RIP: iPod Classic

As part of its iPhone 6 and Apple Watch launch, Apple “gave away” copies of the new U2 album “Songs of Innocence,” instantly available to iTunes Store account holders (whether they want it or not) for five weeks prior to its official launch in physical and downloadable formats you have to pay for.  From a marketing perspective, it seems upon first glance a brilliant strategy, building on a relationship with a band that dates to 2003 and the introduction of the iPod U2 Special Edition, which had a whopping (for the time) 20 GB of portable storage and a click wheel in red, a color that came to define subsequent iPod (PRODUCT) RED editions for which a portion of proceeds goes to Bono’s AIDS charity. 

However, there are a number of ironies here, not the least of which is that Apple has at the same time quietly removed the very same iPod ( the Classic 160 GB version, “classic” because it retains the click wheel operation while all its other smaller capacity iPods have a touch screen interface and capabilities beyond “just” playing music) from its online store and presumably no longer manufactures it. 

So to celebrate the launch of supposedly innovative new product categories (although built on pre-existing technologies and perfected in a better designed consumer package, the genius of Steve Jobs that seems to have been lacking in Apple DNA since Tim Cook took the helm but, possibly, is resurrected) Apple gives away a tired old product category that is slowly (thankfully) doomed for the same dustbin as the iPod Classic—a crappy, lossy album download, by a band  noted for creating  music that is equally crappy in terms of its production values.  In other words, what Apple is giving away really isn’t worth anything. Which is saying what about the product its touting with this promotion, i.e., iTunes?  

There was a time when both U2 and Apple were truly hip, as opposed to marketing themselves as hip. Before becoming a corporate rock band noted for rousing anthemic and bombastic pretentiousness personified mostly by bandleader Bono, U2 was a college and progressive radio darling in the days of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” Apple, similarly, was a cool niche that appealed to graphic designers, advertising companies and techno-nerds who hated Microsoft back in the days before iPods and iPhones made it the consumer products juggernaut it is today.  Which the U2 album giveaway only serves to remind you about, in not necessarily good ways.

iTunes and the iPod dramatically changed the record industry, not necessarily in ways that were good for artists and those who cared about audio quality. The business model is moving towards streaming, with niches for high-resoultion downloads and high-rez streaming (coming soon to US markets) as well as the resurging interest in vinyl.  But Apple is lagging behind, failing so far either to make successful inroads (streaming, which is why it bought Beats) or care about addressing (high-quality downloads).  Meanwhile, companies likes Pono, Sony, Astell & Kern and FiiO are offering players not only capable of high capacity (though typically with SSD cards you can swap out, as opposed to single large drive of the iPod Classic), but high-resolution playback. 

It’s sort of as if IBM were to announce a new service  by giving you an IBM PC Jr., complete with chiclet keyboard and a Charlie Chaplain movie on VHS, already set up for you in your home office. Anyone have a use for this besides as an object of curiosity?


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