The Magic Of iPod

Updated: Jul 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
Apple Computer Company is known for its innovative products. Founder and CEO, Steve Jobs, is a legendary designer whose qualities of creative design have set a high benchmark for design of consumer products, not limited to computer products. Apple II, Apple Macintosh, iMac Notebook, and Power Mac are some of the examples. Launched on October 23, 2001, iPod is an extraordinarily well-designed digital audio product that uses the popular MP3 music format, the de-facto digital music standard today.

There are a number of MP3 digital audio products. Sony created an MP3 device with an exceptionally small form-factor (cigarette size) using flash RAM technology. Singapore-based Creative Laboratories, a PC peripherals company, created a CD Jukebox-based Nomad, another MP3 device built around an audio CD. Apple iPod is a hard disk-based digital audio product with large storage; it can store thousands of audio songs.

While the very small footprint devices are great, they have limited storage capability of a few dozen songs. CD-based MP3 digital audio products have large storage capacity, but are bulky. By imaginatively using small form-factor hard disk-based iPod, Apple has created a new product family. It combines largeness of the collection, convenience of mobility and personalised choice with the added comfort of size such that it can become the next generation Walkman!

iPod has a great design with excellent features; it can store thousands of songs that you can create using your Mac computer or your PC, and lets you play high quality digital music wherever you go. Its physical size — 4” x 2.5” and 0.8” thickness, weight 6.5 oz — makes it a handy device. The six button control, alongwith 2” x 2” high-resolution LCD display, makes it a legendary easy-to-use digital audio product. And the metallic finish with the Apple touch of class make it an “owner’s pride”.

Using neodynamium in place of aluminium, and with a frequency response over 20 Hz - 20,000 Hz, iPod delivers 60 mw sound that makes listening to high fidelity music a great experience. The interface is intuitive, with a simple 3-part menu of playlist, artist and songs. With a 20 GB disk, iPod can store typically 5,200 songs (520 CDs) at 128 Kbps of MP3 format. Smaller disks of 5 GB and 10 GB are also available. Thanks to the “search and select” that exploits an “in memory” database using 32 MB memory, this enormous collection of 500+ CDs can be navigated with ease. The rechargeable battery has a life of 10 hours of playtime and the charger with universal power supply ensures easy charging.

With no moving parts, iPod is a marvel of mechanical, electrical and power electronics design. With support to Fire Wire (IEEE 1394) external device support, iPod can download songs from your computer (Mac or PC) at a phenomenal speed (less than 9 seconds for a typical audio CD with 10 songs).

PC users too can benefit by iPod if they buy the Windows version; Linux support is underway.

An interesting aspect of iPod is the way the product is built — Apple has done a great job of systems engineering and has built the product with components chosen from the “Best in class”. The hard disk is from Toshiba, battery from Sony, the RAM is sourced from Samsung, the operating system is from Pixo (not Mac 10), the Fire Wire chipset is set from Texas Instruments, and the DSP for MP3 is from Portal Player (with a significant set of developers in Hyderabad!). Hopefully, there will be some software from India inside iPod!

iPod convinces us that there is still enormous place for “cool” products. Great companies, though not the darling of Wall Street analysts, can still change the rules of the game and consumers would reward companies that come up with truly great products. iPod is the world’s best MP3 player today; it remains to be seen whether it becomes the most successful MP3 player tomorrow.

The author is the Director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore. The views expressed here are personal. He can be contacted at ss@iiitb.ac.in