And The Music Still Goes On

I’ve rarely written about a product on this page. But this one changed the
rules. Design. Marketing. Music media. Even computing, which is saying quite a
bit for one little gadget, even if it’s the most successful consumer product
ever made.



It dominates its market. It’s changed the course of an innovative tech
company that’s had amazing products for three decades, and yet has lived with
a niche-player tag. Along the way, its brilliant founder-CEO was pushed out.

But Steve Jobs went back with a vengeance and a mission to an Apple that had
lost its way. So he does have the right to grab employees in the restroom and
demand: "In 25 words or less! What value have you added to this
company?"

You wouldn’t ask Jobs that question. He’s shown that he’s not just a
geek with vision, but a business manager and CEO who can deliver year after
year. And he’s very much behind the iconic iPod. He’s closely involved with
product design. When he steps into the limelight every January, at the tech
design world’s second Mecca (he ignores the overcrowded CES), those wildly
cheering crowds at Macworld know he’s really made those snazzy products
happen.

And when he stepped out there this month in his trademark jeans, he was
clearly expected to extend and draw on the iPod image. After all, Apple’s
tagline is now: ‘From the makers of the iPod’. Those 10 million iPods out
there, mostly with people who don’t own a Mac yet, have done more for Apple’s
image than any Mac could.

First out of his hat was the iPod Shuffle, a neat, competition-killing $99
one-ounce flash-based music player. The second product took Apple where no Mac
has gone before: the entry market, with the cheapest PCs. The little 1.5kg, $499
Mac Mini (shades of the iPod Mini) is sans monitor or keyboatd: ‘use your old
ones’.

What does all this mean in India? Not much, you might think: for, Apple was
absent or near invisible in India for most of its three decades. But the iPod
and its culture has been a shot in the arm for Apple. Global Mac sales have
risen gradually under the halo effect of the iPod, the ‘tail wagging the dog’
that is Apple’s computer business, as an analyst put it. The Mac Mini could
step up the pace in India too. Apple is suddenly rather visible, from Bangalore
to Gurgaon; and the iPod, a year old here, is finally selling too.

Apple has established the power of great design and good marketing. The iPod’s
brand image and halo, now backed by the Mac Mini, has given it another fighting
chance in desktop computers. Which is a good thing for the user: an alternative
always is.

Prasanto K Roy

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