The iPod Cruise, in Brief
Published: Friday, December 29, 2006
As much fun as iLounge’s offices are, we think it’s important to venture out into the sunlight on occasion; whether it’s on a business trip, vacation, or anything in between, we spend a bit of time watching to see how people in the places we visit are using their iPods. Just completed, our latest trip was a cruise - a short (four-day) jaunt from Long Beach to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico - mostly for relaxation, yet unexpectedly packed with iPod users.
With over 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members on board, the ship was large enough to make tourist port stops unnecessary: we could have spent the entire duration on board eating, checking out the pools, or playing Name That Tune at the piano bar. As it turned out, we did a little bit of each - okay, a lot of eating - and perhaps not surprisingly, the ship was packed with people using iPods. Besides our family members, who were toting a meager total of 4 iPods between them, we saw white earbuds - and Bose Triports, etc. connected to iPods - on an hourly basis when we were walking around the ship.
Most models were newer - nanos were the most popular, with a few 5G iPods, and no visible shuffles - and they were almost invariably being used solo. In public, we didn’t see any shared headphones or little speaker setups, though we were quizzed at the dinner table by a Christmas nano recipient about which speakers we’d recommend for $100. There was no doubt in our minds that socializing the iPod - finding a way to broaden the popularity of a single unit as a portable entertainment device for several people - could be a really big play for Apple in 2007, a simple, viral way of selling more hardware; turning cruise lines into authorized resellers would be a pretty smart move, too.
Up until now, that hasn’t been necessary: iPods have been marketed as single-person entertainment, and even if we’ve seen endless silhouettes of individuals rocking out to their music, that’s a realistic usage model that matches the device’s most popular applications, and partially explains the effectiveness of Apple’s marketing. Even today, as entry prices have dropped to the $79 level, people still see iPods as their own little musical luxuries, a point we saw underscored when we came ashore in Catalina, a small, U.S.-owned island off the shore of California.
There weren’t many iPod-related shops in Avalon, the more populated and developed part of the island, but there was a Radio Shack with some decent and some junky accessories in the center of the town’s shopping area. White earbud-toting tourists aside, it seemed like the locals knew about the iPod, too. Stopping in a cafe early in the morning after Christmas for coffee, we overheard an employee bragging about her brand new iPod - a nano, we gathered - and acting as if it was the coolest, most exclusive gift on the planet, something her co-worker (or manager) didn’t yet have. We’ve been using iPods for so long - and seen so many changes to the initial unpacking experience, not all positive - that it’s hard to believe that some people are just beginning to feel the magic, and still finding the experience worth bragging about, despite all the changes. Leaving the shop, the big question on our minds was how Apple could sustain that feeling in 2007 - will it continue to create affordable luxuries at various price points, like a “golden iPod shuffle” that looks special even to someone with less money to spend?
Ensenada, Mexico was a more interesting experience. Before venturing out on our own in the city, we did one of the “standard” tours, checking our the geyser La Bufadora and its adjacent flea market-style tourist shopping trap. It wasn’t surprising that we saw no iPods or iPod-related gear in the tourist areas: the flea market was almost entirely packed with inexpensive leather goods, silver jewelry, home decor items, pharmaceuticals, and Lucha Libre masks.
In the heart of downtown Ensenada, however - some distance from a new Wal-Mart and other U.S. stores - there were signs that Apple or its local resellers were working on building up the iPod’s identity. A large screen TV on the side of the major shopping drag featured an old fashioned dancing silhouettes commercial, followed by an Apple logo; from a distance, it looked like a real iPod advertisement, and probably was one, albeit old.
But other than the ones we saw on tourists, there weren’t a lot of other signs of iPod presence on Ensenada’s streets, whether new models, old models, expensive ones or cheap ones. We left with the impression that bigger Mexican cities - and ones not so touristy - were probably better places for iPodspotting. Mexican readers, any thoughts or comments?
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