Why Apple’s iPod Sucks – Part 1

I guess I will not waste time tackling some of the more controversial topics. Let us get the party started with a treatise on one of the more popular discussions bouncing around the Internet these days: Apple’s iPod.

Everyone seems enamored with the iPod for its industrial design, elegant form and simplistic function. I have personally owned the largest capacity 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation iPods so there is/was something about the devices that I too fell victim. That something is called clever marketing.

What made and makes iPods popular, I contend, is the cool factor that comes from owning one more than the feature set or support owners receive. The following is my argument for why iPods are cool (in general and relative to the competition) and, more importantly, why iPods suck.

Why iPods Are Cool:

  1. Many influential people (e.g., those with the disposable income) have one.
  2. Many influential people (e.g., those without the disposable income) want one.
  3. The iPod brand includes devices at various price points.
  4. Apple makes the iPod.

All of the items above combine under the banner of clever marketing to make the iPod a success despite its shortcomings. Here is how:

By charging a relatively large amount for a device that looks good but does relatively little and equating that device with “coolness” Apple is able to attract the influential people in bullet #1 (I will refer to them as Group 1). I believe people with lots of disposable income are not typically the trendsetters who establish what is cool so when Apple markets/sells coolness to Group 1, members of said group snatch it up to “look” or “be” cool. Basically, because members of Group 1 cannot define cool but can afford cool, they get caught up in the hype of something being marketed as cool and cannot wait to buy their way in. Apple markets the iPod with talented dancing silhouettes and hypnotic, funky music. How many people — outside the entertainment industry — with disposable income have ever been accused of being talented dancers or creators of hypnotic, funky music? Q.E.D. :nerd:

Contrast that group with the people described in bullet #2 (Group 2) and the difference is while Group 2 is more inclined to create cool than those in Group 1 (e.g., poverty is an excellent motivator to one’s creativity) they will fight tooth-and-nail to instead be perceived as members of Group 1. The poor and middle class covet the lifestyle of the wealthy and will go to great lengths to adopt aspects of that lifestyle even temporarily. You can probably site countless examples of this and the one I am interested in here is there are many people who cannot really afford iPods and $0.99 iTunes but buy them anyway because they wish to be seen as members of Group 1; not because the device is great at what it does.

This brings me to bullet #3. By having iPods at prices ranging from $99 to $399 Apple is able to expand the iPod image as a cool device for the masses since even those who cannot afford the “true” iPod experience (large capacity, sleek navigation) can still be part of the iPod craze. Members of Group 2 can more easily switch to Group 1 even if their iPod is more of a USB flash drive than a music player (e.g., the iPod Shuffle with relatively small capacity and horrible navigation).

Bullet #4 is one of the partially technical advantages of the iPod — since Apple is known for its legendary industrial design — that I still group under marketing. Why do I put it under marketing? Firstly, there are vastly more PCs running Windows than Macs in the world. So one can safely assume the iPod would not be successful as a Mac-only device and Apple has enough business acumen to divert from its Macs Rule trappings when establishing a brand (e.g., Quicktime). Secondly, Apple owns the the entire Mac experience (hardware & operating system) and is known for its cult-like following (particularly among members of Group 1 defined above). I argue if any other consumer electronics outfit (Sony, Microsoft, Creative, etc.) created the iPod it would not have been as successful as it has under Apple’s stewardship. This is obviously not a slight against Apple but more an indication of how marketing and brand recognition are more responsible for a device’s success than the device’s functionality. Apple is known for being a great industrial design house. There is no disputing that well-deserved accolade. However, the iPod receives too much credit for what it actually does and not enough criticism for what it does not do in part because it looks nice but mostly because it is “Designed by Apple.”

I’ll tackle the good stuff — specifically, Why Apple’s iPod Sucks — in a later post.

Stay tuned…

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