Media Players – Media Evolution (iPod inside)

Listening to music has been an evolving joy of the human race for centuries. Long ago man, and by this I mean the whole of our race, could only enjoy music if they were there. Only in an opera house, or a concert hall, or at the recital could we hear the product of auditory bliss.

Phonograph from back in the day

Originally music production/reproduction only occurred in one way: the barrel organ. Remember those old music boxes, the one you cranked to produce a tune? The technology for the barrel organ was the same; a small bellow controlled air compression that when cranked allowed air to run via the programming on the barrel’s specification. Each barrel had a different tune “coded” into it that allowed different songs to be played. Eventually music production evolved and in the late 1800’s a Frenchman invented the phonoautograph, a device used to create and amplify sound by “reading” it from various forms of paper or blackened glass. This device, in turn, became the phonogram, and then the record player was created.

The first commercial radio broadcasts were dated back to the early 1900s, and up until the 1980s the radio and record players were the dominant method for listening to recordings. The compact cassette tape, though produced in the 60s, only surpassed the record player in the 80s with the introduction of personal players, such as the Sony Walkman. Later the cd would be created, and from there physical music has made no great jumps.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Wait a minute, how can he say there have been no more media jumps? What about the iPod? What about other MP3 players?” To which I respond Aha! Here’s the thing: after the cd and minidisk (and even HD minidisc), physical media has not evolved, while digital media has. In fact, even the CD is just a physical rendition of digital media simply “burned,” or encoded, onto a disk.

So why is all this important? Because in the same way physical media has changed over time and changed how we interact with music, so does our digital interaction with music change over time, as well as change the way we think about music, and in fact, Apple Inc does a great job at teaching us about this.

Audio Highway's Award Winning Listen Up Player

Apple’s iPod was a breakthrough in the digital music realm. Up until its release there were a handful of other MP3 players in production, the first of which was the Listen Up player released by Audio Highway in 1996, five years before the Apple released the First Generation iPod. With its small black and white screen, hard drive storage, and lock button, the iPod was nothing special -yet. Since other devices were around, doing essentially the same the that the iPod was doing, there had to be something else going on allowing this device to break through the music method barrier.

In one word, this breakthrough was Marketing. The iPod had the advantage that it made music fun and all consuming. With Apple’s many marketing campaigns the iPod became the GodPod. It became the first device to fit your entire music collection into your pocket, and on a hard drive, whereas previous players relied on flash technology. This allowed the iPod to store 5 GB easily, and soon a 10 GB version popped out.

Apple's famous iPod campaign

The iPod continued to evolve though, and so did the marketing. The commercials were everywhere, and they were sent to the broadest of audiences. The black figures dancing on colored backgrounds encompassed all genres of people and were characterized by their music, which was often provided by popular artists, such as The Black Eyed Peas. Overnight it seemed that everyone donned the white headphones and carried around the White Night of the audio players.

Eventually the iPod came to Windows machines, released smaller players, got photo capabilites with color screens, and then upgraded to video, too. That’s when I got on board; the 60 GB iPod video came out, then got updated to 80 GB, so I bought one of the 60 GB models on sale, and it lasted me well. Knowing I break things, I bought the sturdiest case I could to protect my investment and took it everywhere. My music collection fit on the player and I never had to worry about storage space.

Apple’s second biggest advantage in the takeover of portable music players was the support of other companies. Products aimed at the iPod and its users came from everywhere. Screen protectors, remote controls, headphones, docking stations, and who can forget all the cases; thousands of products in hundreds of models for each of the iPod’s models have been produced. The support has been staggering, and everyone who can make a buck off Apple’s success is making sure it happens.

Now don’t get me wrong, the iPod is a great device, but over the years I’ve gotten tired of it being the only device, which is why I’m thankful that moves towards other audio players are being made, and being made worthwhile. The Microsoft Zune did pretty well, but not nearly as well as the iPod Video and Touch models. The Zune got a key upgrade though, and now it is the Zune HD, and those I’ve talked to are very happy with this product. Other companies such as Archos and Creative Labs have been around since before the iPod and continue to release new devices year after year.

In the end the iPod has, I feel, lived its 15 minutes of fame, and I’m ready to move on. Apple abandoned the hard drive in its latest and most popular iPod models (the Touch and iPhone). While the 8 GB Touch model for $199 is not enough storage for my collection the 32 GB model is just enough, however its price is too steep when there are other media players out there that are cheaper. Plus, touch technology is a turn off to me; it wastes battery life, means you have to be looking at your player to operate it, and is usually large. In addition, the announcement of the iPad has been a joke to me and I can not see it helping Apple’s revenues in the long run. But the iPad is an attempt at branching out once more, which seems to be a popular theme among personal media player developers.

Audio devices are pushing towards multi-functionality, and by this I mean they are being used for other things than enjoying music. The iPod touch sports wifi capabilities, and many other media players are aimed to do more than just play your music. These factors will play huge roles in the direction of device wars, which leaves me excited about what will come out over the next few years. Honestly, I never want another iPod, even though mine treated me well for several years, but I also do not want to settle for something that is aimed at everything but great audio playback. If it’s got wifi, great. If I can read my e-mail, awesome! Can I store some photos? Cool. However, if I can’t listen to all of my music, sync it between multiple computers, and easily receive updates then the mark has been missed and the music experience will suffer.

Thanks for reading, and remember Find The Beat or The Beat will find you.

~TBP

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  1. #1 by thejambi on March 31, 2010 - 12:38 am

    “…if I can’t listen to all of my music, sync it between multiple computers, and easily receive updates then the mark has been missed and the music experience will suffer.” For sure. If it doesn’t do that, then what is it’s real purpose? Good point.

  2. #2 by Tim Flanders on April 7, 2010 - 11:05 pm

    I just got my first ever mp3 play last Christmas. I find it very helpful with online radioshows that I want to listen to while doing other things, and really cuts down on the hastle of CDs.

    However, I really miss having physical media, because of its ability to display artwork and lyrics and thoughts by the artistic, making a more full artistic experience in my mind. Plus, it’s fun to swap CDs: “Oh you haven’t heard of Lights at Sea, dude, you gotta take this CD, you’ll love it!” I miss sharing CDs a lot.

  1. 2010 in review « The Beat Project

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