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iPontificateI Invented the iPod

by - August 23rd, 2004

I Invented the iPod!

Well, I guess the credit actually goes to Apple on that one, but I did have a vision of the future of music back in the day. The year was 1985, I was a freshman at The University of Texas, and I had just seen the coolest thing ever. A friend of mine had a portable device that played the newest music format around: CDs.

I wasn't terribly interested in the portability factor then, and I'm not now. So, I went out and got a full-size CD player nineteen years ago, and today my iPod spends ninety percent of its time plugged into a home stereo, shuffling my entire music collection. This is the way I envisioned the future of music. It's as if I have my own personalized radio station with no damn Toyota commercials, and no songs by The Guess Who (apologies if you are fan, but if I hear "American Woman" ever again, I am taking a hostage).

I got to thinking of the future of music in 1985 because of that silvery disc which we all take for granted these days. But back then, the concept of buying music that, in theory, would never wear out was stunning to me. Before then, all we had was vinyl and cassettes and a smattering of other formats that all wore out pretty quickly. Why? Because all of them required direct contact of the medium to a needle or recording head. That friction ensured the inevitable death of your tunes. Bogus, dude.

I recently, pulled some of my old albums out of the closet, and I can tell you that there is no way these things should have ever been given to kids. I'm not sure what I was doing to them, but by the looks of it I must have been sanding fence boards or skipping them off of the driveway.

But CDs were digital, meaning the music was data that would always be same each time you played it, so there was no gradual distortion over time, and since CDs were read by a laser, there was no contact; therefore they would last forever.

Besides, lasers are just cool. Han Solo had a laser gun, and I had a laser in my room too, so I was as cool as Han Solo.

(How I ever got a wife, I'll never know.)

The advancement in technology was profound to me, so I got to thinking. The way I saw it, in the future there would be no swapping of CDs in your player. That was already wearing thin the first week I had the CD player. They had multiple CD players of course, but six CDs gets old real fast too.

I figured that in the future you would go to the record store (I am the first to admit that I didn't invent the Internet), and buy a cool little package with some artwork but instead of a CD there would be a tiny chip inside. You would take that home, pop it into your music player, which would ingest the little chip, where it would live among hundreds of other tiny chips, each one an entire album.

Granted, I was way off on the details, but the result is the same. Of course I pictured a device as big or bigger than a CD player, and I completely missed the concept of copying the music to a storage device. But I had superior copy protection: if you don't have an album chip, you don't have that music.

I think that a whole lot of people also were thinking along those lines, and that may help explain why the iPod has become such a sensation. The iPod is the realization of what many people saw as the future of music: enormous amounts of music available without physical intervention. The only place you could get that before was a radio station, but you had to listen to a lot of crap before you got to any good stuff.

For example, why the classic rock station in Houston seems to have a library made up of the same songs I have listed in my "Don't Ever Play These Crappy Songs" playlist is beyond me. Once again, apologies, but The Allman Brothers and Yes played exclusively and constantly make for one really lousy radio station.

There have been three big things in music since I became a music fan. The Sony Walkman, the CD, and the iPod. All three of them have one thing in common: they fundamentally changed the way we thought about music. The Walkman made music truly portable for the first time, the CD gave us digital music that never wore out, and the iPod stores ALL of our music in one place.

While everyone wants an iPod because of how cool the hardware is, I also feel that Apple has a real advantage over the competition here that often goes overlooked. Apple is known to design and create the most elegant operating systems on the planet that actually do what you want them to, in this case search and play huge amounts of music. I have played with several iPod competitors, and while they all are generally ugly as an AMC Gremlin, the real deal breaker for me is actually using them.

Believe it or not, no other player's OS even comes close at being as good at searching and playing huge amounts of music. Let me repeat that for emphasis. No other player's OS even comes close at being as good at searching and playing huge amounts of music. And forget comparing any other software to iTunes for buying and organizing that music. Unless someone else comes along and builds better software for their device, Apple seems destined to rule the roost.

is an Idiot. He is the co-founder of IWS Interactive, a New York (and now Houston) based development company for Macintosh. Now he spends his time writing about, developing for, and getting clients to buy Macs. Oh, yeah, and he recently had a kid. So his days are filled with taking care of little Jack, then playing with his Mac. He wouldn't have it any other way.

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