The Cult of iPod
by Leander Kahney
Published by No Starch Press,
After the success of his “Cult of Mac” book, which highlighted the deep and often intense relationship Mac-users have with their computers, Leander Kahney has returned with another “Cult of…” book, this time looking at the iPod. It’s a wonderful book that will appeal to iPod users everywhere, but Mac-users, with their eye for graphic design and sophisticated page layout will just adore the format of the book. Like the “Cult of Mac” book that drew its aesthetic language from the Macintosh, the “Cult of iPod” mimics the look and feel of the iPod in its use of menus and fonts. A battery icon ‘runs down’ as you progress through the book, and even the shape of the book, a rectangle with rounded corners, copies that of the iPod itself.
This isn’t a book about the design and engineering of the iPod, though there’s plenty about that included; rather, it’s an affectionate and surprising look at the world that has grown up around the iPod. From designer iPod holsters to custom paint jobs, there are legions of businesses and enthusiasts cranking out novel ways to enhance and expand the iPod experience. Much of what the iPod stands for is fun and harmless, but it has its dark side too, including its use as a storage device for stolen music through to a potent handheld weapon. “Cult of iPod” covers all of this and more.
Kahney took time out to answer a few quick questions about his new book.
NM: Style and design seem to be as important as the text and pictures in both this book and the ‘Cult of Mac’. Is this just an aesthetic thing, or do you think it tells us something about iPod and Mac users generally?
LK: It’s both. I like well-illustrated books, and so do a lot of Mac and iPod users. By definition, they’re an audience interested in design.
NM: Mac-users are by their nature the underdogs, part of a minority who see themselves as the enlightened ones. Yet iPods remain the dominant player in the MP3 market, so iPod users are anything but a minority. In fact, they’re riding the crest of the wave. Do you think this influences the way enthusiasts of each tool view themselves?
LK: A lot of iPod users are ‘honorary’ Mac users: they love the iPod and Apple and know a lot about Macs, even if they don’t use one yet. And they’re a lot like traditional Mac users: the device is more than a tool; it’s a lifestyle choice. And they’re passionate and evangelical about it.
NM: What makes something cult-worthy? Why no ‘Cult of Windows XP’?
LK: There are small pockets of fanatical XP users — mostly modders and gamers. But XP is a system designed by committee, made to appeal to business buyers. In most cases it’s good enough, but there’s little that’s inspired about it. Most people who use Windows do so because that’s what they were given by their employer. The Mac, on the other hand, is bought by the kind of people who choose what kind of computer they use — they’re invested in it personally, and it shows.
NM: Having spent time with so many iPod users, do you put the iPod’s success down to marketing, design, or good timing?
LK: It’s a combination of all three. Apple timed it just right: file sharing services like Napster meant people had big music collections on their hard drives, but no easy way to take it with them. The iPod is the best-designed music player out there: it looks great, and it’s dead easy to use. This is not to be underestimated — the mainstream is not going to adopt a complex product like the iPod that’s not easy to use. And Apple marketed it flawlessly, projecting a hip, cool, sexy image. Apple also capitalized on lucky accidents like the white earbuds, which were white only for consistency but turned into a great grassroots-marketing tool.
NM: Was there any one iPod use that you found delightfully unexpected?
LK: I think the shuffle function is the greatest source of delight. It dips into a big library of music and serves up combinations of tunes in surprising and delightful ways. It really brings a huge music collection alive.