iPod, Therefore I Am

iPod, Therefore I Am

by Dylan Jones

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A music lover's astonishing account of his obsession with the iPod, and a fascinating look at the phenomenon that has revolutionized the way we hear music.
First came fire, the wheel, and penicillin…and then, according to Dylan Jones, a compulsive album collector, music journalist, and multi award-winning men's magazine editor, the next

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A music lover's astonishing account of his obsession with the iPod, and a fascinating look at the phenomenon that has revolutionized the way we hear music.
First came fire, the wheel, and penicillin…and then, according to Dylan Jones, a compulsive album collector, music journalist, and multi award-winning men's magazine editor, the next great invention to bless the human race was the iPod, Apple's groundbreaking mp3 player. Small, sleek, and sexy, but with the capacity to hold up to ten thousand songs, the iPod has stunned music lovers and gadget enthusiasts around the world. It has delighted indie-rock college kids and elderly jazz fans, classical musical buffs and teenage hip-hop hustlers, almost no technology has so seamlessly crossed the great divide.
In iPod, Therefore I Am, Jones tells the story of his own entrée into this exponentially growing cult, taking the reader on a hilariously candid journey through his lifelong addiction to all genres of music, however unfashionable. Along the way, he gives a tantalizing behind-the-scenes look at the genesis of the iPod, from its original conception by Steve Jobs, the man who famously reinvented Apple Computer, to the landmark design of Jonathan Ive, the innovative designer who has become a legend in his own time. Behind it all, we get an insight into the way that the iPod has radically transformed the way we approach music, listen to music, and possess music—turning all of us into curators. Appendices containing Jones's top playlists and his expert tips on getting the most out of your iPod make this love song to the iPod as practical as it is entertaining.

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Thoughts on playlists stretched out to ear/mind-numbing book length. The invention of the iPod hit Jones (Jim Morrison: Dark Star, 1991) hard. As a lifelong music fanatic with what appears to be one of Western civilization's more astonishing record collections, not to mention a day job as editor-in-chief of British GQ, the author was probably predisposed to be unnaturally entranced by Apple's industry-shaking gizmo. His slim volume is part paean to the cigarette-pack-sized portable music player that has become ubiquitous on urban streets over the past few years, part autobiographical recollection of and culturally aware reflection on Jones's musical past. He alternates between the forward thinkers at Apple who came up with the iPod and the author's life in music, from the first single he bought in childhood (Gary Glitter, he's ashamed to admit) up to his recent self-indoctrination in the wonders of jazz. Having spent much of his professional life working for some of London's fancier magazines, Jones was professionally obliged to be something of a scenemaker, so he can drop a gold-plated list of names from Bryan Ferry to Sid Vicious. But there's not much else of interest here. If Jones had the slashing wit of a Neal Pollack or Nick Hornby, this would be much easier to swallow. Failing that, his private world of near-manic culture acquisition, categorization, worship and dismissal is of barely fleeting interest even to those who share his predilections. For all his love of music, it's too buried in John Seabrook-esque trend-seeking to be infectious. The Apple-focused chapters at least have some heft to them. "I am the iBore," Jones warns-take note.

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Bloomsbury USA
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iPod, Therefore I Am

Thinking Inside the White Box
By Dylan Jones


Copyright © 2005 Dylan Jones
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59691-021-6

Chapter One

Steve Jobs Changes His World

What you didn't know about the Apple CEO

Sometimes, critical mass happens when we least expect it. Early in 2004 Steve Jobs noticed something as he was walking through New York City. "I was on Madison," said the Apple CEO, "and it was, like, on every block, there was someone with white headphones, and I thought, 'Oh, my God, it's starting to happen.'" Bizarrely, Jonathan Ive, the company's sought-after style guru and the man behind the design of the iPod, had a similar experience in London: "On the streets and coming out of the Tube, you'd see people fiddling with it." By the summer of 2004 Apple had sold more than three million iPods to three million people for whom the little plastic and chrome computer with the capacious disc drive had become a way of life. It had sold them to Will Smith, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Clinton, Jamie Cullum, Sheryl Crow, Kevin Bacon, Public Enemy's Chuck D, Alanis Morissette, David Bowie, Ice T, Robbie Williams, and every other compressed, digitized celebrity worth his or her salt. The couturier Karl Lagerfeld bought himself sixty of the damn things, coded on their backs by laser etching so he could tell them apart (he even commissioned a pink copper rectangular purse to hold twelve at any one time). Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter was given his by Steve Earle (who had already filled it with five thousand of his favorite songs). By April 2002 Apple's iPod had 51 percent of the digital music player market, with the remaining 49 percent being split with the Rio, RCA Lycra, iRiver, and Digital Way (digital music players you never, ever wanted to be seen with). By 2008 there will be eighteen million digital players in the world, and more than ten million of those will be iPods.

Suddenly, people were no longer listening to Walkmans-why would they, when they could carry their entire record collection around with them? Why limit yourself to sixty, ninety minutes of music when you could have forty thousand minutes on tap, at the turn of a wheel? Suddenly the iPod had galvanized a generation. In a Yahoo survey, a fifth of British backpackers said they wouldn't leave home without one. Although unlike previous musical revolutions, this was embraced by a much wider demographic, a demographic that had (a) access to a computer, (b) the means to buy a digital music player, and (c) taste in music-any taste. The fans of the iPod were not just eighteen years old; they were twenty-five, thirty, forty-five, sixty. Owners consumed everything from Maroon 5 to Beethoven, from Nirvana to Pink Floyd. They listened to their little white machines on the bus, on the subway, on the train, in the bath. Everywhere. Almost overnight, the iPod became a private club with a membership of millions. And not only did people begin buying iPods, they started buying iPod accessories-often third-party accessories-with a frenzy not seen since the dot-com boom at the end of the last century (when all people were buying were shares in dreams): external speakers (Altec Lansing in particular), microphones, leather carriers, plastic "skins," iTrip transmitters that amplified the iPod through a car stereo, even special adaptors to fit a BMW or Smart car, enabling people to play their iPods on the journey to work (or, if the inclination strikes, Shanghai ...). It was the first gadget to really appeal to the fickle consumer as well as to the computer nerd. And everyone found a different use for it. Sure, you could store your entire collection of Bob Dylan albums on it (should any such thing be attractive to a person), but its vast storage space made it a useful vault for all manner of digital files: the makers of the Lord of the Rings films used iPods to transport dailies from the film set to the studio.

When Steve Jobs returned to the company he cofounded in i997, there were no plans for a digital music player-far from it. But having failed to notice the impending explosion in digital music, he set about creating a piece of "jukebox" software soon to be known as iTunes.

The story of Apple is a convoluted one, but a story that nonetheless makes for easy reading. Having dropped out of university in Oregon in the early 1970s, the long-haired, sandal-wearing, teenage Jobs, who lived entirely on fruit, teamed up with school friend Steve Wozniak and, in true American dream fashion, invented the world's first bonafide personal computer in Jobs's stepfather's garage. The computer, he'd tell anyone who'd listen, was going to be the bicycle of the mind. When the two met, doing summer work at Hewlett-Packard, Wozniak was only eighteen, and Jobs just thirteen. Jobs was never an underachiever (How could he be? After all, he was born and raised in Palo Alto, California, soon to become Silicon Valley)-he was a believer.

To finance the company-Apple was named after his favorite fruit-Jobs sold his Volkswagen camper van and Wozniak his treasured programmable computer, which raised $1,300. Weeks later, Jobs secured his first order of fifty Apple I computers. Semi-cased in timber and initially costing $666.66, the original 1975 Apple is today enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution, where it looks so much older than it actually is (once compared to a component from a 1930s telephone exchange, it made a Mackintosh chair look positively high tech). Unreliable and bulky, it was not a great success, and so they started again, coming up with the Apple II, not the world's first personal computer, but soon the most popular (plastic case, built-in keyboard, colored graphics, the lot). It defined low-end computers for decades to come, and it was said that twenty-third-century archaeologists excavating some ancient PC World stockroom would see no significant functional difference between an Apple II from 1978 and an IBM PS/2 from i992.

Many schools found that buying a few Apples was a cheap way to add computing to their curriculum. Apple II's breakthrough was an application called VisiCale, the first proper spreadsheet, released in 1979, when Jobs was twenty-four. Between i978 and 1983, Apple sales grew by 150 percent a year, but those sales were based on the home and education markets. Jobs realized that the big money to be made from desktop computing would come from the business world. Apple needed to get into offices; they needed a business computer. And so they launched the Apple III. But, like the Apple I, it was a bomb-it ran hot and frequently crashed and was soon overtaken in sales by IBM's recently launched PC. It was 1981 and Apple didn't know what to do next.

Two years later Jobs called John Sculley, then at Pepsi, and asked him to become president of Apple. "If you stay at Pepsi, five years from now all you'll have accomplished is selling a lot more sugar water to kids," Jobs told him. "If you come to Apple, you can change the world." So Sculley joined, leaving Jobs to obsess about creating the perfect low-cost computer. Jobs devoted all his time to this project, while Sculley ran the company, which, he soon discovered, was an organizational mess (rivals referred to Apple's Cupertino, California, headquarters as "Camp Runamok"). Jobs had not only met his nemesis; he'd employed him, and given him the power to fire him. Which is exactly what Sculley did. Eventually, a frustrated Sculley concluded that the main reason for Apple's problems was Jobs's erratic management style, and so stripped him of his day-to-day responsibilities.

Jobs may have been erratic, but it was his passion that drove him on. By the early 1980s Apple had expanded to such an extent that its campus was scattered across more than a dozen buildings in Cupertino, buildings that were full of engineers, designers, technicians, marketers, publicists, couriers, most of whom dressed in the regulation Silicon Valley uniform of T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. As everyone looked the same-how could you tell if there was an IBM or a Compaq spy in the house?-it was decided that ID badges should be introduced: Steve Wozniak was declared employee number 1, Steve Jobs was number 2, and so on. But Jobs didn't want to be number 2; in fact he didn't want to be number 2 in anything. And so he argued that it was he, and not Wozniak, who should be the sacred number 1 since they were cofounders of the company and J came before W in the alphabet. Childish, yes, but then this was what Jobs was like. When the plan was rejected, he argued that as the number o was unassigned, he'd be quite happy to have it. Which he did, and as o came before I, he was technically top dog. It didn't matter that Wozniak was the chief technician and designer; Jobs had his number. "Steve Jobs created chaos because he would get an idea, start a project, then change his mind two or three times, until people were doing a kind of random walk, continually scrapping and starting over," says one insider. "Apple was confusing suppliers and wasting huge amounts of money doing initial manufacturing steps on products that never appeared."

In 1986 Sculley relieved Jobs of his chairmanship, ironically just eighteen months after Apple had launched its breakthrough product, the Macintosh, a computer with a built-in screen and a mouse-and-click user interface (and called Macintosh after the favorite apple variety of its designer, Jef Raskin). At last, computers were accessible to the average user, who no longer had to type in obscure demands to carry out simple tasks. They created screen icons, cleaned up the keyboard, and successfully demystified the computing process. Jobs, always a master of marketing, propelled sales with a TV ad, directed by Ridley Scott, featuring an athlete being chased by storm troopers past throngs of vacant-eyed workers and hurling a sledgehammer at a menacing Big Brother face staring out of a screen. The message was that 1984 would not be Orwell's but Apple's. Jobs said at the time, "We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams." The Macintosh's technology was so advanced that the Pentagon banned all exports to the Soviet Union.

But Jobs was gone, a centimillionaire with no job. He'd been given his "fuck-you money" from Apple, he'd been on the cover of Time, he was a pop-culture icon for Chrissakes!-what was he going to do now? He pondered a few options: (1) He thought of asking NASA if he could fly on one of the space shuttles, maybe as soon as the following year on the Challenger, (2) he visited the Soviet Union with a view to selling school computers to Mikhail Gorbachev, (3) and, perhaps even more fancifully, he considered making a bid for a Senate seat in California. But then, after a bicycle trip through Tuscany, he decided to do something far more prosaic: he'd get together a few engineers and do it all over again-he'd launch another computer company. He called his software company NeXT ("the next big thing") and also bought a fledgling animation firm from Star Wars director George Lucas "that needed vision." That company was Pixar, these days the digital animation studio behind Toy Story, Monsters Inc., A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, films that between them have grossed more than three billion dollars.

He returned to Apple as "interim CEO" in 1997 at the request of a board desperate for innovation and, says Jobs, "to salvage its fortunes." Given that the company nearly folded in i995, this isn't as cocky as it sounds, and Jobs soon made his mark by cleaning house, streamlining the product lines, and jumping on the Internet bandwagon. He quickly launched the brightly colored iMac desktop computers-a hit with every design-obsessive from Cupertino to Clerkenwell-and followed them with the PowerBook and the iBook laptops, the flat-screen iMac (with its fifteen-inch LCD monitor and G4 processor), the OS X upgrade Panther, and the PowerMac G5, arguably the fastest desktop computer on the planet. Jobs also made peace with Microsoft, adapting many of his operating systems to be compatible with its Windows product.

Always, Jobs was obsessed with design and presentation, obsessed with how a product felt and how a product looked, as much as with how it worked. If there's anything PC users should be thankful to Apple for, it's that their PCs probably aren't quite as ugly as they used to be. Jobs brought the computers' looks to the forefront and made PC manufacturers step back, take a look at the ugly beige and greige boxes on their desks, and try to create something a little more scintillating. As soon as he introduced the five colored iMacs at the tail end of the 1990s, suddenly all computers, all white goods, every toaster, vacuum cleaner, and CD player looked as though they had been sent to the ergonomic doctor (even Rolex introduced iMac-influenced watches with translucent plastic in pastel colors). Apple's design sensibility-which was driven almost exclusively by Jobs and Jonathan Ive-was now so much a part of the company's DNA that unless each new product line substantially improved upon its predecessor, it was considered a failure; the Zen-like simplicity of a product's functionality only worked in conjunction with the brutal simplicity of its design. And if the company didn't get it right, there was a small army of devotees to tell it so. The company subscribed to the inverse law that says supply generates its own demand. If Apple made stuff, people bought it. Apple had become a cult that rewarded the loner, a badge of honor you could wear in your own home. Own an iMac, an iBook, or a PowerMac and you could be king without even getting dressed. Steve Jobs had not only steered one of Silicon Valley's greatest companies to fame and fortune by creating some of the most sought-after products of the age, but he had also emancipated a generation of nerds.

But, successful and as innovative as he was, who could have known Jobs would take Apple into digital music?

Excerpted from iPod, Therefore I Am by Dylan Jones Copyright © 2005 by Dylan Jones. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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