"iPod. iYawn": Vacillating Reaction To The "Breakthrough Digital Device"

This s--- ainit checkers. Itis chess.

Denzel Washington, "Training Day"

Around 3 p.m. CDT Tuesday, I was driving down the highway, on my way to make a customer visit. I suddenly remembered that Apple would have introduced its "breakthrough digital device" by then. On impulse, I cell phoned a friend who works at a Mac-software company. I knew heid have the dope for me.

He rhapsodized the device, and as he went through the feature set and specs, I could feel myself getting, um, aroused. Hey, Iim like that about gadgets. When my wife pillow talks me, she easily pushes my amorous buttons by whispering things like "TiVo. Cable modem. FireWire."

So, you can understand my need to smoke a cigarette after getting off the phone with my friend.

Wanting the see the thing for myself, I eventually made it home where I fired up the trusty G4 Cube and went to Apple.com. My enthusiasm diminished as I reviewed the iPod "firsthand," and I ultimately did something I hadnit done since Steveis last MACWORLD keynote: I yawned.

Donit get me wrong: I love the iPod. FireWire and 5 Gigs in tiny container appeals to me more than the concept of an Apple MP3 player. Instant-iTunes-"synch-ability" appeals to me. But something keeps nagging at me. Something about this thing ultimately turns me off.

Letis start with price. $399? Get real. Iive read the on-line arguments about comparisons with FireWire hard drives (btw, what is the speed of that drive in the iPod? 4200 rpm? 5400 rpm? 30 rpm?). But, Iid figured that Apple would have learned from the Cube pricing errors. Obviously not. If Apple can make a $1299 iBook, then surely the company can make a more affordable MP3 player.

Letis continue with comparisons to competitoris products. After surfing the web, I went to the store to pick up some things. Before leaving, I put on my Nomad II MG, an MP3 players that costs over $100 less and does the same things as the iPod. Sure, it doesnit synch automatically with the iPod, but synch, it does. I hate to sound like a PC users, but why would I pay more for a product that does essentially the same thing?

Letis move on to the price. Oh, I already mentioned that. But it bears repeating. Apple, Apple, Apple. Itis the price, stupid.

Letis move on to the concept of an Apple-branded MP3 player. Was it what the market needed? Was it what the users wanted? If you listen to Mac users on forums, in editorials, on Web sites, etc., what one thing do you consistently see Mac users asking for? Yep, a handheld. A PDA. There is fertile field of opportunity for Apple devices there. How many PDA-like devices are there: Palm, HandSpring and the PocketPC cloners, to count the main ones. With apologies to Palm, none of those have gotten it right, yet. Apple could do wonders in this arena. But, then, Apple would charge $1000 for its device and price itself out of the market. But then, it already did that somewhat, with Newton.

What does a PDA have to do with iPod? Much, to me. I have mixed emotions about the role of MP3 players in the Grand Vision of the digital lifestyle. Sure, MP3 players are easily a part of that vision, but did Apple need to make one? Do you see people everywhere, saying, "you know, I have this Nomad here, and it just sucks! I wish Apple would make one, then Iid buy it, and THEN, Iid be happy!"

No, we see people wishing Apple would create an answer to the Palm before Microsoft "Netscapes" that handheld maker. We see people wishing Apple would seriously go after the enterprise market with servers and whatnot. We see people wanting Apple to take the ingenuity of the Cube and the "sweet spot" appeal of the original iMac and do it to us, again.

This whole thing is just to say that the iPod was… is… kinda "eh."

On an interesting note, a Mac Observer reader said on our forums that we shouldnit be surprised at what the iPod isnit. The reader stated that Apple isnit always the innovator we see it to be. He argues that Apple is actually becoming adept at taking commoditized technology (FireWire, USB, etc.) and forging it into a unique and appealing form that sells like gangbusters. He cites the iMac as example prime.

I donit like that, because 1) thatis how I describe Dell Computer and 2) that ainit no compliment, if youill excuse my grammar.

I donit want Apple to relegate itself to an also-ran. Apple is shaping up, with the iPod, to be the Sony of the computer industry. This bodes well for those interested in more "pedestrian" devices like MP3 players. But there are those of us who would like an Apple solution for tasks like portable computing, easy networking (when is AirPort gonna move past 11 Mbps?), and power computing. This is the end towards which the companyis money will be made. Sure, we know that the iPod a smart move towards a more all-encompassing line of digital devices, of which computers will be only one part.

But, one can still weigh in oneis opinion on the way things oughta be.

I hope Iim dead wrong, but I donit see people beating down the doors to spend "four bills" on an MP3 player; for Appleis sake, I hope it doesnit go the way of the Cube. What I do see is Apple soaking it to the early adopters. You know, people like you and me who will spend our money on an Apple product as long as it has an Apple on it. Then, LATER, the same product will be released at a lower price -- an iPod then affordable for "the rest of us."

Again, I hope Iim wrong. I hope Apple sells millions of iPods. I hope Apple has more "digital-lifestyle" products up its collective sleeve, to spring upon us (next time, Apple, before you choose to use superlatives like "breakthrough," think twice, ikay?). And I hope one of these days, Apple will release a device that unequivocally lives up to the hype of "breakthrough digital device."

Because, right now, the iPod doesnit do it. For me, anyway. What about you?

Rodney O. Lain thinks that Appleis next product should be a PDA that wirelessly takes full advantage of Appleis NetBoot abilities. He is a regular contributor to The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column, as well as the occasional editorial. He lives in Minnesota.