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Shufflin for Nothing

Why an 11 year old calls Apple's iPod Shuffle shipment "policy" "Retarded" By John Virata

How do you explain marketing ideas to my 11 year old boy? How do explain why a company piecemeals out product to generate a buzz? Is it too much for an 11 year-old to understand? Probably, but he got a crash course on it on this 22nd day of January, 2005.

The first 20 or so people in line.
When we my teenaged son first heard about the iPod Shuffle, he told his 11 year old brother about it, which immediately generated a buzz in his head about having his own iPod. He looked on the Apple website, checking out all the add-ons, or what he calls hop-ups, in dirtbike speak. No longer would he have to sneak around his older brother, stealing listening time on his brother's iPod without him knowing. He could get a cool iPod Shuffle for himself. It was a perfect size for him, in part because he only had a handful of CDs to listen to in the first place, and seemingly the Shuffle seemed a bit more impervious to damage than the bulkier iPod.

So, when I got home from work that day, we went to the local Apple Store in Costa Mesa, California's South Coast Plaza, in anticipation of buying one. After all, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in his Macworld 2005 keynote, (which myself and my older son watched together, as we have for the last several years) that the iPod Shuffle was shipping that day. When we arrived at the Apple Store and got a demo of the iPod Shuffle, my little one was eager to get his hands on one. His birthday was coming up and I could get two birds with one stone; the older boy off my back complaining about the younger one erasing playlists and such, and the younger one finally getting a player of his own that I wouldn't have to worry about breaking in an 11 year-old's possession. Alas the Apple employee let him down, telling us to come in real early the following Saturday, (January 22) because they didn't get a shipment in, and there'd be plenty in by that day. He told us this exactly one week ago today.

So the Buzz built. We put off all manner of weekend activity in anticipation of getting an iPod Shuffle. Friday night, we talked about what time we were going to get to the Apple Store.  Jeremy created his own custom playlist in iTunes. When we got to the Apple Store at 7:20am, there were already 26 people waiting in line.

Many of the folks ahead of us were listening to music on their iPods, playing with their cell phones, and writing in their PDAs. We started talking to each other to pass the time. All of us it seemed were interested in the iPod Shuffle. The gal in front of me, who is the editor in chief of my alma mater's newspaper (Go 49ers!), was in line to get one to supplement her U2 iPod. She wanted one to exercise with, and felt the U2 iPod was too bulky, plus she didn't want to damage it. She also told me about her original iPod that she uses sparingly due to its now shortened battery life. The guy behind me was interested in the Mac mini.

Around 10 minutes to 9, there were close to 200 people in line, most waiting to get their hands on the iPod Shuffle. So we waited. My 11 year old asked why we had to wait in line for a store to open to buy something. This wasn't Wal Mart, he said. It wasn't like going to Disneyland. I tried to explain to him that companies sometimes piecemeal out their products just to generate a buzz, to keep the media writing about them long after the product was supposed to have been made available. Or, they didn't correctly anticipate demand during manufacturing. He didn't understand.

After the doors to the store opened, an Apple employee shouted to the crowd that there was a limited supply of iPod Shuffles, but everyone waiting in line would get one, but just not today. When my 11 year-old heard that, he got visibly irritated. What's the deal? he asked me. I again explained to him that certain companies really like to generate a buzz about its products, in part to get reporters and other media types, to write more about them. In this way, I went on to say, more and more people would hear about a particular product, and the interest in that product with the general populace would continue to stay interested.

After trying to explain this to him, an Apple employee came out, and started putting names and phone numbers on a list, so they could call us when the next shipment of iPod Shuffles arrived. It was THE LIST I DIDN'T WANT TO BE ON. My name was put down on the list. Alas, we arrived at the cash register, where the employee said "credit card only." I asked for an iPod Shuffle. He said they were sold out. I was the 27th person in line. A line of at least 200. The gal from my alma mater, and her mother were 25th and 26th in line and they didn't get one either. My son asked why we didn't get an iPod Shuffle and as I again tried to explain to him about the marketing practices of companies to generate a buzz, he replied, "That is just retarded. That is just stupid!" He wasn't too happy. He, like a whole bunch of other unfortunate (i)pod people who waited that morning, will have to wait for his Shuffle.

John B. Virata's 14 year-old son has been using a Macintosh since he was two and has a 10GB iPod. Virata's 11 year-old son is more cross platform and is now on "the official Apple list" to get an iPod Shuffle. Instead of surfing on Saturday mornings like he always does, Mr. Virata, like a few hundred other unfortunates who shuffled around their Saturday schedule, wasted his morning in a useless line for an iPod Shuffle, which the Costa Mesa Apple Store had less than 25 to sell to a public that really wanted one. You can reach Mr. Virata at [email protected]


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:iPod Shuffle, Apple Computer, South Coast Plaza Apple store

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