March 17, 2006
@ 03:11 PM

Omar Shahine has a post entitled The iPod which summarizes his attempt to find a better music player than the Apple iPod only to come back to it after he couldn't find anything better. He writes

I am now reunited with the iPod. I feel happy and enjoy using it. My wife is EXTREMLEY jealous so I’ll have to get her one too. I really don’t feel bad about this. You see I now had a reason to go to the Apple store rather than be a bystander. I’m part of that cult of the Mac again, but this time it’s the cult of the iPod. As I was walking to the store, I heard a bunch of people say, "lets go to the iPod store". That’s right, they don’t even call it the Apple store.

When I entered the store I was greeted by a dizzying array of accessories for my iPod. All of them beautifully packaged and presented. Even the non-Apple accessories are made and presented as well. Apple sets a very high bar, and if you don’t meet that bar in any way, customers will not purchase the product (this is also true of Mac software).

Laynyard headphonesThis is the iPod Economy, the iPod Culture, the iPod Ecosystem. The realities are that my music is now unlocked and can be plugged into all sorts of cars, cases, docks, chargers, in a manner that is seamless. Since I lost my headphones I decided to treat myself to this amazing headphone + laynyard combo. I can also buy accessories in almost any store or airport in the country. Accessories made by companies that are constantly finding new ways to get me to experience my music and hand them some money for the privilege.
What have I learned on my quest?

Designing a good user experience across hardware and software is hard. There are very few companies which are capable of making the necessary level of investment to make something that’s arguably a work of art, but also a functional music player.

I have learned that in a commodity business, you will never find a company that will make that level of investment unless they own the entire value chain (Macintosh, XBOX, PlayStation etc).

Music is an incredibly personal thing, and people have high expectations of what that experience is like on their computer, in their hands, on the plane, in a car and everywhere in between.

If you have to think to operate a portable music device then your interface sucks. If you repeatedly make the same mistakes, press the wrong buttons, or accidentally press skip or skip to many songs when interfacing with the device then you’ve also failed.

Creating an open ecosystem where anyone can sell music or create a music business does not matter if 1) the devices that are required to play that content are hard to use, hard to charge, or require a firmware update to function correctly 2) you don’t have the content, 3) cannot interoperate with the world’s most successful portable music device.

When I was chatting with Omar and some coworkers last week, I remember someone pointing out that when a product has gotten so much market share that hotels have a "free iPod charger" service for people who've forgotten theirs then it's game over. I got an even better example a few days later. My mom is visiting from Nigeria next week and the only thing she's asked me to have waiting for her when she arrives is a video iPod. I tried to talk her out of it by arguing that she wouldn't be able to easily purchase music or videos from the iTunes store from Nigeria and she responded that there are people in Nigeria who provide services related to getting content on your iPod.