Rob Walker has written an extensive study of the iPod in the New York Times Magazine called
The guts of a new machine. In between describing the iPod’s impact on the industry and Apple itself, Walker speaks with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and vice president of industrial design Jonathan Ive about the music player.
In the two years since the iPod has been released, about 1.4 million of them have been sold, according to Walker, and is Apple’s highest-volume product. Walker noted that the iPod’s genesis has been “relatively free of lightning-bolt moments,” though — it was an iterative process of mating Apple’s FireWire technology, iTunes, and Apple’s goal of making the Mac the “digital hub” of the house.
Ive indicated that the secret behind the iPod’s design success was “getting rid of stuff … What’s interesting is that out of that simplicity, and almost that unashamed sense of simplicity, and expressing it, came a very different product. But difference wasn’t the goal. It’s actually very easy to create a different thing. What was exciting is starting to realize that its difference was really a consequence of this quest to make it a very simple thing.”
Jobs told Walker he’s not concerned about the new iPod imitators coming from Dell and Samsung and others, because “Apple’s core strength of knowing how to make very sophisticated technology comprehensible to mere mortals is in even greater demand.”
Walker noted that the iPod is an amalgam of parts from different companies. The battery, he said, comes from Sony, while the hard drive that stores the music comes from Toshiba. And while Apple doesn’t talk about it, the device also uses technology created by PortalPlayer that one trade journal described as the “‘base platform’ that Apple used as a starting point.” Also mentioned is Pixo, a company credited “to have created the original operating system,” which has since been acquired by Sun Microsystems.
Apple is now “aiming at the mainstream” by making both the iPod and its iTunes Music Store available to Windows users, as well as Mac users, said Walker. He also noted that Apple’s support of the AAC format in both the download service and the player may be perceived as restrictive compared to the competition — a move derided by RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser as the reason why “five years from now, Apple will have 3 to 5 percent of the player market.” Apple said its iPod is the top-selling MP3 player of the moment.
To that end, Jobs dismisses such criticism and said that the iPod’s competitors are “trying to copy the vernacular without understanding it,” adding that Apple doesn’t “underestimate people” and that consumers would see the value in a premium-priced music player with the iPod’s features.
All the machinations of Apple’s competitors, said Jobs, are like “somebody who’s not cool trying to be cool. It’s painful to watch. … It’s like … watching Michael Dell try to dance.”