iPod and MP3 players by Stuart A. Kallen. 104 p. Farmington Hills: Lucent, 2011. 978-1-4205-0166-7
Like transistor radios, portable digital players changed the way that people listen to music. In this volume portable players, such as the iPod, are shown to be the result of a number of technological factors, including the democratization of desktop computers with reproduction capacities, the increased portability of player hardware, and refinement of digital file compression standards.
The listening environments produced by personal digital players have led to different composition and musical production techniques to optimize the most usual listening experience. As the title suggests, the book privileges the role of Apple and the rise of iTunes as both a major music retailer and the omnipresent digital jukebox software. There is an extremely detailed account of the development of the iPod, which was an attempt to infuse an existing technology with consumer appeal, as well as each subsequent hardware generation and model of the device. The volume takes a long view with a recitation of the entire lifecycle of the cassette format, a technology that was also held to threaten the viability of the music industry.
There is a discussion of almost every aspect of the device adoption, including audiological concerns over hearing loss. A chart of decibel range demonstrates that hearing is damaged before sound becomes physically painful. There is an entire chapter devoted to the rise of file sharing, the revolutionary ability to search across distributed networks provided by Napster, and the eventual commercial, DRM-laden alternatives that emerged. With any discussion of digital music, the role of the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and its aggressive anticipation of technologies threatening traditional dissemination mechanisms is inescapable. Here, the author does well to describe the never-released tracks with little commercial value that represent most unique digital music files and how many digital revolutionaries view file sharing as an attempt to fight corporate control of media and content access models that increasingly represent licensure instead of purchase.
The book is punctuated with discussion of both the positive and negative aspects of technology that makes music consumption a private, rather than a communal, experience. There is an undeniable effect on record stores and bricks-and-mortar outlets, a potential decline in human interaction because of personal media, and the dissolution of the album format inherent in digital fragmentation. But there are also new opportunities provided by the multimedia players. One chapter looks at genre-bending products like podcasts, vodcasts, and audiobooks, many of them making use of the integration of auto-updating RSS subscriptions fed into iTunes, as well as iTunes U, to host academic content and a range of evolving multimedia hybrids.
The volume closes with a look towards new technologies, describing the smartphone revolution, particularly the rise of application-based mobile computing, with discussion of competitors like the Motorola Droid. Also addressed are the evolution of new networks to meet the demand for broadband data, high definition videos and media outputs required to harness mobile access to repositories such as Netflix.
Pull-out text boxes include notes on environmental concerns, unexpected uses for the iPod, a breakdown of iTunes store revenues, and an analysis of monthly downloads based on device platform. There is also an account of the “I Am Rich” application fiasco, where eight individuals paid $1,000 each to download an application without any functionality, exposing the need for consistent procedures in clearing content for the App Store.
Like the other volumes in the Technology 360 series, the crisp design with a circuit motif give this series greater longevity than many technology titles, but the failure to include the iPad will likely date this particular volume. There are endnote citations, a glossary, a list of books and websites for further consultation, and an index. Recommended for school libraries.