A New Media Prototype: Overcoming the Dominance of the iPod Essay

A New Media Prototype:  Overcoming the Dominance of the iPod

Introduction:

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            The music industry has been more than simply altered by the transition to digital media formats.  Indeed, it has been revolutionized, with the transition causing not only a change in the way that consumers listen to and receive their music, but has altered the power structure and that path to power within the industry.  Where only a decade ago, marketing artists and recordings was considered the chief way to participate in the industry, today such examples as Apple and its iPod products demonstrate that in fact, those who create the medium for listening will have the greatest impact and influence on how music is consumed.

The popular consumption of music is invariably tied through history to the medium in which it is delivered.  This, in turn, is impacted by the technology which informs said delivery.  Where the LP record format dominated the 60’s, the 8-Track Cassette the 70’s, the Tape Cassette the 80’s and the Compact Disc the ’90s, the first decade of the new millennium has demonstrated a practical evolution in music listening through the Digital MP3 Player.  At the turn of the millennium, with the advanced integration of computer technology and internet use into mainstream culture, the advent of the compressed MP3 music track would spark a revolution that is today felling major CD retail chains throughout the U.S.

            Leading the charge is Apple’s iPod, which under a variety of incarnations, had set the pace both for technological intuition and commercial appeal, streamlining a stylish and versatile product that “accounted for 78% of U.S. sales of digital music players last year and about half of world sales.” (Hoffman, 1)

            Apple’s singular dominance, as cited above, accounts largely for the proposal here, which is centered on the subject of music media.  The Apple iPod is to be considered the primary example for the course of this discussion, both for reasons of its proven success and for its presentation of opportunities for innovation to its competitors.  By creating a media device designed for the enhancement of one’s music listening capabilities, we intend to fill some of the gaps left by Apple as it turns its attention toward integration of the device with telecommunication technology.  The device in question will piggy-back off of the iPod sleek design, small physical size, user-friendly interface and high quality playback efficiency.  In addition, however, the prototype introduced here will account for some of the shortcomings or opportunities missed as relate to the iPod.  For instance, the device in question will feature a high maximum of available hard drive space, an internet connection which allows the user to interface with any downloading service or peer to peer trading software and a host of functions which are only fulfilled through the purchase of peripherals with the iPod.

Task Analysis:

            There is a great deal of research to justify the selected point of focus for our technology company.  In particular, the history surrounding the iPod is itself illustrative of the interest which exists amongst target users.  In fact, the flagging sales of the music industry are a trend directly opposite that facing those media devices which have successful read or anticipated user interests. If one is to take the music industry as a case study of the changing nature of commerce with the integration of internet technology, there may be evidence to suggest that the retail approaches traditionally taken by many industries may be subject to extinction.  The initiation of  the peer-to-peer service, Napster, in the late 1990s, to the collective consciousness of web-users and lawmakers alike began a new era for the exchange of media on the internet.  Though the web had initially been viewed as a popular way for major record companies and compact disc retailers to expand their reach, it would ultimately prove a means to the obsolescence of a physical rendering of a digital recording.  Napster was a peer-to-peer based way to trade digital media such as music and movies already possessed by private users and contained on computer hard drives.

Though a court injunction closed its operations, this proved an inflection point for both ecommerce and the music industry.  The free exchange of media which formerly commanded imposing profit margins for record companies and retailers alike, had become an increasingly widespread means through which consumers would obtain their music, inciting the success of the example by which our prototype is to be designed.  Many of its functions will, contrary to the iPod, make few protections or liaisons within the music industry, instead relying upon the clear patterns of downloading and music consumption that are today drive music listeners.  Again, a fine initial example is set by iPod.   Though record retailers initially resisted through vigorous legal action, such companies as Apple are lighting the way to a significant re-orientation of the music industry toward the sale of digital media in a virtual setting.  The ITunes program, which in 2003 unveiled a library of 200,000 songs each available to download for the price of $1, is the next generation of music formatting, with the momentous cultural and economic pull of the IPod MP3 music player suggesting that this method of retail is fast surpassing the physical context as a preferred means to media acquisition.  (Gowan, 1)  With the recent announcement that the Tower Records megastores will be closing due to the company’s gradual decline in sales performance, there is good cause to believe that in fact, ecommerce is well on its way to fully revolutionizing the music buying preferences and habits of mainstream consumers.

Target Users:

            For music consumers, the shift to the computer-file medium happened years ago.  Record companies are now learning this more clearly and organizations like Apple have capitalized to a remarkable degree.  For our organization, the accomplishments established by the iPod are encouraging.  This is particularly true with demographics that have essentially come of age through the evolution of the personal computer, the internet and ecommerce.  Over the course of the early 21st century, “online buying was most popular among 25-34 year olds and least attractive to the 65+ seniors.” (Vargas, 1)  This same demographic is composed of individuals who, over more than half a decade of unrestrained music downloading access, have come to expect a number of opportunities.  Specifically, there is an immediacy to this access that transcends traditional music buying methods, with the click-and-download process bypassing the need to go to a store or wait for an online-ordered item to arrive in the mail.  Songs instantly appear on the consumer’s hard-drive and may subsequently be listened to and burnt to a Compact Disc.  With literally infinite peer-to-peer communities emerging constantly to improve the organization, presentation and reliability of such acquisition methods, users still have countless ways to find music for free.  And perhaps even more compelling than the cost factor to devoted music collectors is the improved diversity and depth of that which is available.  By eliminating the commercial gatekeeping entities such as record companies and retail organizations, who accommodate limited physical resources or space by pressing and promoting only the most commercially viable products, online file-sharing communities provide a far more varied and layered catalogue of music from which to choose.

            These are all factors which are stimulating to the interests of our organization, which through its interest in creating a wireless medium for the download of music through a chosen portal—as opposed to the sanctioned iTunes database–which attract the literally millions of users worldwide who download hundreds and thousands of tunes a week without every visiting iTunes.  By creating an integrated device that functions much like the iPod but which allows the user more freedom and autonomy, we anticipate creating a product which can begin to compete within the young, hip and tech-savvy target groups with whom Apple has been so successful and perceptive.

            One of the biggest challenges facing our prototype as it attempts to penetrate this coveted demographic, is found in the sheer dominance which has been achieved by the iPod in this field and with the demographic in question.  Its reputation, visibility and variety are all elements of its success that will be hard to best.  Moreover, its cost creates a challenge that must be carefully considered.  Ranging from a base price of roughly $80 for its new 1 Gig iPod Shuffle to $350 for 60 Gig models with video storage capacity, iPod has succeeded to a remarkable degree in selling a high-priced luxury item for everyday music consumption.  “Since it first shipped the product five years ago, Apple has sold 70 million units.” (Crum, 1)  The reason for this is the variability in its cost, which has made it so remarkably successful.

Basic Design:

            The product in question will be based largely on that which the iPod can already do.  Specifically, it will be user-friendly, computer-interfacing music media device that is handheld and intended for portable use.  The device will use the touch-screen design for operation which has proven successful on the new iPhone device.  Moreover, it will be compatible with such iPod friendly programs as iTunes and will be compatible with both the Mac and PC computers.  The device will pay a focus to creating an aesthetically pleasing and slick physical appearance as well as an array of colors and/or specialty design devices.  Many of the noted features are those which have been standardized by the success of the iPod.

            However, as we intend to offer a product with something of a more integrated nature, it is anticipated that its cost will necessarily run at 15% higher than its iPod counterpart as concerns size.  However, we do intend to unveil the first portable 500Kb and terabyte media devices for personal use.  Contrary to the iPod, this is a device which will allow for less prejudicial storage and the use of a variety of programs and internet browsing options that might occupy a dominant store of space in the iPod.

            In addition to the premium on space and on internet browsing/music downloading freedom, the device would allow incorporate into its body a number of elements which the iPod continues to market as peripherals.  For example, the iPod markets a radio transmitter called the iTrip, which when connected to the iPod, allows its user to broadcast on an unused radio wavelength within a very short distance.  This feature would be integrated into the design of the device.  So too would internal speakers of a high audio quality.  Additionally, the device would be equipped with the infrared sensor that would allow it to connect wirelessly to computers and stereos when affixed with an infrared receiver.  This function and receiver would also be inbuilt to the cost of purchase of  the device.

            This is to indicate that though we will be in a position where it will be necessary to charge more for our product line than must Apple, the user will find that fewer peripherals are needed to fully enjoy that which the device has to offer.  Production of the device will be conducted through outsourcing, using the resources in our reach to establish an agreement with a geographical location for operation which is most cost-effective.

Discussion:

            The music industry has changed dramatically and in ways that can truly benefit the perceptive purveyor of technology.  Certainly, there is a persistent resolution here that the industries have been most damaged not by the existence or even the success of these bootlegging communities but by their own stodgy inability to stay current with technological and communicational advances which have meant sweeping changes for the media in which they deal.  While the RIAA, the MPAA and other industry players have sought to bring legal consequences to the perpetrators of these ‘piracy’ offenses, they have missed the opportunity to stay on the cusp of modernity and now find themselves incapable of providing pay services which are functionally competitive with the manifold free services enjoyed today by bootleggers and personal enthusiasts alike.  Today, the traditional organizations that constitute the music industry continue to be vexed by this frontier.  It is only recently that it has begun to shift its approach from a crusade of legal obstruction to an inescapable embrace of progress.  At this juncture though, with the economic consequences of their delay already having taken a toll, traditional companies have a great deal of catching up to do both in terms of technology and in terms of truly understanding the expectations of their target markets.   This is something which our company must key in on, especially as Apple’s dominance suggests the time is approaching for a more nuanced markeplace which provides consumers with greater freedom.  We have already seen that perhaps this is what most drives music listeners and consumers.

            A company such as Apple, whose ITunes downloading program and IPOD listening device have come to represent a nexus between the popular and industry-oriented applications of the new technology, demonstrates that organizational evolution is possible and that capitalization within the new context is a practical goal.  However, that Apple is a computer technology based organization that is now topping record retailers at their own game does not bode well for many traditional music retail companies, that have likely already waited to long to meet the altered expectations of listeners.  The task that remains before ITunes and its likely slew of competitors in the coming years, though, will be to break down many of the commercial barriers which have prevented profit-intended companies from supporting more diverse and content-deep music catalogues.  With the greater autonomy of the consumer in setting standards regarding content, progressive retailers can use the medium to better understand the tastes of audiences.  If this can be paired with a balanced pricing structure, broad-based commercial organizations and music consumers may reach a stasis in which both profits and expectations can be met according to the opportunities present in the fast-advancing technology.

            This is certainly the optimism underscoring the creation of our device, which contrary to the iTunes anchored iPod, is removed for a fading way of conducting music business and gatekeeping.  By embracing most directly that which the consumer appears to desire, our design should help dismantle the singularity of iPod’s control in its field.

Works Cited

Crum, Rex.  (Dec. 17, 2006).  As iPod sales slow, Apple looks to next big thing.  Bradenton Herald.  Online at

http://www.bradenton.com/mld/bradenton/business/16251559.htm

Borland, John.  (April 9, 2003).  Music Industry:  Piracy is choking sales.  CNET News. Online at <http://news.com.com/2100-1027-996205.html>.

Gowan, Michael.  (2003).  Apple’s ITunes Music Store Is a Winner.  PC World. Online at ;http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,110991-page,1/article.html;
Hoffman, Leah.  (Feb. 24, 2006).  Steve Wozniak slams Apple over iPods, Intel.  Forbes.  Online at http://www.forbes.com/facesinthenews/2006/02/24/wozniak-jobs-apple-cx_lh_0224autofacescan05.html

Vargas, Melody.  (2005).  Cyberspace Vs. Parking Mall Space.  About the RetailIndustry.  Online at             ;http://retailindustry.about.com/library/weekly/aa001101b.htm;.

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