iPod Thoughts

november 7, 2004

Every weekday I hop onto the VTA Light Rail here in San Jose, CA and I ride for a 50 minute ride to work (which also includes a brief 10 minute walk). Between my house and work is San Jose State University (Paseo De San Antonio stop) and now that school is back in session, I see a lot more of the iconic white earphones on the train. The iPod is no longer in the realm of futuristic gadget that only the geeks get, but it is now an established pop culture icon of the digital music age. For myself, I forgo wearing the white earphones because they sound terrible -- especially when worn in a noisy environment like a Light Rail train. But, I do find myself listening to my iPod a lot on the train, it is my personal soundtrack for the movie of my life -- at least for that two hours that I ride the train to and from work. I have tried everything else and it all comes back to the iPod. I had the original 5GB iPod, but I have also tried Archos, Creative Labs Zen, Creative Labs Zen NX and the original Creative Labs Nomad which started this whole hard-drive based MP3 player fad. I ended up with my trusty Apple iPod 15GB after the last crappy player (the Creative Labs Nomad Zen NX) broke. The 15GB felt like a complete squeeze for me since my music collection at that time was up to 12GB already. I loved the iPod again since I was using my iBook exclusively now and shopping a lot on iTunes Music Store. Apple has done a fantastic job with the user interface making it simple and easy to use. It promotes listening to music. The iPod sounds fantastic with a very flat and natural playback of music. The touch-sensitive scroll-wheel and buttons were fantastic to use, though sometimes not sensitive enough and other times way too sensitive. The size? Perfect! The iPod fit in my hand perfectly. It is too bad that my collection of music ballooned up to 18.5GB as I started to digitize my old music. I then had to start shuffling music on and off my 15GB iPod using Smart Playlists, which was a bummer since I want to keep my whole collection of music with me all the time so that I have variety depending on my mood. I put my 15GB iPod on sale on eBay yesterday and went shopping for a new larger iPod. I had four choices: 20GB iPod, 40GB iPod, 40GB iPod Photo, and 60GB iPod Photo. The $100 and $200 price premium on the iPod Photos was out of my budget. It is nice that they have beautiful color screens, but I don’t see myself looking at photos on my iPod, usually my iPod sits in its carrying case in my backpack playing music. The 20GB iPod would be overrun within a matter of months. So, I really had only one choice, the 40GB iPod. Now here’s the thing, I hate mechanical stuff and the new Fourth Generation (4G) iPods have that new-fandangled ClickWheel which has a touch of mechanical stuff in it (for the clicking). I like the tactile feel of the click, but I fear that the thing will wear out. I’ll have to live with that though since that’s the new innovation for going from 3G to 4G. But that is my other miff: Apple has let the iPod line go stagnant. Yes, the ClickWheel is a good addition (a carryover from when they made the iPod mini). The longer battery life is very welcome (from 8 hours in the 3G to 12 hours in the 4G). But where’s the innovation that we have come to look forward to from Apple? This is a very evolutionary move from Apple. The iPod Photo could be argued as the 5G iPods, but they really are not since they are yet another evolutionary step from the iPod (just a 4G iPod with a color screen and OS upgrade to support pictures). Where is the innovation Apple? The competitors are nipping at your tail and all you offer for the whole year is evolutionary upgrades? We need to see revolutionary upgrades now, the iPods are getting stagnant and the competitors are catching up. I don’t see myself upgrading my iPod for a long while now that I have the room to grow (18.9GB left!) I think that Apple needs to come out with some revolutionary new iPod to get 2G and 3G owners to cough up money and to convince those that are looking elsewhere to come over to the iPod camp -- since there are people who shop by price and features; and the iPod is now a little behind in features, though there is the hard part! Adding features makes the device more complicated and making a device more complicated makes it more unfriendly to use. Steve Jobs stressed that the iPod was all about the music, but with the addition of the iPod Photo this stress on music has been diluted a bit. Will he cave and let the design team make an iPod Movie next? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t care about iPod Movie either since I use my iPod for music. So what’s next Apple? I love my iPod, it is the best. But there are people coming up quick in your rearview mirror with lower priced and more feature-full products. How do you get them off your tail? How do you keep selling the iPod for a premium and convincing thing public that it is worth it? Don’t become a TiVo -- where you establish the technology market for a particular commodity and then lose it.