We introduce another guest blogger today, David Dick, president of the Usability & User Experience SIG. David will be posting monthly on the importance of usability and what it can bring to a product or company.
Before the iPod, we had MP3 players. MP3 players had a few usability issues: the battery would only last a couple hours, and it had a thin LED screen that displayed the artist’s name and the name of the song. Switching to the next song involved pressing a Back button or Forward button. Each brand of MP3 player had its own proprietary software to transfer songs from the PC. Finally, there was no (digital) music that consumers could buy to load to their MP3 players. All that changed in 2001 when the first iPod came to market.
The iPod changed the way we listen to music, and created a new industry—digital music. I give homage to Steve Jobs for seeing the possibilities a portable digital music player brings to consumers, creating software to support it, and delivering the content—the music. However, none of this would have been possible if not for Tony Fadell. Tony Fadell had the idea of a new type of MP3 player called PortalPlayer. His MP3 player would be different: it would have a small, hard drive-based player linked with a content delivery system where users could legally obtain and download music. He took his invention to several consumer appliance companies and they rejected his idea—not Apple. At the time, Apple was about computers, not consumer appliances.
Apple designed the first iPod with a 5 GB Toshiba hard drive (no larger than a quarter), ARM processors (the same processor used in the Newton and Acorn), an operating system from Pixo, a large high-resolution display, a lithium polymer battery, and the scroll wheel. The iPod was a unique design—still is, which was attractive to consumers. And searching for songs was much easier. The first iPod hit the market in October 2001. The iPod, however, was not warmly received: it cost $400 (too pricey for most people to afford), few consumers liked the scroll wheel, and it lacked Windows compatibility. By December 2001, Apple had sold a mere 125,000 iPods. The story could have ended there, but it didn’t.
Soon thereafter, Apple delivered a better iPod by adding new features and functions, creating new colors from the standard white, and kept the price under $200. In September 2012, Apple sold a record 350 million iPods on top of the hundreds of millions already sold. From time to time, I visit the Apple store to see what’s new. I see consumers huddled around testing iPods, iTouches, and iPhones, and I hear them say “That’s cool!”
Any time you design a product that consumers say, “That’s cool!” you have delivered the ultimate usability experience.
I’m David Dick and I’m Talking Usability.
For more information about the history of the iPod, see http://lowendmac.com/orchard/05/origin-of-the-ipod.html#1 and http://ipod.about.com/od/glossary/qt/number-of-ipods-sold.htm.