One-on-One with Newsweek's Steven Levy on iPod Feature

Just what was the reasoning for writing a feature, cover piece on the Apple iPod? And what was most interesting in interviewing Apple CEO Steve Jobs? Just some of the questions The Mac Observer asked Newsweek reporter Steven Levy, Monday. Here are excerpts from the interview...

The Mac Observer: How did the idea come to do a feature piece on the popularity of the Apple iPod?

Steven Levy: Surprinsgly, the idea came from the people in our art department who use iPods and are obsessed with them. They thought that the iPod had become a cultural icon, has been a significant force in getting digital music a really big push and helping change the way people will be listening to music now and in the future. So, we contacted Apple telling them our ideas and wanting do to a piece. They then told us a new iPod was coming and we didnit know anything about it. So, we worked with them to plan the piece and the photography and coordinate the timing.

TMO: There are others portable music players out on the market besides the iPod. Why do you feel this one has been so popular?

SO: I think there are few reasons for that. One is that even though there are other hard disk-drive based devices that you can listen to music on, none of them pushed it to the point where people would really want one. To date, there has been little competition to this product. The iPod came out over three years ago and really made itself the first player people want to have, made it easy to get to any song you want, was extremely portable and good looking and had a full-featured online music store that made getting songs easy. It was a combination of those things that pushed the limits of people saying, "Wow! This is fun and easy to do!"

TMO: Your article timing is interesting, because I wrote just last Friday about the New York City obsession with the iPod. Have you found the same thing?

SO: Absolutely. We noticed that as well and it led us to think that maybe something is happening here. As it turned out, (Apple CEO) Steve Jobs and Apple industrial designer Jonathan Ive noticed the same thing and told us that that was the point at which they realized the device had entered the culture. I canit tell you the last time I was in a (New York) subway car without seeing two or three people with those little white strings coming out of their ears, which screams, iiPodi.

TMO: How much of the iPod phenomenon do you believe has to do with its design and look?

SO: Itis hard to distinguish one from another. No matter how good something looks, if it doesnit do something for you, youire not going to spend (US)$400 or even $250 for a iPod mini. Apple likes to say that they have a huge share of all music players out there and if you count only the ones being used, their share is much bigger. I believe that because people are using them. Also, if that werenit true, it wouldnit matter how good it looked.

TMO: Microsoft hasnit entered the portable music player market yet. Despite Appleis popularity to date, do you see Bill Gates and Microsoft being a formidable opponent?

SO: I think Microsoft will be a force, but they will have a challenge competing with the iPod. That in turn will be good for consumers because it will spur innovation. But right now, Apple is improving on a product which is much better than anything else at a pretty impressive rate. It could become difficult for others to catch up, no matter who they are. One thing Iive been critical of Apple about is that the iTunes Store sells songs that are incompatible with other digital music players and other formats wonit play on iPods. I think that is short sighted and something they should eventually change and will if Apple sees their marketshare erode.

TMO: Give me a sense of what you thought of Steve Jobs in your talks with him for this article?

SO: Maybe because Iive been interviewing Steve for over 20 years now, I always find him generous with his limited time. I think heis a fascinating person to talk to and get his ideas on a variety of topics. He always has something to say and has specific ideas in his mind of what he wants to hit home. You have to been incredibly impressed with the number of innovations Apple has come up with over the years and Steve Jobs has played a role in all of those.

TMO: Apple seems to be doing so well with the iPod but not so well in expanding its marketshare of people owning and using Macs. Whatis your take on Appleis future?

SO: Apple isnit going to go away. Macs will not fade away. Mac sales are coming back, albeit slowly. I think the new G5 iMac to be released in September could have a positive impact.