Celestial Jukebox in the Sky: The Life and Death of iPod

My iPod Classic

The first Apple device I owned was an iPod. Specifically, the iPod with Video (fifth generation, 60GB). It’s dead now; its hard drive failed some years ago and prompted my “upgrade” to an iPod Classic. It’s the shiny evolution of the device that changed the trajectory of Apple’s fortunes. The quirky click-wheeled ‘pod launched the company on a hyperdrive trip of success that has eventually led to last month’s announcement of Apple Watch, the latest darling to enter a strong lineage of beautiful industrial design from this Cupertino behemoth.

iPod is effectively dead right now. Its death occurred on June 29, 2007 when Steve Jobs announced iPhone, a “revolutionary” device touted as a “wireless communicator, Internet device and windscreen iPod – all in one.” iPhone, and the modern smartphone revolution it inspired, led to smaller device storage capacities and thus the emergence of streaming: instead of keeping music onboard, music could be – had to be – streamed from this mystical thing called the cloud. No longer are we compelled to maintain ginormous music libraries on iTunes, no longer do we have to carry our entire collection in our pockets: now, we can have the entire world’s music library beamed to us wherever we are (provided there’s network). The future is here, folks. This is the stuff writ in science fiction lore for decades: life in the connected network.

But here’s the thing: iPod was personal. iPod reflected who you were – because music is intrinsically personal, emotional, something that appeals to us all on the most base level. iPod was a tiny mirror of your personality. But with this shift to the cloud, the rise of iPhone and streaming services like SoundCloud, Spotify, Rdio and iTunes Radio, maintaining large libraries is a chore. The very purpose of iPod for the mass market is obsolete. I guess all technology has a shelf life – a fairly short shelf life at that – and it’s impressive that the iPod Classic remained in Apple’s lineup for so long. Its last refresh was in 2009, a mere consolidation of storage capacity to 160GB (that’s the iteration of iPod that I still own).

When Tim Cook announced 1 Infinite Loop’s new creation, Apple quietly pulled the iPod Classic from its lineup. This is a logical move for the company; earlier this year Cook even said in a quarterly earnings call that the iPod business was declining rapidly. Hell, even their accessories category is doing better than the iPod business. And the shift to streaming has caught Apple fumbling to maintain their dominance in the music industry – an industry it helped reinvent over a decade ago with this very device. Apple’s acquisition of Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics is indicative of their yearning to pull themselves back into the game. iTunes sales are growing disproportionately to the sales of streaming subscriptions from rival services. The message from the consumer couldn’t be clearer: people don’t want to own music anymore. Small storage capacities on beloved smartphones – space that is hotly contested by a multitude of media, from apps to videos to music – justifies the raison d’être for streaming services. Streaming music means more space on devices for more apps. And add to that the notion that you can listen to a catalog far greater than the capacity of your device, and the idea of owning an iPod Classic seems unreasonable.

This shift is reminiscent of the music industry’s transition from vinyl to tapes, the Walkman to the Discman and CDs, to MP3s and the iPod. An industry susceptible to change, at the mercy of the never-ceasing flow of technological invention will always face the challenge of maintaining its emotional connection to the human spirit – emotion is at the core of music, after all. And emotion is what many designers of music services and technologies try to imbue in their creations, creations that by their very nature are ephemeral.

iPod changed the game. It reflected who you were through something intangible: music. It did the impossible. It created magic. In a way, devoid of myriad features, the infinite possibilities of a canvas-like multitouch interface and a massive app store – devoid even of any network connections – iPod was the most magical device Apple created. It forged invisible yet strong connections between people through music. And its death, its yielding to a far more exciting, intense era of technological possibility, signals also the death of this singularly beautiful experience: the idea of the focussed technological device, the product that does one thing, but does it insanely great.

So, where to now? What is to become of the iPod line with the death of its last great ancestor, its direct line to the original iPod? Apple still has one more event left for this year, its October event that was historically dubbed the “music event” – the one that was reserved for announcing new iPods and a new version of iTunes. In recent years that has been replaced with iterative updates to the Mac line, and new iPads. The only iPod getting any love is the Touch – and rightly so. It is the only iPod that bridges the origin line (iPod) with the newer kids on the block (iPhone and iPad) through iOS. I don’t think iPod as a brand is dead. A new iPod Classic with a solid-state drive and support for high-fidelity music files has been talked about a lot on Apple forums. But only by diehard audiophiles, because that is exactly to whom this kind of device would appeal. It’s a highly-focussed segment of a small marketshare, and hardly anything that a behemoth like Apple, already deep in existing and well-performing product lines and ventures into entirely new industries (high fashion with Apple Watch) would even bat an eye at. It is for this reason – a pragmatic one, coldly looking at the statistics of market share – that I think iPod Classic is dead; iPod nano, shuffle and touch will continue on to ride out the ever-diminishing sales of a brand that brought a struggling company back from near-extinction, as Apple focusses on pushing people onto iPhones and the iOS ecosystem.

Tony Fadell, “father of the iPod”, put it succinctly when he said in a recent interview with Fast.Co Design:

“It was inevitable something would take its place. You know, in 2003 or 2004, we started asking ourselves what would kill the iPod […] And even back then, at Apple, we knew it was streaming. We called it the ‘celestial jukebox in the sky.’ And we have that now: music in the cloud.”

Like many people, I love music. It’s an incredibly important part of my life. iPod was – no, is – still a fundamental part of my personal tech setup. I am sad to see the Classic go, and have (begrudgingly) come to accept that, logically, there cannot be another Classic; that’s not the direction that the world is moving in. But I hope that the experience, the magic that Apple created with iPod, remains coursing through its DNA as it shifts focus from a consumer electronics company into a lifestyle one.

#AmWriting: 10 Soundtracks to Write To

I’m currently working on a mammoth project – a (possible) 70 000+ word manuscript for an action/thriller novel that I’ve been planning for a few months now. It’s a scary thing to think about, and so writers often need something to help get them through the process. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his (ahem) indulgences, as did many other writers including Oscar Wilde, who even imbued his famous character Dorian Gray with some of his own habits. For me, well, there’s music.

Music is the perfect mood creator. It helps to set the imaginative landscape and gives the writer much-needed energy to put down words. And with a good pair of headphones and the right music, you can really create a cocoon for creativity.

I’ve written on the subject of film soundtracks before, and in this post I’ll highlight my favourite pieces to listen to while writing such monstrous things like a first draft manuscript.

Film and game music are designed to keep audiences engaged with visual content. And since, as writers, we’re creating visual scenes through the magic of words, these two mediums work beautifully with each other. Below are some of my favourite scores to listen to while writing.

I should mention that, while I present these pieces in the context of writing, they’re suited to most creative tasks where a little mood music can go a long way.

1. Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer)

The soaring orchestrations and endlessness of the guitars set a beautiful sonic landscape for your words to flow. The deluxe edition has a brilliant “sketches” session, where Zimmer explores in a continuous mix the various ideas and themes that permeate the Superman reboot.

2. Oblivion (M83)

M83 created an electronic-infused score to this Tom Cruise science fiction blockbuster. It’s very atmospheric with lots of rising strings and melodies that almost urge you onward to the next word, the next paragraph, scene or chapter. It’s an especially nice listen when you’re wanting for inspiration, at the beginning of a writing session, and gives your imagination a nice kick start.

3. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (Jesper Kyd)

This is a soundtrack designed to help you focus. Since it’s scored for the (insanely cool) Assassin’s Creed games, it works really well when writing scenes of intrigue, action, or contemplation. I sometimes listen to this to get into the writing mood.

4. The Dark Knight Rises (Hans Zimmer/James Newton Howard)

In case you don’t know by now, I’m a huge fan of Hans Zimmer. He’s my go-to guy for a musical fix when I’m working on a creative project. The Dark Knight Rise score is powerful, with great highs and lows perfect for almost any kind of scene. And if you just want to feel inspired, the rousing chant from the movie certainly does the trick, as does Junkie XL’s remix “Bombers over Ibiza”.

5. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Howard Shore)

You can never go wrong with Lord of the Rings. The quintessential high-fantasy drama, its soundtrack is powerful, rousing, and the perfect mix for creating an immersive creative environment. The final tracks, with Enya’s ethereal voice singing in Elvish, is hauntingly beautiful.

6. Game of Thrones: Seasons 1-4 (Ramin Djawadi)

Since I’ve gotten into the Game of Thrones world, I’ve become enchanted by its music. Ramin Djawadi scores a diverse soundtrack that’s a mixture of exotic eastern strings, thunderous trumpets and some chilling lyrics like Sigur Ros’s “Rains of Castamere.”

7. Skyfall (Thomas Newman)

Skyfall is one of my favourite new Bond movies, and Newman’s score is a mix of electronic and classical, that’s perfect for action scenes and scenes that are particularly dialogue-heavy. It’s also great to listen to before sessions, to get into that mood (along with Assassin’s Creed and Oblivion).

8. Da Vinci’s Demons (Bear McCreary)

Bear McCreary is a genius. The theme for Da Vinici’s is written as a musical palindrome –it’s the same forwards and backwards. The rest of the score is good mood-setting music, in a similar vain to the Assassin’s Creed score mentioned above.

9. 300: Rise of an Empire (Junkie XL)

Junkie XL is a rising electonic-based musician, and his score for the latest 300 film is action-packed with definite eastern accents that articulate the sequel’s plot line. “History of Artemisia” is my favourite track on this score.

10. Inception (Hans Zimmer)

Where do I begin with Inception? Well, firstly: “Time” is perhaps the best Hans Zimmer piece written. Ever. In fact, watch it in the video below, performed live by Zimmer and his orchestra. It’s emotionally-charged, carefully crafted and powerfully executed. As is the rest of this score, one of my all-time favourite motion picture scores. Its subtle piano notes, contrasted by heavy brass and thunderous drums, create a highly immersive environment that helps one emotionally connect with their work, as with the music itself. It’s Hans Zimmer at his finest.

(I might write a future post on the status of the above-mentioned manuscript. It’s going as well as can be at this stage and I’m getting closer to the midpoint).

Mini Update

I haven’t been posting in a while due to not feeling too well. I hope to get back to a more “regular” schedule soon. Expect my thoughts on the new Superman film Man of Steel (once I actually get to see it), and reviews and musings on the world of tech. But for now, I thought I’d just drop by to update you on some of the things that are keeping me interested whilst I get better.

Book: Dan Brown’s Inferno. I started it earlier this week. Still very early into the story, so I can’t give any proper opinion yet. But I’m enjoying it – classic Dan Brown stuff here.

Music: Still enjoying Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Gets better with each listen.

TV Series: since Da Vinci’s Demons ended season 1 (on a cliffhanger, too!) and all my other favourite comedies (Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Community) aren’t scheduled to resume until later this year, I’ve found myself drawn to Arrow. Yes, I know, I’m a bit late to the party there, but this series has enough plot twists and intrigue to keep me entertained. The acting is a bit questionable, but it’s a fun watch nevertheless.

Projects: apart from working on the major redesign of the SKKSA website, I’m also learning some new web technologies (though I can’t say much more about that just yet…). Hoping to also get back into the manuscript soon.

Sorry for the lack of posts on Pixelated Thinking. I can’t wait to get back to the regular schedule. See you soon!