Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Losing the iPod

categorized under more-of-the-same

I was on the bus [yester]today and saw someone listening to music on an old CD player. First thought in my mind was, "This guy likes listening to music. He might be want to get an iPod." As the bus hopped along, the I heard the inevitable skip because his huge headphones that had been blasting fairly loudly literally skipped, despite the ESP logo on the player. I took the opportunity to get a confirmation from him that his player had indeed skipped. After he took off the the headphones, he admitted to having the player for way too long. I suggested that he buy one capable of playing MP3s referring to the truly affordable CD players that could play CD-Rs burned with 700MB of music.

Since he thought I meant a strict MP3 player and not a discman that could decode mp3s, he responded by saying that it was too expensive. I clarified to say that he could spend around $40 for a decent replacement that would play his existing CD collection. Surprised, he said he was actually looking into buying an iPod. I was right.

WOW. Here was someone who didn't seem to act or dress trendily (this is not a criticism) and not too familiar with new consumer technology who referred to a whole class of electronics by the one name that had first and most successfully penetrated the mainstream as a household name. "iPod" in his mind was probably for MP3 players what "palm pilot" is to PDAs. Today, someone who borrowed my iPAQ Pocket PC left a message on my door saying that he wanted to return my "palm pilot". Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Here I'll quickly say that Palm Pilot is no longer a name being used by Palm, Inc. (or is it Palm One?) and was stricken from geek vocabulary as being a violation of Pilot pen company's trademark. Palm then went after Microsoft, which had been trying to sell it's haldheld form-factor devices as PalmPCs making them adopt the name Pocket PC. Anyhow, this is all old news, but people still call the darned things palm pilots and the darn copy machines Xeroxs. Some people do at least. Now, it is my understanding (from some conversations with someone who attended business school) that this is bad for a brand. It means you can't control what people thing about your brand name because it's associated with the whole darn industry.

Before we go on, I'll try to characterize as best as possible this person on the bus. He didn't know that the iPod has a rechargeable battery, which means he's never really researched the iPod as if he was going to get one, much less look at competing products. The fact that he didn't know of CD players that could play MP3s means he probably doesn't much about the iPod at all except that many people use it. He is also a commuter that presumably works and lives at home. He only listens to music on his portable player during the school year (he said he would put off upgrading because school was almost over).

But what I care about is whether it's a good thing that 1) the concept of an MP3 player still hasn't penetrated everyone and 2) the name people associate with modern MP3 players is the iPod. For both questions to be salient, my sample population has to be pretty darn representative. Let's assume it is. Before we can seriously consider the second question, we have to decide whether Apple's product is adequately unique for this not to happen. Remember to regular folks, a PDA (not public display of affection, but Personal Digital Assistant) is a PDA is a PDA and some people honestly cannot tell one from another. Or is the phenomenon I witnessed on the bus just a combination of iPod proliferation and insufficient marketing on the parts of Apple's competitors.

I have a feeling it was more of the latter, which means the iPod has a long way to go. Even in the first case, the iPod is sufficiently distinct and simply beautiful that it'd be hard for Apple to accidentally (vs. deliberately) allow the iPod brand to be diluted. But given this and that the previous assumptions are true, the iPod hasn't gotten to everyone. On the other hand, some say that the popularity of the iPod turns people away. I'd have to disagree. Sorry I'm falling asleep. Maybe I'll update this sometime tomorrow.

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SOURCE: Ride on the A bus -> Exam

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