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The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness [Hardcover]

Steven Levy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Oct. 24 2006
On October 23, 2001, Apple Computer, a company known for its chic, cutting-edge technology -- if not necessarily for its dominant market share -- launched a product with an enticing promise: You can carry an entire music collection in your pocket. It was called the iPod. What happened next exceeded the company's wildest dreams. Over 50 million people have inserted the device's distinctive white buds into their ears, and the iPod has become a global obsession. "The Perfect Thing" is the definitive account, from design and marketing to startling impact, of Apple's iPod, the signature device of our young century.Besides being one of the most successful consumer products in decades, the iPod has changed our behavior and even our society. It has transformed Apple from a computer company into a consumer electronics giant. It has remolded the music business, altering not only the means of distribution but even the ways in which people enjoy and think about music. Its ubiquity and its universally acknowledged coolness have made it a symbol for the digital age itself, with commentators remarking on "the iPod generation." Now the iPod is beginning to transform the broadcast industry, too, as podcasting becomes a way to access radio and television programming. Meanwhile millions of Podheads obsess about their gizmo, reveling in the personal soundtrack it offers them, basking in the social cachet it lends them, even wondering whether the device itself has its own musical preferences.Steven Levy, the chief technology correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine and a longtime Apple watcher, is the ideal writer to tell the iPod's tale. He has had access to all the key players in the iPod story, including Steve Jobs, Apple's charismatic cofounder and CEO, whom Levy has known for over twenty years. Detailing for the first time the complete story of the creation of the iPod, Levy explains why Apple succeeded brilliantly with its version of the MP3 player when other companies didn't get it right, and how Jobs was able to convince the bosses at the big record labels to license their music for Apple's groundbreaking iTunes Store. (We even learn why the iPod is white.) Besides his inside view of Apple, Levy draws on his experiences covering Napster and attending Supreme Court arguments on copyright (as well as his own travels on the iPod's click wheel) to address all of the fascinating issues -- technical, legal, social, and musical -- that the iPod raises.Borrowing one of the definitive qualities of the iPod itself, "The Perfect Thing" shuffles the book format. Each chapter of this book was written to stand on its own, a deeply researched, wittily observed take on a different aspect of the iPod. The sequence of the chapters in the book has been shuffled in different copies, with only the opening and concluding sections excepted. "Shuffle" is a hallmark of the digital age -- and "The Perfect Thing," via sharp, insightful reporting, is the perfect guide to the deceptively diminutive gadget embodying our era.

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Product Description

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.

Review

"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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting marketing story... Feb. 6 2007
Format:Hardcover
"The Perfect Thing" may seem like a can-do-no-wrong homage to some facets of Apple's marketing schemes, but at it's core it is more interested (I think) in looking at the process of creating a 'THING' that can become so entrenched in the very fabric of culture. Actually, I stumbled across an article in WIRED a couple months ago that was a sub-text from this book on the iPod, read the article, and thought it would have been a much better article had it been explored a little more deeply. Voila... it already was.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent history and cultural analysis Oct. 17 2006
By Jason Snell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I get an avalanche of technology-related books mailed to me, and it's rare when I actually try to read one. It's even rarer for me to read it all the way through with a smile pasted on my face the entire time. But that's what happened as I read Steven Levy's "The Perfect Thing."

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.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique and Fascinating! Oct. 29 2006
By BigSur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Steven Levy has written an excellent book that I didn't want to put down. It not only traces the development of the iPod over the last five years, but the book is filled with independent chapters that can be, and in fact should be, read in any order. Indeed, when looking at multiple copies of this book, you'll find only chapter 1 is in the same place--other chapters are "shuffled" and appear in different orders. I found myself enjoying this feature as much as the iPod--first I read about Podcasts, then Downloading, then how the iPod remains so "cool" for such a wide range of people.

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!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars iAin't, but no matter Dec 10 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have had portable MP3 players longer than most people I know (first one: Diamond Rio 500), without ever owning an iPod (current model: Sansa e260, Hall of Fame: Rio Karma). I have never owned a Mac. While I have a copy of iTunes on my Windows Media Center machine, I don't use it much (lately I've been using URGE To Go).

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.)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2009: Out of date now, but covers teh origins April 24 2009
By Dave Millman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Other reviewers have covered the contents of this book pretty well. I just read it (April 2009), and wanted to offer two criticisms from a 2009 perspective:

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.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly fascinating Nov. 5 2006
By Chris MacAskill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is the most interesting book on product innovation I have ever read, and I've read a lot of them.

I went to work at Steve Jobs' NeXT, Inc., in the early 90s because I wanted to live what I'd read in the books. I doubted working for Steve could be as dramatic as the books made it seem, but the reverse was true: the authors never discovered some of the juiciest stuff.

Turns out I know 4 of the most colorful characters in this story: Steve, Jon Rubinstein, Tony Fadell, and Steven Levy. Levy has great access to the best info. He loves and completely gets Apple and the iPod.

If you want a fascinating read about how the stars aligned to bring arguably the world's coolest product to market, this is it. It isn't just about about the amazing drama Steve always brings to product launches...there is a perfect villain in this story, the RIAA, who everyone loves to hate. Ironically, the former enfant terrible is now the hero who must save the world from this evil force.
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