Friday, December 28, 2007

iLife

Posted By on Fri, Dec 28, 2007 at 5:39 AM

One of life’s most awkward situations occurs after discovering a friend owns a non-iPod mp3 player.

The scene is common: friends in a casual setting, conversing in iPod vernacular (“Dude, I can’t sync my iTunes tracks from my Nano to my Shuffle because I already authorized them on my old MacBook”). A friend who has been unusually quiet during the conversation finally contributes:

“Well, I’ve got one of these things …” Friend then produces a bulky object bearing an unfamiliar logo. Is it a Texas Instruments graphing calculator circa 1999? No — apparently it’s an mp3 player.

Friend then proceeds to launch into a speech about his non-Apple mp3 player of choice — its features (“Costs only $100!”), benefits (“You can drop it and it won’t break!”), and the inevitable explanation of why it’s not compatible with iTunes, and why that’s not a problem. It’s at this time – the it-doesn’t-work-with-iTunes part seems to be the tipping point — when the iPod-owning friends find themselves unable to feign interest in this foreign object any longer, and let their true feelings emerge with a series of loaded comments (“I guess that’s cool how it only works with Windows Media. Very retro” or “I think my brother got one of those when he opened a checking account”).

Apple has monopolized the mp3 player market so effectively that anyone bold enough to be iPod-less finds themselves needing a scripted sales pitch for situations like these – because if it’s not Apple, it’s not quality. Your alternative player could also have the ability to toast bread or open wine bottles, but it will still ultimately exist as a poor imitation of its more popular counterpart. The ubiquity of the iPod has made the Creative, Hewlit-Packard and Microsoft versions seem like generics in comparison, like the President’s Choice of mp3 players. I can imagine multitudes of children sobbing in unison after asking Santa for iPods only to find Zunes under their trees Christmas morning — a fate worse than the proverbial coal.

This market hegemony has created a degree of discomfort associated with other brands, making the iPod-less about as suspicious as good swimmers during the Salem Witch Trails. But is this super brand loyalty justified? Blog sites like Anythingbutipod.com celebrate the vast market of mp3 players outside the realm of Apple – and rightfully so. The models mentioned often have better display quality than iPods, and sometimes come equipped with wireless capabilities that iPods lack. But iPod-devoted remain resolute. Plus, Feist is on their side.

Apple is slowly but surely devouring other markets in its insatiable quest for brand superiority. Apple computers are tops among college students (I personally felt the need to convert from a Dell upon starting college), and with the relatively new Apple TV and iPhone, Apple is sure to have those markets under its ever-expanding purview in no time.

This all makes me think of that famous Apple Macintosh ad from 1984 that portrays the Apple computer as the savior from the Orwellian nightmare that is the prospect of a PC-dominated culture (“So 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’”). But with Apple now pervading every aspect of our lives — from work, to school, to the conversations we have with our friends — who’s Big Brother now?

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