Taking Stock of the iPod + iTunes User Experience

In April of 2003, I chronicled my first experience using the iTunes music store in a blog entry titled Tuning In, Turning Up, and Taking Change.

Already it feels like the new thing, making the way things were seem like such an ancient memory (if not ethically questionable). In minutes I had downloaded and purchased my first album…

At the time, it was only available for folks with Macs and not-so-secretly targeted for iPod owners. This may be one of the more revealing outtakes I’ve jotted down here for posterity’s sake, given how much the iTunes and iPod combination have affected not only my perspective, but certain paths I’ve taken over the years.

In many ways, what Apple has been able to do with the iPod, and the main reason I believe they’re so highly regarded in the Ux community, gives ultimate testament to the power of user experience itself.

I’m not exactly sure how to lay down the plot lines, but I’m fairly convinced that the total sum of the iTunes user experience has changed my outlook on music, making me behave in surprisingly new ways.

For instance, I’ve been spending the better part of the last month–finding precious and rare time in between work and child rearing–organizing my increasingly obsolete CD collection. Actually, organizing isn’t the right word at all. I’m archiving them. I’m doing this because iTunes has altered the orginal value of the CD for me as a media. Since I’ve digitized and transported all of my music into my iPod, I have little need to port around plastic discs anymore. If anything, they’re only useful to me as a burn-and-forget back up. So, in an effort to trim down to what’s only essential, I’ve been pain stakingly tossing out my plastic jewel cases (which I hope to recycle) and loading up my collection into a more compact, transportable box.

Actually, even the way I categorize my collection into this box is being influenced by iTunes. Instead of my usual last name alpha-chronological order, I’ve succumbed to the iTunes way of things, as sterile and anti-historical as it may be–first name alpha, no exceptions. Even my Bowie’s are getting filed under D, eschewing the natural order for which they’ve been mapped to my brain over the last twenty years.

It’s the kind of thing that would kick John Cusak’s character in the movie High Fidelity square in the balls and make him cry out loud.

iTunes has also pointedly contributed to changing my appearance–or at least where I shop for T-shirts these days. But before we go there, let’s understand something. Back in 2003, I had for the most part decided that my taste in music had been more or less permanently set. Sure, I’d hear some artists on XPN and I’d buy an occasional new album, but for a time I believed that I had already heard all of the magic I could from music. Then I bought my first iPod and began to seriously create a computer music library. The experience of importing my old CD collection, combined with the convenience of listening to numerous songs on my iPod, allowed me to re-experience much of that original magic. In relatively short order, I had renewed a waning interest and began opening up my eyes to new artists and new possibilities.

Not surprisingly, my attitude changed and I’ve recently found myself buying my favorite rock T-shirts at Hot Topic. This is only worth mentioning because in my wildest 30-something dreams I would never even dare enter a store like that on a whim. But after examining my relationship with music via the iTunes user experience, I’ve opened up and allowed myself to feel just a little bit younger.

For this, you can totally blame Steve Jobs. No, really. You can send the letters telling me to cut my hair directly to him.

All joking aside, there’s a huge reminder I should begin taking note of here, whenever circumstances provoke me to question my faith in user experience design. Because the fact of the matter is, if a product designed by Apple can encourage me to change my deeply ingrained habits, the possibility exists that other user experience practitioners, such as myself, can take similar strides–changing user behavior in outlying areas and making people feel a little bit better about themselves in the process.

You can’t put a price tag on that.