The evolution of personal computing, mass- market acceptance of digital music, and the industry-changing iPhone all reinforce Apple’s place at the heart of technological development – an evolution that’s changing the world.
But when it comes to the iPod and iPhone accessories market, many of Apple’s ‘Made for iPod’ partners seem imitative, rather than innovative. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at a lot of iPod products, and while many are excellent – well-designed, unique, or ground-breaking – I have seen an awful lot of flawed products. Poor quality materials, insanely high prices, or pure exploitative rubbish that shouldn’t be touched. We try to report only on the best products in this magazine.
The success of the iPod and the creation of an iPod economy has led manufacturers and others to see that market as an opportunity. Which is fine.
But there are always going to be some jumping on the bandwagon who confuse opportunity with opportunism. This manifests itself as poorly crafted products created using second-class materials that don’t deliver on their promise – and are sold at premium rates. Products created on minimal budgets that are designed, purely and simply, as money-earners.
Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive, would condemn such offerings for being created without care. Ive’s fussy about things like that. For him, a screw or other fixture in the wrong place on a product can make the difference between that device reaching market, or remaining locked in Apple’s hallowed research and development halls (which I’d love to visit, but probably won’t get to in this life).
The iPod market has become a frontier industry, just like the Wild West, in the sense that there are too many cowboys offering snake oil and fake voodoo charms.
We don’t want low-budget or no-budget second-rate chaff. We want the devices we introduce to our media players to be as innovative, intuitive and elegant as the iPod itself.
We want products that betray just as much care in their creation as much of that which emerges from Cupertino. After all, think what we put inside our iPods – music created by artists who think what they are doing matters; films put together by creative teams who apply years of experience to their art. And television shows… OK, we’re still waiting for Apple to reach a deal with broadcasters such as the BBC to offer the cream of television programming, so right now iTunes UK offers a schmaltzy collection of dull sitcoms and second-rate US imports, but I live in hope.
In general, though, people buy iPods because music is important to them – the iPod range may have come down in price, but buying an iPod is still an expensive consumer choice. Why should our expectations of the products developed to extend and protect our investment fall short? Anything that’s less than best is no better than bad.
And take iPod cases. After you’ve looked at your first 100 or so, you begin to note flaws in these. Poor quality construction, ill thought-out execution and second-rate materials lead the pack. After all, when you spend £20 on an iPod case, it’s not unreasonable to expect it to be made of top-quality silicone. And you can’t always tell the difference when a case is still in its packaging.
And why are all iPod cases so similar? The holster, full body and clear plastic offerings doing the rounds (and the unimpressive Apple iPod leather pouch) are much of a muchness now. Why not an iPod case with a credit card pocket and space to put your cash? Why aren’t there top-quality cases designed to disguise your iPod for use at crowded train stations or on the meaner city streets? Not many people in many parts of London want their iPod in full view on an armband or beltclip, but may quite like their player being attached to them by a chain.
And why has no one yet invented an alarm for an iPod? A simple device that connects between the iPod and your headphones and emits a piercing scream if you tug the two apart? Surely such a solution would help decrease street crime.
Speakers: apart from ever-better acoustic quality and inclusion of new features such as Bluetooth support, why can’t someone apply more real innovation?
We’re chasing the dragon of excellence here. It’s time to step up a gear. We deserve the best, because we have it already in the iPod. What’s wrong with dreaming better dreams? What’s naive about expecting more companies to care about what they do?