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Friday, July 23, 2004  

Technology: The iPod has arrived

A person knows she has become a public figure when she sees herself staring back from a general circulation magazine. Someone, or rather something, had its role as a cultural icon confirmed this week. The iPod is the cover story at Newsweek. Apple CEO Steve Jobs displays the latest rendition of the world's most popular MP3 player next to the headline, "iPod, Therefore I Am." The cover story explains the appeal of the iPod and dispels some misconceptions about the product.

Music hits people's emotions, and the purchase of something that opens up one's entire music collection -- up to 10,000 songs in your pocket -- makes for an intense relationship. When people buy iPods, they often obsess, talking incessantly about playlists and segues, grumbling about glitches, fixating on battery life and panicking at the very thought of losing their new digital friend. "I'd be devastated if I lost it," says Krystyn Lynch, a Boston investment marketer.

Fans of the devices use it for more than music. "It's the limousine for the spoken word," says Audible CEO Don Katz, whose struggling digital audiobook company has been revitalized by having its products on Apple's iTunes store. (Podsters downloaded thousands of copies of Bill Clinton's autobiography within minutes of its 3 a.m. release last month.) And computer users have discovered that its vast storage space makes it a useful vault for huge digital files -- the makers of the "Lord of the Rings" movies used iPods to shuttle dailies from the set to the studio. Thousands of less-accomplished shutterbugs store digital photos on them.

Though Apple is approaching having half of the MP3 player market, much of the hoi polloi either does not understand what the iPod does or thinks it is only a music player. Just this week, I talked to several persons who needed an introduction to the iPod. One of them surprised me because I assumed that he was high tech savvy enough to know more about the device. Apparently, some people know its name, but not what it does. The Newsweek article is likely to ease the burden for iPod evangelists. The iPod is the Cadillac of MP3 players for both Macintosh and Windows computers. From its inception, it has also been a hard drive that allowed users to back up their entire computers to it. But, since generation two, about a year and a half, the device, now in its fourth generation, has been able to do even more. Many of the uses for the personal digital assistant are now transferable to the iPod, including contacts, notes and documents one wants to read or have read to him. Books can be downloaded in iTunes from Audible and other ebook sellers. Photographs and movies can be stored on the hard drive and accessed in FireWire mode. Accessories allow users to send music to their stereos, home and car, for broadcast, and record voice memos. The iPod has earned its celebrity status through a combination of versatility and hard work. Now, the story is being been told to just folks.

The latest generation of iPods seek to address the two most common complaints about the device -- price and battery life. These improvements may deter competitors in their quest to claim some of Apple's market share. MacWorld considered how the changes will enhance the strutting success of the iPod and iTunes.

On Monday, Apple introduced new iPod models at lower prices. The 20-gigabyte version is now $299, down from $399, and a 40-gigabyte model is $399, down from $499. Both come with a longer battery life of 12 hours, versus eight hours previously.

With 70 percent of the market for legal music downloads and 45 percent of the market for portable music players, Apple's nearest competitors including Rhapsody from RealNetwork, Napster from Roxio and Connect from Sony do not attract anything close to the traffic on the iTunes network.

Even the RIAA, no fan of so much of what is occurring in high tech, is pleased with Apple.

"The iPod and iTunes store are a shining light at a very bleak time in the industry," says Cary Sherman, president of the Record Industry Association of America. Since just about everybody feels that within a decade almost everybody will get their music from such places, this is a very big.

True. The significance of the iPod goes beyond the affection of those of us who own and love them. The iPod is the first device to demonstrate how miniaturized high tech will allow the tranfer of a variety of information digitally for consumers.

Read the entire article about the arrival of the iPod, online at Newsweek.

Reasonably related

Eliot Van Buskirk at ZDNet Anchordesk rates the iPod.

•What's 'on' on my iPod? Friday is Old School day for the Diva. The Chi-lites are asking "Have You Seen Her?" The Manhattans want to "Kiss and Say Good-bye." Teddy Pendergrass says to "It Don't Hurt Now."

11:45 PM