meanwhile, the $15 million or so that iTunes has generated in revenue thus far is statistically meaningless even for Apple. And after it has paid the music labels and covered its costs, Apple is left with just pennies per song.
So Apple’s venture into online music is beginning to look like yet another case of frustration-by-innovation. Once again, Apple has pioneered a market–created a whole new business, even–with a cool, visionary product. And once again, it has drawn copycats with the scale and financial heft to undersell and out-market it. If Apple teaches us anything, it’s that effective innovation is about more than building beautiful cool things.
3. technology design has not taken adequate account of work (or life ed.) and its demands but instead has aimed at an idealised image of individuals and information.
Social Life of information p85
4. A technological singularity is a hypothetical event occurring when technological progress becomes so extremely rapid, due to positive feedback, that it makes the future after the Singularity qualitatively different and harder to predict. It has been suggested that a singularity will occur during the 21st century.
5. Designed Deterioration: Author Khoi Vinh
Looking at the digital technology I own, what moderate deterioration to be found — dents in my laptop, a gash in the side of a laser printer I own, the accumulated grime on my computer keyboard — doesn’t make these items more desirable at all. In fact, when I see the way the corner on my aluminum PowerBook has been warped due to a nasty fall from a chair, I cringe. Through this obvious, glaring example of use, of accumulated knowledge, the object itself hasn’t attained an additional whit of beauty.
In fact, the damage is actually quite repulsive. This is because the laptop was conceived by Jonathan Ive based on an assumption that it would remain perfect forever. There was no designed deterioration factored in whatsoever, and so no real thought was given to how the laptop might change with use. Marks of knowledge, like the warped corner, aren’t meant to be embraced, but rather denied.
All Shiny and New. For another example, take my iPhone. Not literally, because I still want it. But half of the reason I prize it so much right now is because of its still new, pristine state. This condition is so important to the perceived value of this phone that I feel compelled to purchase a protective case in order to maintain its immaculate facade. If I dropped it tomorrow and caused a big gash to appear across its back, say, I’d feel devastated. (Luckily, the face of it is made of fairly indestructible glass.)
That’s just not right. An object should be designed not just for sale, but also for day to day wear and tear. With use, this iPhone should get more attractive, should become like a trusted and inseparable friend.
Of course, the blame for the absence of designed deterioration from these products can be laid squarely at the feet of a more widely accepted design concept: planned obsolescence. Either technological obsolescence or fashion will almost surely spur me to replace this iPhone in a matter of years. For manufacturers, there’s almost no percentage in factoring designed deterioration into a new product because doing so almost surely means undercutting future sales.
7. The visual manifestation of the Apple brand matured in the mid to late eighties when design qualities of emphatic simplicity and pared-down styling became a meta-language for low-key monolithic, progressive business. The first direct bank identity shares many of the visual metrics of Apples packaging and publicity, notably use of B/W and monochrome next to full colour. Its an almost anti-brand position saying “there are no corporate colours, use any and all colours’ as long as all figures are contained with generous white space.
8. the ipod effect. In April 2007, Apple celebrated its 100 millionth iPod sale, claiming that it was the fastest selling music player in history. Indeed, after its introduction a little over five years ago, the iPod maintains a 75% share of the MP3 player market, after shipping 8.7 million iPods in its fourth quarter ending last September. This phenomenal growth has not only changed Apple—more than half of its $23 billion revenue comes from iPod sales and iTunes music downloads—but is currently revolutionizing many other industries as well. Anyone who provides content or creates platforms to deliver content are feeling the “iPod/iTunes effect.” Here’s a look at some of what is happening within some of those industries.
iPod Component Manufacturers
Toshiba (TOSBF), Broadcom (BRCM), PortalPlayer and a number of other iPod component manufacturers stand to gain from the iPod/iTunes effect. According to a recent study sponsored by the Sloan Foundation  and used in a recent NY Times article , Apple only makes $80 from the sale of a $299 iPod, because Apple outsources the entire iPod manufacturing process and of course has to dole out some retail and distribution dollars. Toshiba apparently collects $73 for installing an iPod’s hard drive, and Broadcom/PortalPlayer each collect a portion of $13 for their embedded video/multimedia processor chip ($8) and controller chip ($5), respectively.
Even competitors to Apple, like Sony (SNE) and Creative Labs, who both make their own MP3 players, have recently introduced iPod compatible accessories like digital media ports and iPod speakers. By joining other audio manufacturers like Pioneer in integrating with the iPod, these competitors are essentially admitting that if you can’t beat’em, you might as well join ‘em.
MP3 players, mobile phones, and PDAs are converging, making anyone in this space a potential Apple competitor/partner. In general, experts predict that the heavily marketed iPhone, an MP3 player and mobile phone with other bells and whistles, will steal sales from mobile phone manufacturers such as Motorola (MOT) , Nokia (NOK), Samsung, LG among phone manufacturers.
The “iPod/iTunes effect” will ultimately help the music industry, but only after the industry finishes contracting after losing substantial revenue in CD sales.
The major music labels—EMI (LON:EMI), Universal, Sony (SNE), and Warner Music Group (WMG)—are literally being forced to dance to Apple’s iTunes as digital downloading of music continues to erode CD sales. EMI recently made a deal with Apple to offer its entire catalog on iTunes (except for the Beatles catalogue) DRM-free. DRM, or digital rights management, is software that prohibits consumers to share their iTunes music with friends. Experts predict that the other labels will soon follow suit and deal with the enhanced risk of music piracy.
The “iPod/iTunes effect” is forcing music labels to reevaluate their business models. Companies may have to increasingly focus more on single-song sales via online stores like iTunes and understand that selling a CD with 15 songs for $15 a pop may be a relic of the past.
Live Music Venues/Producers
“The iPod/iTunes effect” on music ultimately hurt music sales by encouraging the purchase of single songs for around $1 instead of multi-track CDs for over $10. This new focus on the “single” could eventually hurt fan loyalty to specific artists because they will no longer be automatically exposed to that artist’s opus of repertoire. Ticket sales for touring artists may suffer along with those companies that produce large musical events such as Live Nation (a 2005 spin-off of Clear Channel Communications (CCU)).
As podcasts become more popular and iPods are increasingly being used to watch video as well as listen to music, traditional broadcasting and print media companies will increasingly lose viewers to new media companies like YouTube that create content easier to digest on a mobile device.
Radio may be the most affected, as consumers can now create gigantic playlists that play the songs they like randomly. Auto manufacturers are building MP3 docks into cars, meaning that along with traditional radio broadcasting companies like Clear Channel, satellite radio companies Sirius and XM) capitalize on drivers looking for ad-free music might also lose momentum to the “iPod/iTunes effect.”
Mobile content providers, albeit currently a pretty nascent market, should grow as a result of more video-capable iPods being sold. Google’s recent purchase of YouTube has sparked a flurry of interest in new media companies that provide short clips. CBS (CBS) recently purchased Wallstrip, a mobile-based financial content provider. Sony pictures recently introduced “mini-episodes” of old series like “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Facts of Life,” “Fantasy Island” and “Who’s the Boss,” edited from their original lengths of 30 or 60 minutes each to an Internet-friendly 4 to 6 minutes. Look for more “mobile-friendly” content providers to gain steam over the next few years.
Telecom Industry/Wireless Carriers
The “iPod/iTunes effect” will ultimately help wireless carriers like AT&T (T), Verizon Communications (VZ), and Sprint Nextel (S), because MP3 player/mobile phone convergence will increase device usage, along with mobile services to deliver music. With the majority of Americans now using mobile phones, carriers are worrying less about attracting new customers and more about keeping old ones and generating more revenue from them through added services.
In the short term, a consumer will be more inclined to stick with their current carrier if they have all of their songs downloaded onto a phone that only works with that specific carrier. AT&T’s exclusive deal with Apple to provide the wireless service to the new iPhone will definitely generate business for them in the short run until downloaded music is DRM-free.
It is inherently obvious that Apple’s star is rising, but the “iPod/iTunes effect” has actually helped increased Apple’s personal computer sales over the years.
9. In science and engineering, a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings, that is, its implementation is “opaque” (black).
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998* contained many other provisions that greatly expanded the protection of digitized information, including music.