- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Critics call digital music player a trendy, overpriced status symbol

Spending $350 to buy stock in Apple Computer Inc. makes more sense to Lindsay Patross than paying a similar amount to own the company’s increasingly-popular IPod digital music player.

“Do I really need to carry 20,000 songs around with me?” she asked. “I don’t have one, and I don’t need another gadget.”

Ms. Patross is one of a number of music lovers who are shunning IPods as if they were the plague, a sign that a backlash against one of the hottest gadgets to hit the market in years may be building.

Throngs of “anti-IPoders” are popping up on the Web to pooh-pooh the sight of those increasingly ubiquitous white headphones and pocket-size, rectangular digital music boxes. The IPod, which retails from about $99 up to about $400, is just another supertrendy, overpriced status symbol, say the critics, who insist you can be a music fan and still do without instant access to the thousands of songs the IPod can store.

Kara O’Bryon, 22, considers the IPod “gratuitous,” another expensive device that people claim they have to have. Her compact-disc player, she says, cost $40, and she’s fine with it.

“I don’t see the appeal” of the IPod, she says. “Everyone I know who has one is always telling me: ‘I can’t believe you don’t have one.’” That turns her off even more.

“I like getting up and picking out five CDs that I want to take to work with me,” she says. “I don’t need to have 2,000 songs with me all day, every day.”

It’s inevitable, some industry analysts say, that the IPod’s omnipresence is going to spark the ire of some who just aren’t into “drinking the Kool-Aid.” Whether the naysayers will have much impact is less certain — IPod sales have been on fire, hitting 6.16 million units shipped in the recently completed fiscal third quarter, up 616 percent from a year ago.

Any brand that is so hot, says Richmond brand consultant Kelly O’Keefe, is bound to build detractors — even if the product comes from Apple, which has burnished its reputation as a risk-taking, anti-establishment force in the technology world.

The rebel image — the Cupertino, Calif., company has shunned the creation of software that would make its computers compatible with Microsoft’s Windows applications — has been reinforced by the rock band U2’s commercials for the IPod.

“Because Apple takes the lead, dares to lead, people follow,” says Rob Frankel, a branding consultant in Encino, Calif.

But bucking the system loses its luster after a while. The alternative chic that fueled Apple’s cachet is now everywhere, and that could spawn the demise of the IPod’s coolness quotient.

“I think already we may begin to see the beginnings of the cooling down — not the tapering off,” Miss O’Keefe says of IPod sales, which continue to increase, only not at the rapid rate they once were.

Jack Curtis, an 18-year-old college student in Nottingham, England, so loathes IPods that he has built a Web site, www.anti-iPod.co.uk, to display his vitriol for the devices.

His aversion to IPods, he says, is prompted by his belief that there are better digital players on the market. The IPod’s success is purely a product of good marketing, not a superior product, he says.

Mr. Curtis decided he didn’t like IPods last year after encountering a group of students at his college who sat in the cafeteria listening to their IPods without speaking.

“When they would talk, it was about IPods,” he says. “It really [ticked] me off.”

IPod enthusiasts, he says, are programmed into thinking that the IPod is the best and only digital music player.

Mr. Curtis bought a comparable IRiver digital music player with 20 gigabytes of memory, for much less — about $180 on EBay.

Bloggers and Web surfers express similar sentiment, railing against the IPod and Apple’s clamp on the digital music player market.

These Web postings snarl slurs such as “I hate IPods, I really, really hate them.”

Some analysts predict IPod sales could peak by the end of the year and that the craze will die down after the holidays.

But that won’t matter, industry insiders say, because by the time the IPod tapers off, Apple will be on to its next groundbreaking product.

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