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The iPod is a little device that is much bigger than people realize. For a complete technology nerd, I'm fairly socially aware and can actually interact with humans as well as hardware. But when something new and cool comes out, my technaholic tendancies tend to come bubbling to the surface. The other day I succumbed to these urges, and bought myself a new toy: an iPod. And it has been revolutionary in its simplicity.

Don't get me wrong - I don't have to buy every new toy that is released, or have the latest and greatest of everything. Though, I admit that would be nice and fun. However, I'm more conservative and tend to look for things that will really make sense to me, my lifestyle, and that are a good value. I found all that in one product called iPod.

So what is an "iPod"? At the hardware level, it is just a very small hard-drive, that allows me to download data and music (MP3's) to it, and it can play them back at ill. $400 for a hi-tech Sony Walkman? What's so revolutionary about that?

Well, this product is a glimpse into the future.

I've already encoded my collection of a few hundred CD's into MP3 format - which made music storage much more convenient. Instead of having shelf upon shelf full of these little disks that I have to go hunting through, and put into a player to hear my music, I had my entire collection on my hard-drive, and could sort/order by my choice. If I wanted my collection at work, I'd just copy it, and have access to it there too. I just pick the song or type of song I want, and I had a little personalize radio station.

But when I set it up, the technology wasn't really up to the convenience that most users should demand. I had to know a lot about what was going on. And playback was through some clunky software. Apple radically improved that for Macintosh users with a program called iTunes - and there are similar, but slightly more-complex programs for the PC's. So the process of setting this up is becoming much easier. Just pop in a disc, and add to your music selection, and that's it. You can setup your own play-lists and you have a customizable music solution.

But you couldn't carry it with you. And that's where iPod came in.

All of a sudden, something smaller than a cigarette box can store 1,000+ songs, has excellent sound quality, and is virtually impossible to make the music "skip". It has a great and easy to understand interface - with a jog wheel and a push button to select songs or play-lists. It interfaces to the computer using a very simple ultra-high speed connector (called firewire), so the information transfers quickly.

That's the technology - what matters is the what it enables. Now, when I want music, it comes with me -- wherever I want! And it just works. I already have an adapter to plug it into my car, or home stereo - and I have headphones to listen to what I want when I go walking. And when I want to have some of my data with me, it's there - the thing does double duty as a little hard drive, so I backed up my most common files on it, so if I need access to something, I've got it with me.

And that's the revolution. Information storage is becoming so cheap, that it is changing the way we think about things. I don't think of music as listening to what someone else wants me to hear (radio), nor is it a big, bulky library of plastic wafers. Music has become this little deck of cards that can be my entire collection, wherever I want it. And my "files" and data, can be there as well.


Now this first generation device is cool, but it "only" holds about 1,000 songs (5 Gigabytes). But technology is doubling capacity every 18-24 months, and the iPod gives us a glipse at what the future holds. A future where all my favorite information; music, movies, books, my files (work), is always with me - in a simple little pocket device (at it will get smaller). Buying information in stores or across the internet should be a simple and inexpensive "download". And if I want to work somewhere, I just "jack in" and I'm ready to go. Think about what having all your "important" information with you at any time would mean to you, and you're beginning to see how these type of devices are changing our lives.


📚 References

Written 2002.03.12