Although Apple was nowhere to be seen at Las Vegas’ International Consumer Electronics Show, the presence of the iPod was palpable. Given that Apple was busy preparing for next week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco (and thus unable to answer any probing questions regarding the rumored flash-based iPod), my Playlist partner, Dan Frakes, and I decided that when we weren’t busy checking out iPod-related gear, we’d take a long look at every other MP3 player we could find on the show’s many floors.
After half an hour we abandoned the idea as lunatic.
Gargantuan as CES is, you couldn’t throw a brick without hitting an MP3 player. It seems that any company capable of surrounding a circuit board in plastic has released one of these little suckers. Although these players come in all sizes, capacities, and colors—many sporting features not found on the iPod such as voice recording and FM receivers—nearly every one had this in common: In comparison to the iPod, their interfaces stink to high heaven.
It’s no secret that I’m fond of the iPod, but I’m not so blinded by the device’s elegance that I’m unable to recognize good design when I see it. Although some of the players we saw today were beautiful, more often than not their beauty proved to be only skin deep. I spun wheels, pushed buttons, and dragged my thumb across countless touch strips and not one of these controllers moved me through a hefty music collection as easily as the iPod’s scroll wheel.
We iPod owners tend to take for granted how easy it is to navigate through our music libraries. Wrestling with these players reminded me just how elegant the iPod is—both without and within.
When we weren’t marveling at the bumper crop of MP3 players, we were on the lookout for accessories that would interest iPod owners (see Dan Frakes’ CES = iAS ). These too were in abundance. Some were of the “more of the same variety”—another FM transmitter, auto charger, connector cable, and iPod-to-automobile connector kit—others such as the products from Nyko (the code-named Movie Player), Griffin Technology (AirClick and SmartDeck), and PowerHouse Technologies Group (Migo) were clearly cool and innovative. And still others were allied with the iPod in only the most tenuous way.
For example, one manufacturer of novelty electronic items (three Homer Simpson telephones graced its collection) offered a 1950’s retro radio with a divot—silkscreened with the word “iPod”—carved into the top. As I attempted to place my iPod photo into the slot, a nattily attired gentleman walked up. Mistaking me for a company representative he asked if the divot was a dock connector. I replied that it wasn’t, rather it appeared to be a place to rest the iPod and then, supposedly, connect it to an input jack on the back of the radio with a short cable.
It had been a long day and he was probably as tired as we were. “Well, that’s stupid,” he replied.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.