The iPod lives on…

For years now, iPod sales have been declining. The reasons are obvious: cannibalisation by the iPhone; and the rise of music streaming over the purchase/download model. While we see fewer and fewer iPods these days, they do appear regularly in a number of different contexts. The first examples that come to mind are those who use iPods with older docking stations with 30-pin connectors, and people who enjoy exercising with iPod nanos and shuffles.

Perhaps the most intriguing situation is one that I have seen numerous times on public transport: people using iPod Classics and nanos for music consumption, all the while using their Android phones for apps and other general tasks. I consider this to be a sign of Apple’s influence in the broader music industry. Even with the plethora of music consumption choices on Google’s Play Store, be it Spotify, Pandora, Guvera or some other service, there is a significant number of people who stick to the tried-and-true model of downloading songs from iTunes and syncing with an iPod.

We can speculate about the reasons for this. Perhaps it’s just easier for these users to stick with what works. Maybe they like to keep their old iPods (or even buy new ones) for exercise. They may even prefer to have an alternative music source in case their smartphone battery dies.

I think there’s a deeper meaning.

I believe that this (specific) continued use of iPods is an indication of Apple’s brand power, as well as the significance of music ownership. During the Jobs era, Apple clearly established itself as the home of digital music: a legal, accessible alternative to worrisome services at the time, like Napster. This dominance has since been challenged, particularly by Spotify, however Apple is quickly growing its newest service, Apple Music, with millions of paid subscribers. For these persistent iPod users, Apple continues to be the best place to find music. iTunes remains to be a service that they can trust, no matter how bloated it might have become. Considering that some (not all) Android users dislike iPhones, it’s fascinating to see how a subset of users cling to these Apple devices even when their smartphones can do so much more, all in the one package.

On the topic of music purchasing versus streaming, there is something to be said about owning your music. While I love using Apple Music now, prior to its introduction I was vehemently against streaming. The idea of paying a subscription fee rather than maintaining purchasing habit seemed ridiculous to me. I’ve converted now (and I’m happy that I did), as access to such a broad library of 30 million songs, along with curated radio stations and playlists, is just too appealing. I can understand, however, why others may not be so willing. Owning stuff feels more familiar and secure.

I have always been and will continue to be a fan of the iPod. After the iMac, which reinvigorated a dying company in 1998, the iPod was the beginning of Apple’s truly magnificent success in the early 2000s, leading up to today with the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. No one else had ever achieved the level of integration in consumer electronics and services that Apple did at the time, and that’s still the case. Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook all offer comprehensive services and ecosystems, but no one offers the whole widget like Apple does.

The iPod’s influence was so huge that it is still felt today, and it seems that even some devoted Android smartphone users haven’t forgotten this.

iPay. iLearn.

Image: Amber Hunt, 2010

Today, information is king. We are now witnessing the boom of digital ‘cognitive capitalism’, where information and education are bought and sold with great ease. Cognitive capitalism, however, has existed for centuries within the institution of the university. Tertiary institutions have held at their “…centre the highly-credentialed content expert who generates individually-authored print documents fully protected by copyright” (Miller, 2009, p. 147). Copyrighted materials have been offered at a high price in the form of textbooks, and more recently, through online subscriptions to journal article databases that have been paid for before they even reach students. Miller (2009) describes the university as ‘frozen in time’, a prehistoric world almost completely separated from the effects of globalisation and democratising technology.

In the last 25 years, the ‘ivory tower’ of the university and associated publishers has worsened, as they have become high-technology, low-skilled industries driven by economic growth and Fordist expansion (Dyer-Witheford, 2005, p. 71).

Global publishers now potentially face a challenge with Apple’s entrance into the textbook market. Apple now sells interactive, multimedia textbooks (US$14.99 each) in its iTunes-based iBookstore, featuring powerful annotation tools. Apple also offers a new application called iBooks Author, which enables independent authors to create and sell content without the need for a publisher.

Whilst Apple’s new foray into textbook production and distribution does empower students and authors, it still exhibits cognitive capitalism. For example, iBooks textbooks may only be sold through the iBookstore, and are limited to the proprietary iBooks e-book format (Reid, 2012). Reid (2012) asserts that the technological industry is begging for standardisation.

Universities and publishers need to exit the ‘ivory tower’, and move beyond the archaic media and distribution channels of textbooks and journal article subscriptions. They must, however, exercise caution before adopting a potentially worse proprietary environment that controls students, scholars and authors alike.

References:
  • Dyer-Witheford, N., 2005, ‘Cognitive Capitalism and the Contested Campus’, Engineering Culture: On The Author as (Digital) Producer, New York: Autonomedia, pp. 71-93.
  • gearlive, 2012, Apple Introduces iBooks Textbooks, retrieved 01/04/2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6HeyTldraw.
  • Hunt, A., 2010, 3 Ways You Can Manage Your Debt – Quicken Loans Online, JPEG, retrieved 31/03/2012, http://www.quickenloans.com/blog/ways-manage-your-debt.
  • Miller, R., 2010, ‘The Coming Apocalypse’, Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 1, Duke University Press, pp. 143-151.
  • Reid, C., 2012, ‘iBooks 2: Reinventing Textbooks or Lulu on Steroids?’, Publishers Weekly, Vol. 259, Iss. 4, New York, p. 1.

This post was written originally as part of the undergraduate BCMS course at the University of Wollongong.