What you need, man?

I just spent an inordinate amount of time watching two webpages update with news regarding the MacWorld keynote speech. All the rumor pages this time were remarkably accurate. To recap: MacMini, the tiny “headless” computer that retails for $499 and comes without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. New versions of the applications that make up iLife. Tiger demo. And the iPod Shuffle.

The iPod Shuffle is really what I want to talk about today. The current iPod and iPod Mini players are already kings of the hill, in terms of mp3 players. You see white headphones everywhere. In the supermarket, on the metro, jogging. Market saturation and brand recognition are both very high. It is estimated that out of all the mp3 players out there, 90% of them are iPods.

So, why introduce another model? Moreover, why introduce a new model with fewer features than your current flagship device?

The iPod Shuffle has no display.

Lack of a display is unheard of for most mp3 players. If you research mp3 players on the web, you will find that the entry level models from competitors like Rio, or iRiver, Creative, or even Dell all have screens. The ones that don’t are often rated lower by both consumers and critics.

Why introduce one without a display?

Enter Apple’s Public Relations department. “Because life is random.”

Coming from a Public Relations background, I really love Apple’s “spin” on the tiny mp3 player. I can see them around the table now. For some reason, they’re all wearing berets and black turtlenecks.

“We will make shuffle the new black!”
“Embrace the chaos!”
“Random is fresh, young, hip, and vibrant!”
(And apparently green, if you look at the color scheme of the iPod Shuffle website and packaging.)

I’m not bashing the new product, merely gushing with appreciation over a very well done piece of advertising. Apple’s PR department has accomplished three very important goals.

First, they have glossed over a missing feature that is perceived by most consumers as a deficiency.

Second, they have taken that perceived deficiency and turned it into a value that people want in their lives.

Third, and most importantly, they have linked that value to the product and made it distinctly different from competitors’s devices.

They want you to believe that it will improve your commute, your exercise routine–your very standard of living will improve if you buy an electronic device that plays music. Who cares if you don’t know the title of the song or can’t browse through the music that you have now? (In addition to being random, life is also hard.)

Will it really improve my life? Who knows if it will or not? And to be honest, 90% of the time, I’m not looking at the screen anyway. But I’m not the target market. Considering that I sync the iPod with a database that displays the current list of all the media on my shelves–the lack of a screen would definitely hurt the chances of me purchasing such a device.

But parents, casual users, teenagers, people on the periphery who have always wanted an iPod but balked at the high “cost of entry,” into this musically oriented esoteric club–I can see them picking up one.

And from there, they’ll consider that MacMini at $499.

The first one’s free, unless it’s from Apple. In which case, the first one’s about $99, plus tax and shipping.