The iPod Mystique

It wasn’t just an Mp3 player, the iPod and its cool white tangle-free ear buds became synonymous with the Mp3 player concept, so much so, that even devices made by Apple’s competitors were colloquially referred to as iPods. The iPod’s piece de resistance was its hype. Steve made sure this simple mass-manufactured thing was promoted, not just as another electronic gizmo, but as a work of fine art. The little jukebox was the pampered child of designer, Jonathan Ive. Its euro-minimalist stark white chic was copied from the German 1958 Braun T3 transistor radio designed by Jonathan’s idol, Dieter Rams. The iPod’s signature click-wheel is unapologetically a carbon-copy of the T3’s channel wheel. Dieter was delighted that his famous fan felt ‘inspired’ by him. He said, “I am an admirer of Jonathan Ive's work and I like to take it as a compliment.”[1] In the documentary, Objectified[2], he gushed over Jonathan’s designs. He spoke from his home, a sterile and stark-white modernist take on the Japanese tea-room with a lot less color. He said of Jonathan:
Today you find only a few companies that take design seriously as I see it, and, at the moment that is an American company. It is Apple.

Dieter’s voice rose a notch when his said the word, ‘American’– as if it were a surprise that he were not praising a European company. Dieter has been designing for Braun since the year Steve was born. Back in the T3 days, the wunderkind designer used to sport black turtlenecks like Steve does today. Now Dieter is almost eighty, he no longer requires an arty signature costume because his legend speaks for itself.

Dieter and Braun’s "less is more" mantra of humorless design fetish found a new home in Apple. Like his hero, Jonathan took a fistful of circuitry and wrapped it in puritanical chic. No one was more pleased than his boss. Steve loves minimalism – which is just a nice way of saying idiot-proof. 

In Jony and Steve’s haste to lift Euro-styling, they neglected the Braun credo, which was proudly displayed at Dieter’s 2008-2010 international exhibition:

Braun categorically rejects the idea of motivating people to buy its products by adding features that toy with the psychological sub-terrain of the consumer's consciousness. Braun refuses to swell sales by exploiting human frailties: neither its products nor its advertising use such seduction techniques.[3]

Dieter’s products were designed for immortality. If one can afford the auctioneer’s US$800 starting bid, one can pick up a Dieter Rams Braun T3 radio that will still broadcast the football results. By contrast, the iPod is designed to be obsolete and in the bin within six months to make way for the next world-shattering minimal revision (if the battery doesn’t fail before then). Steve takes his cue from high fashion. His products, like his staff, are treated as the coolest new thing today, but yesterday’s news tomorrow. Perhaps Steve thought Dieter’s philosophy of “less is more” meant less value, more profit?

In the UK, the iPod developed into a cool brand name to rival Aston Martin.[4] The prestige auto manufacturer partnered with Apple to allow the driver to dock his iPod to the roadster’s digital display. Aston Martin’s very British website reads:           

Once docked with the cable connection, the iPod menus are replicated on the DBS's main display. The driver can use either the selector wheel or two steering wheel buttons to replace the iconic click wheel interface of the iPod, allowing one to safely navigate through the music on the iPod without the need to take your hands off the wheel.[5]

The convergence of Jonathan’s two favourite things was not just a business partnership, but a well-orchestrated example of cross pollination branding – two cool brands merging to spin a marketing synergy of ultra-cool.

The next move was to select the right celebrity association. Jonathan offered a special slick black iPod to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. However, Gordon was advised by his advisors that the iPod was too expensive to be accepted by a politician as a gift, and decided to purchase one out of his own pocket. The iPod was indeed overpriced. There was deluge of similar mp3 players on the market without the hefty "mystique mark-up" typically bundled with an Apple product.

[1] The Local (2010, February 17) Less but better: Design according to Dieter Rams. Retrieved from

[2] Swiss Dots (Producer). (2009) Objectified [DVD].

[3] McGuirk, J. (2009, December 4) Braun and beauty: Dieter Rams comes to London's Design Museum. The Guardian.

[4] Sweney, M. (2007, September 13) Aston Martin tops cool brands list. The Guardian.

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