The iPod set are cool, but clueless

Everybody wants Apple's digital music player, but few realise how hard it is to use
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The Independent Online

It's the epitome of cool, a must-have item rated No 1 with teenagers, oldies and muggers alike.

It's the epitome of cool, a must-have item rated No 1 with teenagers, oldies and muggers alike.

Yet the iPod digital music player has confused so many thousands of new owners that the gadget has spawned its own service industry - to help technophobes download their own songs.

Even though the designer-creation from Apple has been flying off the shelves in a storm of favourable publicity, few realise how complicated it can be to operate.

Some music fans complain they have to upgrade their computer to get the iPod to work. Others report spending hours or even weeks transferring just a few tracks from their CD collection to the new player.

Now companies are springing up to meet the need, including the London-based wePod, which does the hard work of converting disc tracks into electronic files for the iPod, using its own specially developed software. Even though it does not advertise, the new venture claims it has been inundated with inquiries.

"I believed our market would be young male professionals, but the variety of customers surprised me," said Carol Skinner from wePod.

"The common denominator is that they are all time-poor or technophobic. It is incredibly time-consuming to do yourself. There is a massive amount of domestic strife going on all over as men sit there loading their computers while the children harass their wives."

Laura Cohen, a 23-year-old law student from Richmond, Surrey, who treated herself to a £300 iPod last summer, is a typical customer. "I spent the best part of two weeks downloading only 500 songs," she said. "To this day, I don't really know how I managed it. I could not work out what was wrong, and eventually I just gave up."

It can take around 40 hours to transfer 150 CDs on an ordinary computer, even though this barely dents the iPod's massive capacity.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University, said the problem was that the iPod had become a fashion must-have, but that fashionistas tended to be technologically illiterate. "The irony is the people who can use it - the tecchies - are not in themselves very fashionable. But they buy it because they find the technology fascinating."

Thirty years of gadgets that have left owners fumbling in despair


Invented: 1993

What is it? A super-phone that "talks" to databases as you talk to your friends. Able to store notes, file contacts, keep your diary, take pictures and beam numbers to friends via wireless technology.

What's the problem? If your life depended on setting up a diary date and beaming it, could you?

HP iPaq with Microsoft PocketPC

Invented: 2000

What is it? Imagine Microsoft Windows squeezed into a hand-held computer: that's the iPaq.

What's the problem? Unfortunately Windows is hard enough to use on a PC - on a tiny screen it simply becomes maddening. And you're bound to lose the little plastic stick thing you need to enter your data, which means poking the screen with your nails.

Integrated TV/video/DVD controller

Invented: 1993

What is it? A multi-functional hand control able to command everything in the TV cabinet.

What's the problem? Losing one remote in the sofa is bad enough, but this means you can lose them all at once. You can spend hours trying to work out which black on black pad mutes the sound.

Digital camera

Invented: 1994

What is it? The end of 35mm film. A means of digitally storing, and saving those priceless holiday moments.

What's the problem? You've got 30 functions (flash, picture size, picture format, etc) crammed into four tiny buttons. What function you get depends on which buttons you've already pressed - so-called "modal" operation. It drives almost everyone mad.


Invented: 1977

What is it? The beginning of home cinema and the answer to watching programmes when you want to go out

What's the problem? The classic enemy of usability. The VCR clock continuously blinks 00:00. If you can set it, you can't be sure you'll record the right programme. Too much information, too little feedback

Digital watch

Invented: 1973

What is it? Hailed as the end of analogue time- keeping when it arrived on the market. Nominally water-resistant to a depth of 50m.

What's the problem? Be honest, do you really know how to reset the time on the screen without accidentally starting the stopwatch? And how on earth do you turn that annoying, electronic sounding, hourly chime off?