Confessions of an iPod owner

So, I've been an iPodder for two weeks now. I have never before owned a portable music player - not a Walkman, not a CD player, nothing. The closest thing so far has been my laptop, to which I attach myself using an umbilical^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Haudio cable. And it's been fun. But with the iPod Mini, I can take my music now everywhere!

Or so one would think.

I have noticed some interesting... issues in this while iPod thing. Let me recount a few of them:

  • First of all - this thing is damned inconvenient: The headphone wires get trapped in a multitude of latches and notches and creases and folds I didn't even know that my jacket has. In the end, I am crouching down to avoid the headphones from being ripped off my head while furiously trying to reel the wire out of my jacket. Perhaps I should live in California - portable players are definitely not designed for winter clothing.
  • The volume is too loud or too soft. This is entirely a matter of ambient noise: when I'm walking on the street, the car noise drowns out any music - in the office the music is too loud for my ears. And yeah, I've heard of volume control. The thing just is that if I were to drown the street noises (75+ dB), with noise that's 20 dB more, I would almost certainly get permanent hearing loss. I'm sure Spinsteri can fill you in on the interesting details.
    • (And I do have a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Unfortunately, they're so big that they really make problem 1 and 3 stand out - not to mention problem 4.)
  • People look at me strangely when I'm jamming to a particularly good tune. I seem to be completely unable to listen to music as just "background noise". I'm currently typing this text to the exact rhythm of Schiller's Glück und Erfüllung...
  • Loss of awareness. I've noticed I'm far less aware of my surroundings - and in the urban jungle, this is dangerous, potentially even fatal. For many years, I trained myself to notice everything - and now I'm deliberately muting down my only omnidirectional sense.
  • Overall strangeness of standing in the slushy Helsinki, waiting for a tram, and having the image of Kylie Minogue's butt bouncing before my (mental) eyes as she sings inside my head the song Can't get you out of my head NO! I CAN'T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD! GO AWAY!
  • The fact that even with automatic intelligence, song scoring, hand-crafted playlists - the damned thing still does not play exactly the music I want at that instant! Why is it playing Kate Bush if I want to listen to CMX?
  • In my daily schedule, there are very few instances that I am not with my laptop or a TV or a CD player or any other source of music. In fact, the only times are while I'm on the street or shopping - and on those occasions it's too noisy to use it. So the only reason to have it is to listen to music while jogging (or going to the gym, which I have simply not managed to do ever since an unpleasant experience 14 years ago).
  • 4GB is surprisingly plenty to keep all my music - and therefore I come to realize how single-sided and boring my music tastes really are...

I guess all this comes from the jarring realization (spawned by this brilliant Slashdot comment[1]) that I don't need a portable music player - never have, never will. Nobody needs a portable music player. Apple has understood this, and is extraordinarily expertly creating a cult of "want" around a small silvery box. The iPod is well-engineered, I grant you that, but so are many other MP3 players. It integrates really nicely into iTunes, and is very usable.

But an iPod is still a complete and utter vanity item. Apple has managed to do what every single brand maker in the world sees wet dreams about (aside from Kylie Minogue, of course): turning something that nobody needs into something that everybody wants. Few people would turn it down, if given one (and I'm sure at least one of them will want to comment on this blogentry). As the commenter on Slashdot says - everybody else is creating products based on what they think people need - whereas Apple is building products based on what they think that people want. This is completely the opposite of common usability and software thinking, where you observe the user meticulously, and then design a product that he really needs, not what he says he wants.

I've been lured to buy one, and I swallowed the bait with line and sinker, and now I'm flailing about without a clue as to why I did it.

In fact, I swallowed the bait so well, that I'm keeping it, even after this story.


Because it's just so damned cool.

If you excuse me, I now have to go and dance in the office to the tune of A Little Bit of Love by RuPaul.

[1] Yeah, there actually are pretty bright people on Slashdot sometimes...


The headphone thing means resorting to old Walkman tricks - stuffing the cable *inside* any clothing (shirt etc.) and pulling the headphones out the top. Might not work so well with the in-ear ones that rely of ear canal friction to stay in.

I must admit I'm the same with listening to music outside - I feel I'm missing something. I used to be able to do it all the time, but now, even in the office, I feel something else important is going on.

--ChrisH, 04-Jan-2005

I think the point about "not needing and iPod" is not totally correct, atleast in my case. As long as I remember I've been pissed off with carried music devices (still am but now it refers to battery life mostly), as they didn't hold enough music and were too bulky among other things.

I eat and breathe music, alongside oxygen and foodstuffs. Around 70% of time I am awake I have some sort of music playing, one form or another. Not having it around me makes me uncomfortable. Yes, I do agree it is a luxury item, but to me it is a bit more than that too (right now, I'm salivating over the 60GB iPod Photo). My collection of music spans around 1500+ CDs, around 5-6 meters worth of vinyl, countless tapes of which most are... in boxes somewhere. I've also got Mini Discs on the shelfs, and old recording walkman and a CD one. My 20GB 3rd gen iPod is full, has been from the week on I got it and iTunes has 4600+ songs right now. Just to give you an idea of what kind of -ism I'm talking about here.

The best solution I've come across to the ambient noise problem is Koss The Plug. Not perfect but so far the best solution. I also agree with the earbud line under clothing trick, works every time as long as you get iPod into a pocket not too far off.

--Shrike, 04-Jan-2005

I have a roommate that loves blasting his music. I always tried to drown it out with my own but his system was an expensive one and my cheap speakers had no chance. I found that Sony makes ear buds that totally block out all noise. In my case I can finally listen to my music without hearing my roommates (I still feel his base but I can live with that).

I don't think I actually *need* a portable music player, and I rarely listen to music on the street. However, I actually have some real use cases for the iPod. The main one is that it is very handy that I can listen to music while stretching after dance classes. It is relaxing, it passes the time (stretching is boring but reading while doing it is not always comfortable), and it lets me ignore the dressing room chat. ;) (For sure, I definitely would not need a 20GB shiny-white hi-tech hyper-design too-expensive portable music player - but that is a different story altogether. ;))

--Janka, 04-Jan-2005

Actually, I *do* stuff it inside any clothing. This seems to make the problem worse, as after some movement the wires will attempt to tug my head into the shirt. Don't know why.

I have the Sony active noise canceling headphones - and my ex had the earbuds. They're very cool, but they're still big enough to be a hassle to handle.

--JanneJalkanen, 04-Jan-2005

Get retractable earbuds! I picked a pair up for $20 - they work great!

--Jonathan Aquino, 05-Jan-2005

I have a small USB memory stick / MP3 combo. (Sandisk) I fasten it to my shirt collar (I wear mostly polo type shirts). The cable is now only going 18 inches, so there is less for it to get snagged on. A 512Mb stick holds 6-7 hours of music.

--Foster, 05-Jan-2005

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