Thursday, April 24, 2008

OK, Apple, you win; I finally have an iPod

“I bought an iPod. It can hold 20,000 songs or one message from my mother.”
— Steven Wright, comedian

I’ve finally given in and purchased Apple’s signature product, the iPod. Funny, I remember when Apple was a computer company. Now, it’s a music company that also makes computers.

If it weren’t for Apple’s “I’m a Mac. I’m a PC” commercials, I might not remember that Apple even makes computers. And what’s up with those commercials? The PC guy is likable, but the Mac guy is a jerk. This is supposed to make me want to buy a Mac? Now, Windows Vista — that’s a good reason to buy a Mac.

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. My new iPod.

For years, I’d gotten by with my iRiver MP3 player. Yeah, you may think the iRiver is just a cheap iPod knock-off, what with the similar names and all. But, trust me, the iRiver is huge in Asia. Still, my first-generation iRiver didn’t hold enough songs, and it was a pain keeping extra AA batteries on the go. I’m sure iRiver makes better MP3 players now, but it’s hard to keep up with the iPod. Not even Microsoft can do it. How many people own Microsoft’s Zune players? A lot fewer than Bill Gates would like.

I swear, the Zunes on the display shelf at Best Buy are gathering dust. OK, not really. But I’m sure that’s only because the staff dusts them.

Part of me still says the iPod is a textbook case of style triumphing over substance. Other MP3 players can do pretty much everything the iPod does. Everything, that is, except play music downloaded from Apple’s iTunes store. But with other companies, including, offering music downloads without Apple’s proprietary copy protection, that’s less of an issue.

So, what is the iPod’s allure? It’s sleek. It’s shiny. It has an easy-to-use interface. And it comes right out of the box ready to plug into your computer. It automatically synchronizes with the iTunes software and copies all of the music on your computer’s hard drive. Within minutes, it’s ready to go. Like most Apple products, the iPod is idiot-proof.

I take pride in my computer skills, so being idiot-proof is not normally a selling point with me, and it’s not an unequivocal plus with the iPod. Idiot-proof electronics are often harder to deal with for those of us who know what we are doing.

To manually manage my iPod’s content, I must connect it to my computer and turn off the automatic synchronization. Then, iTunes asks me if I’m sure I want to do that. Well, my name isn’t Dave, and iTunes isn’t HAL. So, yes, I’m sure.

But the same idiot-proof features that make Macs annoying and Microsoft’s Vista insufferable are a plus with something simple like an iPod. You don’t want it to do anything fancy. You just want it to play music.

Then there are the peripherals. Since iPod is by far the market leader in the U.S., every other electronics company wants to make gadgets to go with it. So, I can buy a cable that plugs my iPod into my car’s cigarette lighter and then plays my iPod over the car’s speakers. Presto! No need to ever lug compact discs to and from my car again. Plus, everything from the largest stereo system to the smallest clock radio now features an iPod plug-in port.

Ironically for Microsoft-hating Apple partisans, this is exactly how Microsoft came to dominate desktop computing — by gaining such a large market share that everyone else had to make Microsoft-compatible applications. What Microsoft did for computers, Apple has done for digital music.

So, I give in. After years of avoiding Apple’s sleek, trendy products, I have an iPod. And, yes, it’s as good as advertised.

But I’m still not buying an iPhone.

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