My Turn

iPod: More than an MP3 Player

Tim Nash - 2001.11.05

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

With the launch of the iPod, commentators have concentrated on whether the high cost of the MP3 player is justified by the feature set

But should the iPod have been presented to the Press as a state of the art MP3 player?

Lets look at some alternatives, as iPod is a state of the art FireWire backup device. How many of us would like to leave behind the Zip disks for regular backups of important files and taking files to friends and customers?

How many camcorder users would like to be able to download an hours footage to a device the size of a pack of cards and keep filming? What is the professional market in CNN and the networks for such a device?

Digital still cameras with FireWire are still concentrated at the professional end of the market where a $399 device that saves time will be snapped up. iPod could even create a virtuous circle here as more professionals buy the cameras because of the ease and speed of downloading.

In the next couple of years FireWire cameras should move to consumer pricing. At that stage many others will come on board. For example, if I go on more than a days hike, I need to pack a traditional 35mm camera so that I can take enough photos. Similarly, any time I want to shoot more than a reel of reasonable quality then its back to film with no editing in the camera and shooting at least 4 to 1.

So professional and amateur camera users have good reason to use iPod. But how much media coverage would iPod receive if it was a camera users backup device? If it made the national papers, it would be buried in the hobbyist section of the weekend issue. Apple would be condemned again as only serving the graphics community, reinforcing its position as an irrelevant niche player, etc. However it won't be too long before we see iPod with new programs being lauded by the camera magazines.

And is Apple really missing out on the Windows market? Only a small proportion of Windows computers have true FireWire ports, and the Wintel world has just about managed to include USB on every computer after many years of ignoring Intel's standard because of the extra cost. If in the future Dell and the other battered survivors of the PC price wars are prepared to add to their costs with a new port, downloading to the iPod will be crippled by Microsoft's XP Digital Rights Management software.

With the costs of porting a cut down version of iTunes and the support issues, it would be difficult to make a profit. Instead why not offer a voucher scheme where Windows users could come into the Apple store where they bought iPod and rip their disks for say 20 minutes for free? By getting them to use Macs and iTunes, it would show them easy the Mac world is to enter and how great it can be.

In addition, the target market for MP3 players is mainly teenagers and young adults. With Apple's long-standing success in education, many of those who otherwise use Windows will have access to a Mac. So it shouldn't be too long before the notices go up about unauthorised use! In these age groups peer popularity is important. Think how popular teenage Mac users could become! Think how many would ask their parents for a Mac (after having forced them to buy an iPod)! This could really help Apple in the college market.

For Apple the most important market outside of the USA is Japan. Lately - along with nearly everyone else - Apple has been hurting. If iPod starts to take off there, as the iMac and iBook did, it will really revive their fortunes and start to pull back the front-runner, Sony, whose powerless version of FireWire will be a handicap.

And remember, if Mac users only evaluated on price, the world would be 100% Windows. Obviously we want value for money, and given that the PC card with this drive is $399, clearly this is. It still needs a belt buckle so that everyone can see that Apple designer logo, and, yes, I would like 10 GB, but Christmas is coming, and my wife wants one too.

There will always be failures, but with so many potential uses I don't see iPod in that category. It strongly promotes FireWire, it will help Apple's professional users while potentially grabbing a new audience, and if Apple can sell enough to rapidly cut prices and make iPod the 21st Century Walkman, Apple will again be a major player.

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