Book Review: The Cult of iPod
Love letter to the iPod entertains, informs
By Charlie White
If youre looking for hard-nosed criticism of anything having to do with Apple, the Mac, or iPods, author Leander Kahney is not your man. But if youre looking for a beautifully published and well-written book about the cultural phenomenon known as iPod, his newly published book, entitled The Cult of the iPod ($16.47 plus shipping from Amazon), is a coffee table tome that contains lots of interesting information, graphics and anecdotes.
Sometimes its illuminating to step back and take a look at a phenomenon that has changed our world. The portability of music is one of these phenomena, and Apples iPod represents the most user-friendly aspect of that portability. Cramming the equivalent of a room full of vinyl LPs on to a device the size of a deck of cards, the iPod has sold well over 10 million units since its introduction in November 2001. Looking ahead to the future, Business 2.0 magazine says that by 2010 there will be 500 million digital music players in the hands of people over the world. Phenomenon, indeed.
The author of The Cult of iPod, Leander Kahney, wrote an earlier book that fawns all over Apple entitled The Cult of Mac. Now with this new loveletter to Apple he shines a warm and fuzzy light on the iPod phenomenon, crediting Apples Steve Jobs with its revolutionary technology, along with some other minor players. Kahney enthusiastically tells us an entertaining story about the iPod, its history, its present (well, almost, since the book was unfortunately sent to press just before the iPod nano was released) and its future.
The book is technically a paperback, but its cover is made of extremely thick paper, and the book exudes quality from start to finish. Kahney, a writer for Wired magazine, apparently enlisted the help of the magazine's illustrious designers, because the book resembles the magazine in almost every way. Its 144 pages contain more graphics than text and are liberally sprinkled with delightful cartoons, photographs, info boxes and callouts. It starts out in a charming way, with a table of contents that looks exactly like the user interface of iTunes. Clever details are sprinkled throughout, such as a little battery icon on each page that is fully charged in Chapter 1 and is continuously depleted until it has no juice left by the end of the book. The graphics certainly help this material along, making it easy reading, and if you wanted to, you could just thumb through and look at the pictures and get a good idea of the books content.
Besides its gorgeous design, the principal strength of the book is author Leander Kahneys precise way of describing the iPod phenomenon and putting it into context, as well as his impressions of the experience of using the iPod itself. For instance, Kahney notes that the record album has been replaced by the playlist, where few people listen to an album all the way through any more, and assemble their own playlists according to their personal tastes. Also interesting was the way the author describes a persons music collection as a way to peer into his soul. The book also covers the way iPods have woven their way into our society, and illustrates how its fans have embraced the iPod to the extent that hasnt been seen since people fell in love with Macs and TiVos. I particularly like the way Kahney compares listening to an iPod to a cinematic experience, where everyday routines such as walking down the street, going to the supermarket or going on a boring car drive can be enhanced with high fidelity musical accompaniment. Kahney reminds us that the MTV experience is translated into the real world with the help of the iPod and other portable music devices.
But then, those other portable music devices are not nearly as popular as the iPod, which dominates the market with 92.7% of the installed base of hard drive players. While the author is cheering Apple and Steve Jobs at every turn, the reader is reminded that Apple now sells more iPods than it does computers, and for any Apple lover, the iPod is certainly an instrument of redemption that practically saved Apple, according to Kahney. Along the way, Kahney speculates that perhaps Apple has been changed by the iPod into a consumer electronics company rather than a computer and software manufacturer.