40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2006
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
on October 29, 2006
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
on December 10, 2006
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
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2007
I had no idea how much fun this book would be. I expected to learn how the iPod was developed, and I did. I expected to read about how cool the iPod is, and I did. I expected to read about the way the iPod changed both Apple and the music industry, and I did.
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.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2006
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2006
I follow digital media and the iPod relatively closely, but even I was surprised how many iPod-related stories I'd either missed or forgotten. This book is an essential repository of gadget history for everyone who follows digital media.
But this is not just for gadget geeks - it is also an accessible and engaging summary and primer for those who may have skipped the myriad stories about the iPod and the digital music revolution (although, to be fair, you should also read Joe Menn's book, All the Rave, to get the Napster part of the story).
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2006
Another great book by Levy, peppered with personal revelations that highlight his own position as the uber-reporter, who's got personal access to both Jobs and Gates. The story is highly personal, since Levy has fallen in love with his iPod, and particularly grooves to the shuffle mode. Even though I joined the pod-people in Jan 2004, Levy's case feels slightly hyperbolic (hyper-Jobs-ic?): The Walkman history in the "Personal" chaper uncovers a lot of fascinating precursors in Sony's "crowd pacification device." The most interesting aspects of the first Walkman are the features that eventually got sloughed off -- the second headphone jack, and the orange 'hotline' button to speak to the other person jacked in. (Personal, p31) And before reading this book, who knew that William Gibson traced the term cyberspace to his experience jacking into a Walkman in 1981? I would agree with Jobs' assessment that the ipod encapsulates 'Apple's reason for being': "it combines Apple's incredible technology base with Apple's legendary ease of use with Apple's awesome design. Those three things come together in this, and it's like, that's what we do." (Origin, last 2 pages, pp173-174)
As an ode to randomness, Levy shuffled the chapters in the book, although a flat file does not flourish from such randomizing-- instead, it forces each chapter to be a stand-alone magazine article, with some repetitiveness. Had the book been printed with a notch more computing power, the repetitions of quotes and taglines could have been eliminated; the chapter ordering instead might have merged whether to put the full quote, or simply reference it . But that would mean there really would have to 9 distinct books (the first of 10 chapters is always first), rather than 9 different orderings of the same chapters. When I try to quote from the book, I see an even more pernicious effect of shuffling: references can't specify the place to find a quote, since each chapter can be anywhere in the book, so each chapter should show its own scrolling pagination as a chapter "time code."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2007
The iPod has that certain something that leads its users to adore it like nothing before. People want nothing but an iPod. No substitutes even when the non-iPod has more memory, comes in your favorite color and costs over $100 less than an iPod. So how did the iPod earn this special treatment and the ability to compel people to say, "Cool" when they hold one?
A book cover in the disguise of an iPod, albeit on paper, still manages to ooze coolness though it isn't the real thing. Scroll your finger over the cover's button and scroll wheel and you can feel the smooth button extend slightly above the scroll wheel. Apple has established itself as a company that goes all out when creating a product, but there's much more to the iPod story than people realize. The Perfect Thing explores many aspects of the story.
While reading The Perfect Thing, I couldn't help but order an iPod Nano straight from Apple's Web site complete with my name engraved on its beautiful red skin -- as a replacement for my stolen iPod video. I also bought a cover to protect the iPod as I don't like it when my gadgets get marks on them. But then I reached the part where Steve Jobs took offense to seeing Levy's iPod covered up. Because of that, the beautiful red color and the way the aluminum felt -- I took off the cover for good.
The chapters, like iPod's shuffle feature, are independent and don't go in a specific order except the first chapter. I don't know if that's true, as I haven't seen another hard copy of the book.
"Perfect," goes behind the scenes of iPod's launch in October 2001, not the greatest timing after 9/11. "Download" covers the revolution of downloading and digitizing music including codec, MP3s, WinAmp, Napster and the record companies suing. "What makes an item cool?" sets the tone for the chapter titled, "Cool." Can there be a formula for coolness? This chapter teaches great marketing lessons from Apple's design, packaging and advertising of the iPod.
"Origin" returns to the iPod's roots on its development and the things that came before iPod that affected the iPod's creation. There's a reason we use the word podcast instead of audiocasts when referring to audio feeds. "Podcast" visits the formation of citizen broadcasting from CB radio to podcasting.
People judge each other by the clothing they wear, they do the same by the playlists they carry in their iPods as "Identity" delves into the fashion statement of playlists. No one expected Apple to make a comeback, not even when Steve Jobs returned in 2000, and "Apple" touches upon the comeback and how Apple surpassed the market's expectations. The iPod attracts thieves and the earbuds send a message to the public "to leave me alone" as the "Personal" chapter looks back at the Sony Walkman, the white earbuds, hearing loss and how users personalize their iPods.
The shuffle feature scrambles music hence the name for the cheapest and smallest iPod Shuffle. The feature is simple, yet the chapter on "Shuffle" offers fascinating insight into the possibility of a conspiracy behind the shuffle formula. Some people swear that some songs, artists and whatnot get more attention than others do. But everyone at Apple, including the engineers, says shuffle works randomly. Intriguing stuff anyway.
Marketers, iPod lovers, Apple lovers, Mac lovers, business people, technology people, gadget people. The book will appeal to all of them. After all, Levy writes, "The iPod is a pebble with tsunami-sized cultural ripples."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 2009
Apple took off with the success of iPod in 2001. Before iPod, Apple was mainly popular among computer enthusiasts who were viewed by the general public as geeks. Then, iPod made it cool to be associated with Apple. The author explains just how important music is to people. A person's music collection defines oneself. Others can make judgments about someone else by looking at their music collection in their iPod. A great collection determines a person's status. Acceptance and status are extremely powerful forces especially among teenagers. The author also argues that popularity of iPod created a "halo effect" that boosted sales of other Apple products. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in Apple.
- Mariusz Skonieczny, author of Why Are We So Clueless about the Stock Market? Learn how to invest your money, how to pick stocks, and how to make money in the stock market