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Andy Ihnatko

Who Cares About The New iPod Accessories?
October 17th, 2003

Who cares about music? Like any of these new iPod announcements even matter.


I mean, honestly. Your priorities are totally messed up if any of Thursday's announcements hold any fascination for you whatsoever.

(Andy looks off into distance again.)

OK, if you're really interested in the iPod, I'll come out and say that I have a problem with the new, redesigned iPod commercials. The last series was nicely proletarian: simple shots of good, honest people singing along with their favorite songs. Who among us hasn't succumbed to the hypnotic rhythms of The B-52s' "Love Shack"? At a family wedding? During the homily? See? You're nodding. Or maybe it's because the track's ended and you're now grooving to some Clash. Well, I'll accept that as agreement, all the same.

But what's Apple up to with this new batch of ads? Sure, the design is fairly groovy -- white iPods being held by silhouetted users against a single-color background whose bright palette will be familiar to anyone who remembers when having a Mac that could display 16 colors was considered a pretty big deal. These people can't keep from dancing (good start) but they look cool while they're doing it. I ask you: do you look cool when you're dancing by yourself? No. Of course not. That's why you dance by yourself.

Yes, indeed. It's good, harmless fun. Your correspondent here happens to be one of a legion of American male youths who learned how to dance largely from watching comedies on TV. My moves consist of:

1) "The Peabody," as identified and performed by Mr. Ralph Kramden during that episode of "The Honeymooners" in which Ed Norton won the Raccoon Lodge Halloween Costume Contest;

2) "The Melendez," a dance that centers on heaving your shoulders up and down while pivoting your neck; demonstrated by the kid dancing standing next to Schroeder's piano during the bits of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" when the band rocks out;

3) "The Silly Walk," popularized by Mr. John Cleese in "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

And these moves have served me well for lo these many years. Though I didn't realize until much later in life that the common feature of all three was that Ralph, the kid, and Cleese don't have any women dancing with them. This explains a lot.

I'm worried that these new iPod commercials are sending the wrong message. Those folks can get down, if Getting Down is indeed the phrase I'm looking for. I've seen five or six dancers and not once has the word "Spaz" even so much as flickered across my subconscious. Is this the equivalent of that bit in the denture-adhesive commercial when someone bites into a candy apple, or the hair-replacement spot in which the dude breaches the surface of the pool and confidently flicks his new thatch of polypropylene through the air? Apple might be making promises it honestly has no ability to keep.

I suppose my concerns about the iPod run a little more deeply than mere advertising, though. I like the idea that Apple's finally following in the proud footsteps of the T-Rexes in the first "Jurassic Park" movie, tentatively testing the boundaries of the iPod's confinement to see how much they can get away with.

And so, we see the Barbie-ization of the iPod: it's all about the accessories. Here's an accessory that lets you record voice notes. Here's another one for dumping the contents of media cards. Bonus points: updates to the iPod software allows iPhoto to treat the iPod as just another picture source. Dock it and slurrrrp! The 180 megabytes of photos you took at Six Flags drop into your photo library.

OK. Good. I'm not opposed to either one of those doo-dads. The voice-recorder addresses one little matter that's become particularly troubling: I seem to have standardized my appointments and contacts on a PDA that doesn't allow you to add any new data unless it's hooked up to a Mac. And while my natty new TravelSmith "Road Less-Travelled" jacket has no fewer than 11 pockets ("including two zippered, two buttoned, and one with Velcro® closure, keep your valuables protected and close at hand") none of them are big enough for even my smallest PowerBook.

Result: it's the only PDA that's never let me down, but it's also the only PDA I've owned where I fish it out of your pocket, do some clicking and scrolling, tell my dentist that I am indeed free that day and time...and then write the particulars down on a Post-It stuck to the back of the device. Don't get me wrong, I love my iPod, but this half of the equation seems unsettlingly analog.

Where the iPod is concerned, I'm highly suspicious of doo-dads. I'm almost evangelical on this point. It's just such a perfect object in and of itself and every time Apple has made it do cool new things, it's been with a software update. When the iPod was just something for playing music, it was a slick little white-and-chrome gizmo the size of a deck of cards. As a device that synchronizes with all sorts of data on your desktop -- be it music, contacts, appointments, or random files -- it was still a slick little gizmo the size of a deck of cards. The future? A slick little gizmo that you carry in a medium-sized bag that also contains a card adapter and a microphone pod and the dongle for adapting last year's card adapter to this year's iPod and...

It's sort of a blow to the elegance of the concept. When you talk to the folks at Apple who work on the iPod, you may be a little bit disappointed that they're not taking revolutionary leaps with its development, but in the end you know that they're looking out for the device's best interests. They know what this device is all about and they don't want to mess up the "story" Apple's telling. Allowing the iPod to do network gaming would be like writing a story in which Homer Simpson confronted a problem without bringing beer or guns into the equation.

No, if you want to talk about a new feature that's true to the elegance of the iPod, yet increases the device's potential and its Fundamental Ginchiness by at least a factor of ten, you need only know one word: Bluetooth.

But as I said at the beginning, none of this matters. None of it at all.

(Another sigh.)

The Sox will get 'em next year, I guess.

digs the Mac, and has been writing about the Mac for longer than most of us could tell the difference between a bite of Apple Sauce from a byte of Apple code. You can read his monthly column at Macworld magazine, and his blog at the Colossal Waste of Bandwidth.

Andy's latest book is The Mac OS X Tiger Book (US$16.49 - Amazon).

You can send your comments directly to Andy, or you can also post your comments below.

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