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Hang in there, iPod — ‘Gadget of the Year’

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POD’S PROGRESS: The iPod Nano in hand; and other models.
POD’S PROGRESS: The iPod Nano in hand; and other models.

Anand Parthasarathy

It’s time to open up and ask what consumers want, says Apple’s co-founder

Bangalore: “I Pod, therefore I am,” went a popular catch phrase last year, when Apple announced that it had sold the 100 million units of its iconic music player since its launch in October 2001. The slogan caught on though many who sported tee shirts with the message had never heard of the aphorism that inspired it — by French mathematician Rene Descartes — Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am.’

Last month, while launching the latest editions of 2 iPod avatars, Apple said combined sale of the four iPod models had crossed 160 million.

The iPod Nano, in its fourth generation with a choice of 8 gigabyte and 16 GB capacities, has just come to India, together with the second generation of iPod Touch, with the larger screen and touch-sensitive controls.

Inspired product design

The new Nano and its all-aluminium body is inspired product design in its purest form — and recalls that famous line from the poet Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.” Weighing just 37 gm, it is both sleek (the thinnest of the iPods) and rugged. It can store some 2,000 songs in the 8 GB version, twice that if you go in for the 16 GB. Of all the iPod forms, this is the one owners are proudest to display for sheer looks (and a choice of eight shades). The two sizes cost Rs.9,700 and Rs.12,500.

More convenient

The newer iPod Touch family has almost twice the screen size at 3.5 inch diagonal. The touch controls make it more convenient to play games and it is easier on the eyes if you use it to watch video. The 8 GB version costs Rs.15,100, but 16 GB and 32 GB versions are also available.

Interestingly, the original shape and size of the iPod, now called the Classic, remains a favourite — possibly because it packs in jumbo storage capacity of 120 GB which, for hardcore music freaks, means 30,000 songs. It sells in India for Rs.15,400 and when you calculate the cost per GB, is the most ‘paisa vasool’ of the iPod models.

The ‘baby’ of the family is the iPod Shuffle, a mini version that has just one or 2 GB storage and is both extremely light (less than 16 gm) and ‘wearable.’ It’s light on the purse too, with entry level pricing of Rs.2,700.

While cannily offering iPods at various price points, Apple continues to bind its customers to the rather restrictive format of its iTunes online music shop. But this is changing. Many of the big music labels are offering their tracks in more ‘open’ formats that do not restrict legal buyers in their ability to create multiple copies for themselves.

International lifestyle products magazine T3 recently named the iPod, ‘Gadget of the year 2008’ in a reader poll. But on Thursday last, another Steve — not Steve Jobs, Apple’s head today, but Steve Wozniak who co-founded the company — expressed some unease at attempts by gadget makers like Apple to lock their products down with proprietary software and went so far as to suggest that like the transistor radio and the Walkman, the iPod would ‘die out, after a while.’ Reading between the lines, he was not so much writing off the iPod, as giving its makers a hint: It is time to ‘open up’ and ask what your customers want, next, by way of innovation.

Is the other Steve listening?

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