You see them in the gym, at the park and in the classroom. Their signature white earbuds are ubiquitous. America is swept up in iPod madness. The iPod, which was considered only a few years ago to be a toy for nerds, has transformed into a pop culture icon almost overnight. Since the debut of iPods in 2001, they have become a staple of everyday life for everyone who owns one, and in fact, in many ways they serve as a fashion statement for the music-savvy.
Today on campus, the white earbuds are more noticeable than the white squirrels, but why are they so popular? Is it the size – only as large as a deck of cards? Is it the ability to hold more music than you could on a CD player? Or is it the attractively simple interface that reels people in?
While all of these reasons are important, it is possible that what is perpetuating iPod sales is simply that it has become integrated into fashion. Loyal Apple customers and gizmo geeks were the first to buy iPods; soon after, their friends began to realize that, “Hey, that’s a pretty cool gizmo.”
Although it started as a toy for the Tri-Lambda types, its target market has broadened. For the average American consumer, the transition between a luxury and a necessity often happens in the blink of an eye.
A few months ago I bought a backpack. It had an “iPod ready” slot, and listed that feature as one of the selling points of the backpack. Today you can buy clothing from fashionable designers with iPod pouches built in. And you can now accessorize your iPod to fit your personal style.
Even Apple’s commercials for the device have become a pop culture item. An episode of “Family Guy” included a short segment in which the character Stewie, in the silhouetted style of iPod commercials, danced to the song “I am a warrior.” Apple has injected itself into mainstream America, and we just can’t get enough.
The iPod revolution is very similar to a revolution of the previous century: Ford’s Model T. Black was the only available color for the first Model T. Similarly, the iPod was available only in white until about a year ago. Henry Ford’s innovation of the assembly line made him the most successful early auto manufacturer, while Steve Jobs’ idea for a simple interface and easy access to music has made him the most successful early MP3 player manufacturer.
Both markets were started by small companies that failed – for the auto industry it was a slew of European motor carriage companies, for MP3 players it was Rio, the small Japanese company that couldn’t keep up with Apple’s manufacturing ability.
The iPod revolution is just beginning. Soon we could have an iPod computer, TV, game system, or maybe all of them combined. Regardless, these next few years for Apple Computers could be the best years of the company’s existence, as those little white earbuds continue to bloom all over the country. Even if Apple doesn’t sell another iPod, they will go down in history as the small company that sparked a revolution with a product smaller than a breadbox.