Cultural Phenomenon

Much has been said about the iPod and its amazing popularity with people of all ages and groups. The iPod phenomenon has also taken many by surprise as industry watchers thought that the greatly designed but expensive iPod would be beaten by cheaper knock off’s like those from Dell. Strangely enough the iPod phenomenon shows no signs of abating. In classical Apple style the iPod mania is set to become another chapter in business studies.

Looking back on the transition of individualised music listening from the LP’s to current day digital files, we see that the technology of today has made music listening not only easy but also a more personalised affair.

Todays music buying public are a different breed.On 2nd July 2004 – a survey of the UK’s music buying public has revealed that ‘sound quality’ is our biggest priority when it comes to choosing how we listen to our favourite artists. Seventy-five per cent of 800 people questioned said that sound quality was most important to them, whilst a third enjoy high quality music in the home but are less fussy when on the move. Commissioned by Sony, Philips and Universal Music on behalf of the Super Audio CD (SACD) format, the survey focuses on people’s music listening habits and tastes.

Whilst one out of every five consumers questioned admitted they found it difficult to tell the difference between sound qualities, an overwhelming 80% of those saying that sound quality is important to them said they like their music ‘to be crystal clear, free from noise and interference’. What I see here is the attitude that people have carried over from the days of walkmans and record players when crystal clear music was not a given until digital music players like the iPod came on the scene.The iPod has epitomized sound quality in the adoption of the next generation music compression format called AAC which provides small enough files for portability but also provides crystal clear playback properties. “Crystal clear music, free from noise and interference” is as much a property of the player as that of the format, and this is where the iPod scores above the rest, in providing a great form factor with pristine engineering at a cost that most people would not dare put their players to rough use.

Another major factor for the popularity of the iPod is that it perfectly complements the behaviour of people as far as music consumption is concerned. Until the advent of the iPod listening to music on the go was a cumbersome experience. One that entailed carrying around expensive cd’s or audio cassettes, the use of which did not give people a music experience that was “crystal clear, free from noise and interference’’. The iPod changed all that. Anyone can transport their entire music library with them and envelop themselves in a very personalized music experience and more importanrly make an instant selection that matches their mood.

As Dr Michael Bull, who is researching the iPod phenomena explains, “One of the interesting things is that with vinyl, the aesthetic was in the cover of the record. You had the sleeve, the artwork, the liner notes. With the rise of digital, the aesthetic has left the object — the record sleeve — and now the aesthetic is in the artifact: the iPod, not the music. The aesthetic has moved from the disc to what you play it on .”

And that today is the iPod. No wonder that people decide to buy the better player even though it is a tad more expensive.

“In terms of usage, Apple got it intuitively right. People use (the iPod) as an alarm clock, and when they listen to it at night, they like the fact it can turn itself off. It’s how people like to use music. I don’t think Apple did much research into how people would use their players, but they got most of it right.”

“For example, a lot of people use it to go to work, for commuting. I found that they use the same music on a regular basis. They will often play the same half-dozen tunes for three months, and each part of the journey has its own tune….”

“It gives them control of the journey, the timing of the journey and the space they are moving through. It’s a generalization, but the main use (of the iPod) is control. People like to be in control. They are controlling their space, their time and their interaction … and they’re having a good time. That can’t be understated — it gives them a lot of pleasure.”

“So, for example, music allows people to use their eyes when they’re listening in public. I call it nonreciprocal looking. Listening to music lets you look at someone but don’t look at them when they look back. The earplugs tell them you’re otherwise engaged. It’s a great urban strategy for controlling interaction.”

“It fits in with general cultural trends — doing things when you want to do them. With the iPod, you have your music when you want it. It controls your interaction with people and places on your terms.”

This explains how the iPod has become a “cultural phenomenon” and hopefully will remain one for a long time. It has essentially changed the way we experience music in our everyday lives.