On casual technology
After 4.5 years, my MP3 player finally died on me. It wasn’t a huge shock – it had a tendency to freeze up on me if I clicked “next” too often in shuffle mode – but apparently that was not enough warning for me to back up the last year’s worth of playlists.
Playlists: Those things we used to call “mixes,” which I’ve used to track time since I was 14 and trying to cram an extra song onto the end of a 45-minute cassette side…god, 14-year-old me would never take any of this stuff for granted. Technology is a new and consistent amazement every day, 17 years in the future.
He may, however, be baffled by the fact that you can only buy one kind of player. My player managed to cack it the same week Microsoft told everyone what was already pretty clear: the Zune was officially a dead technology. Leaving the iPod as essentially the only game in town without having to do much but advertise better.
This wasn’t always the case, which is actually part of the problem for me. When heavy-storage MP3 players (20G was the big daddy in 2004) became readily available, there were options. I know this for a fact, because I ended up going with something called an iRiver, which was “off-brand,” yes, but was also a clear superior to the iPod.
The iRiver offered a full-color screen, voice recorder, radio, video and photo storage capabilities, nearly a year before Apple caught up. It used arrow buttons rather than the frankly infuriating clickwheel (something I never got the hang of). Most important to me, it accepted the WMA file format, which meant I could fit more music on than if I’d uploaded all my CDs as MP3 files. Not only did the iPod NOT accept WMA, its M4A format was actually pretty massive, meaning as far as storage went, the iRiver had it all over the iPod.
All for about a hundred bucks less. So how was it NOBODY (outside of my then-girlfriend’s dad) had ever heard of the damn thing?
My only guess is the company had absolutely no advertising budget.
When that one went bust after a few years, I went back to the Best Buy to swap it for the next model. By that time, the store stopped carrying the brand, but by then I was kind of stuck – I had HUNDREDS of albums stored in WMA format, and I wasn’t about to transfer them all just to get a fricking iPod (as per the idiot sales girl’s suggestion).
So I dug around (iRiver got out of the large-storage machine arena shortly thereafter, so it was a wise move), and found another “off-brand” model – the Creative Zen – which was, again, a comparable-to-superior machine that nobody ever heard of.
Not too long after, the Zune made its debut, my mom bought one, and I was stunned by how intuitive the controls were – no clickwheel, huge, easily readable screen, and backing of a major tech company to boot! Finally, I thought, maybe this will open up the playing field a little and I won’t have to work so hard to not buy an Apple product.
It got mocked so hard I thought people were trying to see if a machine could cry.
So – a few years later than anyone would’ve liked, apparently – the Zune closes up shop, Best Buy only traffics in iPods (or Archos, if you are masochistic enough to want to pay even more than the cost of an iPod), and off I went to the Creative website to see if they’re even still in business.
Fortunately, they are – offering again, a comparable-to-iPod-Touch product for a hundred less – but you wouldn’t know it from an Amazon search (for some reason, only typing in the exact name and model brings it up for purchase – weird).
Which is fine for me NOW, but these things don’t last forever. So in another 4 years or so, when this one dies on me…will there be any options beyond than the great monolith iPod? Or – maybe more disconcerting – will the iPod itself be swallowed up as storage capacity on the iPhone finally makes it redundant?
Jeez. iPHONE COMPETITORS! Heed the sad fate of all other iPod competitors. ADVERTISE THE FUCK OUT OF YOUR PRODUCTS SO PEOPLE KNOW THERE ARE MORE OPTIONS THAN SOME STUPID, CLICKWHEELING, FORMAT-DENYING PIECE OF SHIT MACHINES!
I’ll bet this is how Skynet got started.