iPod Turns 5ive Today

You can buy all kinds of holders and ‘skins’ to protect it from damage; minispeakers that plug into it; microphones that turn it into a digital audio recorder; small radio transmitters that beam songs to the nearest FM radio; attachments that turn it into a breathalyser; underpants
with special iPod-sized pockets and — I kid you not — a customised toilet-roll holder with a charging dock for your precious device while you are, um, otherwise engaged. (Only $99.95 from www.old-fashioned-values.com.)

To mark the anniversary, Steve Jobs, Apple’s mercurial CEO, gave an interview to Newsweek. He said two interesting things. The first came when he was asked why Apple had succeeded with a music player when many other more experienced consumer-electronics companies had failed. “We had the hardware expertise, the industrial design expertise and the software expertise, including iTunes,” replied Mr. Jobs. “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.”

That’s spot on. Before iTunes evolved, there had been lots of other CD-ripping MP3 management programmes, many of which were technically adequate but disastrous in terms of aesthetics and user-friendliness. The iTunes software was lovely to look at, slickly efficient in operation, and intuitively obvious in use. And the iPod hooked seamlessly to the programme. Suddenly, updating your mobile player became a doddle, rather than a demonstration of technical virtuosity.

The thing just worked. Without iTunes, the iPod would have been just another gadget — nice to look at and handle, maybe, but in the end just as useless as the average discarded PDA. As a system, iPod plus iTunes turned out to be greater than the sum of its parts. This echoes some advice given recently by Forrester Research, a consultancy, which advised companies to “sell experiences, not gadgets.” This insight came from the discovery that most people who have been sold HDTV sets don’t realise that to get the benefit of the new technology they also have to subscribe to a high-definition TV channel. Mr. Jobs spoke about how he persuaded the record companies to allow him to sell tracks on the iTunes store. He waged an 18-month campaign in which he pestered the companies while they experimented with their own disastrous download sites.

“Remember,” he continued, “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.” This must be one of the few cases in business history where having a small market share gave a decisive advantage. ‘

The Apple iPod turns five today

The little white box has come to define our social age