Better Homes & Gardens, Oct. 1959

Here’s how it worked:

1. There will never be a video iPod because Steve says so, and there’s no market, and Apple can’t figure out the business model. This is The Word. We kinda believe it, because it sounds imperious enough to be an accurate reflection of The Leader's thoughts, but on the other hand, gimme gimme gimme c'mon please? Why don't you? C'monnnnn.

2. Prior to the “one more thing” launch, speculation surges that Apple will announce a video iPod. Intrepid geeks mock up 39,203 graceless obvious prototypes; some "secret" photos rumored to be leaks are debunked when someone points out that the unit shows the boot screen from a 1987 Infocom game. Nevertheless the base becomes convinced that this is the big holiday item. Surely no one would make mockups and leak fakes if something wasn't happening!

3. Snapback: the base decides it has grave reservations about Harriet Miers. Oh wait – different story. This one is much more interesting. So the base realizes that the video iPod will not be coming, because Think Secret says so. Deflation sets in. Resignation. Then some one takes a positive attitude: buck up, lads! It’s got to be something keen, wot? Video streaming via AirPort seems likely candidate, but it’s not sexy enough unless there’s a cool remote. Which could be a tablet! Everyone’s happy about that, conveniently forgetting what happens to normal freebee remotes – they get lost, dropped, soaked with beer, etc. Picture all that, plus $100, plus scratches, plus Captain Crunch in the control wheel. Who cares! We’ll put it away every night and tuck it in.

Base is also resigned to the dreaded “minor speed bumps along the line,” which are to big product roll-outs what pedicures are to breast augmentation.

4. Day of the announcement, idiots like me open up their browser with a certain giddiness. Really: it’s like Christmas when you’re six. You really don’t know what’s coming. I got sidetracked with the usual duties, and after I’d finished the daily column I thought: oh, right. Called up the Apple page: holy crow, there it is: the video iPod. Jobs lied! Pre-orders died!

But lo: it’s an iPod that plays video, which is different from a video iPod. Right? Repeat that until your faith in The Leader is restored. As for those of us in Lemmingland, it was fun to see how fast we could flip-flop – or, as they call it in the Beltway, re-nuance our position. We went from “I have no need” to “damn: black or white?” in about 14 seconds. I can only speak for myself, I guess – I would have passed on a big video iPod, because it’s not something I can see myself using very much. But I am in the market for an iPod that can carry around everything; I’d like to have 15 GB of old radio, 15 GB of pop, 15 GB of classical, 5 GB of audio books, and what the hey, why not 10 GB of old movies. I was going to get one anyway, so the video addition is a sweet bonus. Nothing more.

You know what it’s like to have the Kool-Aid not only going in via feeding tube and IV, but shot through a catheter at volumes normally associated with pressure-washers?

5. Final step: MP3 Player-hatin’ in the comments sections of tech weblogs, which always boil down to the same positions –

"I have an iPod and I like it, and I look forward to repeating the experience with a new model"

"You idiots are just fashion-added cultists who are happy to pay more money for inferior codecs – why, my 1998 Mp3 player, which is the size of a middle-period Tom Clancy paperback, can hold 500 AIFF files, and it doesn’t matter that the screen has the same “font” you see in those scrolling time-and-temp LED displays, or that the controls have to be manipulated with a small metal stylus I store in a fold in my belly, or that the sight of the object actually causes potential romantic partners to move away as though oddly repelled by an unseen force– at least I know I’m not buying something just because it’s trendy. Although some nights I look at the ads in the magazines and lick them. Can’t help it."

So now we have the 2005 iPod strategy revealed in full. The top model had lost some of its luster, what with the indistinct “Photo” model. Granted, you can’t spell Niche without “nice,” but it still had limited appeal. So what to do? Target: video-capable iPods for Xmas 05. What to do until then? Introduce the Shuffle, which tinyfied the concept of an MP3 player, and watch people snap them up like pretzels. After they’ve had a nice summer enjoying the virtues of Random, hit ‘em with the Nano, whose size and proportions make everyone enter immediate ohhh, preciousssss mode. Bring it out in two flavors, black and white; kill the Mini, which was a lovely little player, a great success, but colors are so 2004, and besides, the screen was - well, monochrome is a wardrobe paradigm for The Leader, not a display option. Give ‘em a month to play with the Nano, then wham! Out comes the newly retooled Papaburger version, and it plays pr0n – sorry, it’ll play music videos and TV shows, if you want. If not, it won’t. If not, it’ll just be the newer cooler iPod. By the end of the year you’ve sold the same product three times.

Besides that, what have you accomplished? Well, you’ve burnished the brand, again. You’ve taken a popular product and redefined it three times without diluting the brand. You’ve introduced a new attribute – moving images - which you will expand in the next year when Front Row moves into the Mini line and becomes available for the Intel tower line via wireless streaming.

To which I can only say: days like today remind me of the old days, when “excitement” in the Apple world consisted of waiting for System 8.

New Screedblog. I don’t know if the new column is live on the web yet, so if you’re adventurous, hit the main Strib link and poke around. Tomorrow: the most succinct decapitation in classical music history. See you then.

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