On the iPod

‘Ah, iPod. Great product. Little wheel. Click, click. Very neat.’

I
recently went to a press event for a big Taiwanese
computing/electronics firm, and ended up chatting to the guy who heads
their UK office. The quote, above, is how he summed up the
Apple iPod
digital audio player. I was asking him whether he thought Taiwanese
tech firms, who currently make the guts (motherboards, graphics, cases
etc) of a lot of the world’s computers, were, in the next few years,
going to take a bigger step into the limelight, and compete with global
tech companies/brands like Apple and Sony – not just in terms of
cash, but in terms of visibility and cool, too.

My idea
was that perhaps Taiwanese tech companies would experience a
similar growth pattern to Japanese companies like Sony. In the 1960s,
when Westerners first started seeing “Made in Japan” slapped on goods,
it meant cheap, tacky and unoriginal, but by the 80s, the label had
transformed into a prestige one, usually meaning sleek, high-tech and
futuristic. Sony’s Trinitron TVs and the original Walkman are prime
examples of innovative products that drove this change..   

It’s
interesting to see how the iPod has managed to transform Apple from a
bit-part player in IT – a curiosity and financial trainwreck –
into a company that is now perceived as one of the most innovative
tech organisations around.

I asked if perhaps the Taiwanese
firms were ready to make this move; and if they were, if they would
need one key product to really kickstart this move, and help them
grab mindshare, and be seen as innovative, cool and pioneering.

His
response was interesting; ‘the iPod is great product. But that’s it.’
One neat product, no more. It’s interesting to see the difference
between his short summation of it, and the reams and reams of
stuff other people are capable of churning out about it – for
instance 
GQ editor Dylan Jones’s horribly titled ‘IPod, Therefore I Am’ book.

His
view was pragmatic; the iPod is a great product, but the
story of Apple’s change is just that; a story, a tale. What’s
more, it’s something that’s very much in the eye of the beholder,
and the people writing about, eulogising, hyopthesising, theorising
over the iPod are outsiders. For him, someone inside the tech
industry, one product won’t – or can’t – change things that
much. One question that is rarely asked by all those obsessed by the
iPod is how it’s changed Apple’s market position, margins,
profitability, growth rate – all those dull, grey economic statistics
that people working in companies do tend to be terrible bothered about.

However, you
then have to wonder if, while its true that the facts may not be
changed by one product, perhaps a change in image is more valuable:
a company that sells to consumers exists in their minds as well as
in the real world, and what keeps the iPod dominant, as much as its
real-life competence and convenience, is surely its hold over the
imagination of those who own it. People like Dylan Jones can project
hundreds of pages of thoughts into its each turn of its nice
little wheel…

original

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