PHOTO ESSAY

Bring the Noise

The evolution of portable audio

By Matthew McKinnon
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Burton Shield iPod Jacket, 2003
Photo by open.inc

Burton Shield iPod Jacket, 2003

The iPod inspires a cottage industry of accessories: there are now more than 200 after-market products associated with Apple’s digital cocoon. Many are carrying cases, some more elaborate than others. Lagerfeld, for example, has designed a $1,500 US Fendi purse that can fit a dozen iPods. Burton Snowboards offers the Shield iPod Jacket ($360 US), with a specially designed chest pocket to carry the player and a “SOFTswitch” flexible control pad built into the left sleeve to control it. The pad runs the iPod’s play/pause, forward, reverse and volume functions. “Simply press a button on the sleeve and poof — the song changes. It’s like magic.” Headphone cords tuck inside the jacket’s lining, out of sight, deep inside the mind.

Dr. Michael Bull, a lecturer in media and culture at the University of Sussex in England, is the author of Sounding Out the City: Personal Stereos and the Management of Everyday Life, a book about the social impact of portable sound. (Short answer: headphones + public space = private world.) He has asked thousands of iPod users how, when and why they listen to the devices. “[The iPod] is the 21st century’s first cultural icon,” Bull says. “It’s very much like the Walkman in that regard. Everyone says ‘Walkman’ rather than ‘personal stereo’ for a reason.”

The future of portable sound splits into two hemispheres: Apple versus everyone else. Apple is winning.

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