The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness Hardcover – Oct 24 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
For the iPod's fifth anniversary, Newsweek technology writer and longtime Apple Computer enthusiast Levy (Insanely Great) offers a brightly written paean to "the most familiar, and certainly the most desirable, new object of the twenty-first century." Combining upbeat reportage about the device's origins and development with higher-minded ruminations about its place at "the center of just about every controversy in the digital age," he explores how the iPod "set the technology world, the business world, and especially the music industry on its head." Levy discusses its place in the "movement of portable cocooning" begun by the Sony Walkman, exploring how the ubiquitous white buds are affecting social connections. The book's in-no-particular-sequence chapters—intended to evoke the iPod's shuffle function—don't build much momentum, and there's more about Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his leaps over design and technical hurdles than the average user may need to know. But Levy's zeal and insider anecdotes ("I once found myself in a heated discussion with Bill Gates about the nature of cool") carry things along. Apple fans and iPod owners will enjoy Levy's exploration—and will probably forgive his gushing about the iPod's "universally celebrated, endlessly pleasing, devilishly functional, drop-dead gorgeous design." (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Entertaining....[The Perfect Thing] does a handy job of crystallizing and commemorating the dawn of the iPod age."
-- Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"More than a tale about the birth of the iPod, this entertaining book is a twelve-horn hallelujah chorus celebrating how this 'perfect thing' is propelling music from the past into this century and beyond. Add it to your Readlist."
-- Kevin Kelly, former executive editor, Wired
"Wonderful....The Perfect Thing is a thoroughgoing treatment of the iPod from many different perspectives -- social, economic, technical, psychological -- packed with insights from one of the tech world's most astute observers."
-- Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
"Loads of fun, jammed with entertaining connections, unexpected riffs, and endless stuff you've never heard of before."
-- Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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As someone who has covered the iPod (and, indeed, was at the iPod launch event in Cupertino in 2001), it was great to see Levy's mixture of iPod history with an analysis of how the iPod (and similar products, like the Walkman) have impacted our lives and the world of popular culture. Levy's book is never dry, and combines a historical account of the creation of the 21st century's first iconic product with a real attempt to analyze what makes the iPod both ubiquitous and cool.
Whether you're a fan of Apple's product-creation geniuses, or just of the "perfect storm" of technology that created this particular Perfect Thing, Steven Levy's book is a fun, informative, and thought-provoking analysis of the biggest technological innovation of the past five years.
I chose to read this book not only because of how amazed I am at how people (including my teenaged kids) love their iPods so much, but also because I'm curious about the future of music as we know it, the disappearance of the CD and along with it the album cover and lyric booklet, and the explosion of songs available for purchase through the iTunes store.
The writing in this book is terrific--informative and provocative. I highly recommend it!
But Steven Levy is a fine writer with a lot of connections and a personal history to the subject matter of this book. And so, it's a very good book, even though I felt like an outsider as I read it (perhaps ironically, I read it on my Treo). As many have noted, it's a bit too pro-Apple/Jobs, and too often Levy slides through with the easy "yes, others were there first, but iPods are cooler" comments. But the overall result is excellent. Since the chapters are standalones, you'll like some better than you'll like others, depending on your interests. My favorite chapter was on shuffle play, which combines history, science, and philosophy in equal parts. (Just remember, correlation doesn't equal causation.)
1. As you would expect from a book published in 2006, there is no mention of the iPhone or iPod Touch, which were introduced in Summer 2007. Unfortunately for this book, the iPhone and Touch rather masterfully complete the iPod family, combining playback with communication and portable web browsing. I haven't yet seen an industry observer who understood how well Apple has rounded out their iPod product line with the Touch (touch control, big screen, WiFi, browsing, music, App Store) and iPhone (all that plus phone).
2. Although he acknowledges the depth, simplicity and market leadership of iTunes, Levy treats iTunes as an iPod feature. But without iTunes, iPod is just a deluxe, expensive MP3 player, much like the Mac is a deluxe, expensive computer. iTunes is why iPod has 70% market share in MP3 players: iPod + iTunes is a whole product, with enjoyable music shopping and simple downloads. Creative and Microsoft and others have copied and continue to copy iPod, but nobody else has come close to the whole product.
Summary: enjoyable read, but dated and getting less comprehensive by the day.
I did not expect to laugh out loud every few minutes, but I did. Steven Levy is a great writer - his knowledge of Apple combined with his knowledge of popular music makes the book great fun to read. Levy is simply an excellent writer, writing about an excellent product.
As a bonus, this is a valuable book to read if you design products of any kind, because it provides insights into how exceptional products are created - i.e., fanatical attention to detail, and an inner drive to make not just a good product, but a great one.
If you like music and technology, I guarantee you will enjoy this book. Of course, I own a couple of iPods, so I am biased. If you own a Zune, you may disagree. But even Zune owners might find it interesting to see how great products are designed.
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