The Baseball Desert

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Apple of my i (Part 1)

I tried to resist, I really did. I spent 18 months extolling the virtues of my Creative Zen player, defending its extra weight, its limited functionalities, its lack of cool accessories to all and sundry, taking, if you will, the road less travelled. And I have to say that I was doing quite well as a modern-day Canute, until the Creative player decided to drop dead. I would say that I got the blue screen of death, but in fact I got the 'no screen of death': no screen, no signal, no music - 20 GB of music eaten up by my little box of electronic tricks.

Having exhausted my supply of expletives - in two languages - I was then faced with a dilemma. To replace or not to replace? That was the question. Except that if you can reasonably fill up 20+ GB of memory with music, the question doesn't really need to be asked. Music is pretty much up there with breathing on my list of life's essentials, so the question was more: 'copy and paste' or 'find and replace'? Given that 'Creative' had turned out to be shorthand for 'Creative Evaporation Of All My Music Files', my eyes naturally turned elsewhere.

I rarely lust after gadgets, but this was one that had been trying to catch my eye for some time. Married as I had been to my solid, faithful Creative player, I'd pretended not to notice the flirtation, but once the brutal divorce had been pronounced - without a word of warning, just a middle-of-the-night departure with all the furniture - I was free to let myself go, and I did so with some abandon.

Once I had the iPod in my possession, there was the mandatory touchy-feely phase, where you keep pulling it out of its case just to admire its lines and mess around with the click-wheel. Holding it in my hand brought to mind Roger Angell's description of the baseball:
But never mind: any baseball is beautiful. No other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility. It is a perfect object for a man's hand. Pick it up and it instantly suggests its purpose; it is meant to be thrown a considerable distance – thrown hard and with precision. Its feel and heft are the beginning of the sport's critical dimensions; if it were a fraction of an inch larger or smaller, a few centigrams heavier or lighter, the game of baseball would be utterly different. Hold a baseball in your hand. As it happens, this one is not brand-new. Here, just to one side of the curved surgical welt of stitches, there is a pale-green grass smudge, darkening on one edge almost to black – the mark of an old infield play, a tough grounder now lost in memory. Feel the ball, turn it over in your hand; hold it across the seam or the other way, with the seam just to the side of your middle finger. Speculation stirs. You want to get outdoors and throw this spare and sensual object to somebody or, at the very least, watch somebody else throw it. The game has begun.
The iPod has a similar feel to it. I don't want to throw it a considerable distance - I reserve that privilege for the now-defunct Creative - but its form and weight are perfect. It's solid and weighty enough to be taken seriously - after all, this thing is going to be carrying around 30 years of musical memories - but not so heavy as to feel unwieldy in a shirt or jacket pocket. And beyond all questions of aesthetics, it's just so damn easy to use and user-friendly. When you start using this thing, you come to realise that someone at Apple actually sat down and thought about the practical aspects of a portable music player. Some of the worthy thought-processes that went through the Apple employee's head were:
  • If somebody plugs a set of headphones into the player, this would suggest that they're going to listen to some music, so let's have the iPod power up automatically
  • If somebody unplugs a set of headphones, then maybe they've stopped listening to the music for a while, so how about we pause the music until further notice?
  • When somebody is navigating through a list of 7000 songs or 600 albums and selects a song to listen to, maybe they'd like to come back to the same point on the list once the song is over (and not back to the beginning of the bloody list - I'm looking at you, Creative's creative staff...)
  • Let's allow people to add songs and albums to a playlist with a single click of the wheel, rather than a long-winded menu / sub-menu system (still looking at you, Creative...)
In short, I love the damn thing (and I'm not the only one) and now basically never leave home without it. It's not that the concept of music on the move - either ninety minutes' or fifteen days' worth - is new to me, it's just that Apple seems to do it so well. I'm well aware that I've succumbed to powerful marketing forces here, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. This little machine does exactly what I want it to do and does it very well.

Mr Jobs - I salute you...