How far we’ve come…

22 10 2008

Greetings, fellow technology enthusiasts. We all use something different, Mac, Windows, or Linux, iPod, Sansa, or Zune. I think that we can all agree that the iPod has made an idelible mark upon the technology industry. On October 23, 2001, Apple introduced its own music player, the iPod. It cost $499 and had a 5 gigabyte hard drive and a non-backlit black-and-white LCD display. The iconic “Click Wheel” on the front was called the “Scroll Wheel.” Ironically, though, the wheel really did make a light clicking noise. Nowadays, we are used the iPods having a touch-sensitive wheel on the front. The original had a physical wheel that moved around.

Apple was certainly not the first to market in this area. Companies like SanDisk, ZEN, and Sony all had their fingers in this market. What really won over the masses was not its technical ability and certainly not its price. It was the user interface. Most of the established brands all had devices with similar storage and lower prices, compared to the iPod. However, their user interfaces were clumsy and had a difficult learning curve.

The iPod not not take off right away. In fact, it took a few years for it to really catch on and start growing market share. It is still growing market share. The positive impact of the iPod has helped to generate a “halo effect” around Apple’s other products, especially the Macintosh. In fact, during Q4 of 2008, Apple reported that it sold 2,611,00 Macs, 6,892,000 iPhones, and 11,052,000 iPods. With each of those categories, Apple expanded its marketshare.

Not everyone is as big a fan of the iPod as I am. Part of Apple’s strategy was selling the iPod as a companion to its online media service, the iTunes store. Originally it only sold music. Now it sells movies, music videos, TV shows, games, and iPhone applications. The problem that many have with this service is its employment of Digital Rights Management, effectively locking the music to the iPod and the computer it was purchased on. The primary reason that Apple gives for doing this is that it would have been impossible to get content from the major record labels without putting copy protection on their content. It has partially responded by introducing iTunes Plus, music sold on the iTunes Store, but with a higher bitrate and not DRM.

Another criticism is the lack of a consumer-removable battery. The lithium-ion battery in the early iPods tended to have a high failure rate, frustrating customers who wanted a quick and cheap way to get their iPods portable again. Apple offers battery replacement for a fee. (I believe it is $50.) Also, when Greenpeace began drawing attention to Apple’s questionable environmental policies, Apple began an iPod takeback program. Apple will now take back any iPod for recycling, free of charge, even if you do not buy a new iPod. They also have a similar program for Macs, but you do have to purchase a new computer to recycle it through Apple.

Despite its flaws and criticisms, the iPod remains an excellent media player for the general public, myself included. I own a fifth-generation iPod and an iPod touch and I have enjoyed them both. In fact, I am thinking about getting my old iPod out of storage and putting Rockbox on it. I would say the iPod has had an excellent seven years and I think it has several more to come.




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