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Impact of New Technology

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  1. Introduction

Today, technology possesses a significant effect in the design and marketing process of consumer products, especially electronics. As new inventions discovered, electronic products have also grown in functions and shapes. Recognized or not, these new inventions generally led the way to new trends and cravings within the society of consumers. The change from one technological trend to another is a process involving various technological as well as cultural factors. In this paper, I will try to identify some of them using the latest trend of portable audio players. This paper will elaborate the history of audio players, how the ‘turn’ to portable audio players occurred and what factors were involved within them.

  1. History of Audio Players

The first audio players were huge valve-based devices. It was both large and heavy. Automatically the only way we can listen to music is by being restricted to our living rooms. However, sometime in the 60’s, the transistor was discovered. Shortly after, people can listen to the radio without being ‘tied down’ within their rooms. The very fist portable audio player was actually the 8 track player. It has considerable success, but received heavy critics as well because of its bulk and inconvenience. It could only play 8 track tapes, thus, most tapes must be separated into two or sometimes three parts (‘Portable Music Player’, 2006).

The nest generation of portable audio player was the cassette player. In July 1979, Sony released the first walkman, the Sony TPS-LS2. It was a small device powered by a 4 AA battery which allow people to listen to cassettes through headphones. The public reaction was incredible. By 1982, the new trend has set a record on compact cassettes sales number and the walkman itself (‘Portable Music Player’, 2006).

After the walkman, the next generation of trend in portable audio player was the Discman or the CD-player. Many believed that the demise of walkman was the work of Sony itself when the company introduced the D-50, a portable audio player that can play music straight from a compact disc. For quite some time, the CD player was the dominant portable music player. Afterwards, mini disc players, flash memory players and audio players with an internal memory threatened to replace the CD players, however, the CD player survive because it now reads mp3 CD’s (‘Portable Music Player’, 2006).

The last generation of portable audio players is the Digital Audio Player (DAP). The first DAP was criticized for several issues. First, the MP3 files generally do no have better sound quality. People also found it troublesome in transferring files, despite using transfer programs. The issue was then solved as new versions of iTunes became simpler to deal with. Today, the DAP consist of three devices:

  • MP3-Cd player: the device plays audio CD’s and plays data CD’s containing MP3 files.
  • Flash-based player: the device is smaller than the regular CD player. It keeps the audio files in an internal memory. This device transfer data mostly by USB drives because they are so small. However they have low storage capacity. The most recognized flash-based player is the iPod Mini
  • Hard Drive based player: this device is capable of decoding audio files from an internal hard drive. The device is often called the digital jukebox because it can store and entire music collection in a palm-sized player.

(‘Portable Music Player’, 2006)

  1. The Development Process of Portable Audio Players

The change from one technology of digital player to another was not as simple as it seems. As mentioned in the introduction, it involves various factors whether they are technical or cultural in nature.

In 2004, the market value of portable audio players in United Kingdom alone was valued at some £ 473.6 million. This was a 15% increase since 2000. It was also forecasted that the market for all portable digital players will reach a 37% compound annual growth rate from 2002 to 2007. During that period, total portable unit shipments are expected to climb from 6.8 million units to 36 million units. Many indicated that the rise was due to the increasing popularity of digital music players. Some of those factors influencing the development of the trend will be elaborated in the following sub chapters (Bell, 2003).

3.1       The role of Marketing

            Marketers often stated that what they do is following existing trend. But in fact, we often see that it is the marketers that shaped the trends as they please. Today, trend is very much influenced by what we see in TV, newspapers and billboards, by what we hear from our friends and families, etc. Those are all the work of marketing experts. Long have they discovered that trend are ‘made’ and not ‘born’.

The introduction of walkman for example, requires intensive promotional activities from producers. In order to promote the walkman, Sony, needed a powerful ad light striking promotion campaign. Managers of the company have had difficult times convincing people of the value of the brand-new product. In Japan, artist, TV and movie stars received free samples. This was considered a good idea because fans have a tendency of following behaviors of their idols. Soon, the sales records went sky high during the first week of its release in Japan (Bartlett, 2001).

Sony applied different marketing strategies for different markets. In the United States, ‘sore shoulder, no more’ was a part of a widespread marketing campaign of the walkman. This is due to the previous trend of American youth carrying large boombox on their shoulders. The first week sales number in America was recorded 16 billion units (Bartlett, 2001).

3.2       Technical and Price Competition

            Beside marketing aspects, many considered that the trend toward portable audio players is also influenced by the technical considerations. Consumers prefer gadgets with more functions and features. The rise of the portable audio players mentioned previously was also the result of higher capacity storage, increased player options, addition of real-time encoding. As more companies enter the competitive market, audiophiles can delight in a tremendous selection of options, sizes, shapes and colors. Different companies offer different features to enhance their competitive advantages. Some offers hard drives that store the music internally, while other offers interchangeable storage media. It is the consumers who then choose features according to their personal needs. Considerations like, size versus storage space, compact or full size headphones and which sounds the best are powerful factors that influence purchase behaviors (Bell, 2003).

            Another dominant factor is price. Since the first designs of portable audio players, companies have been targeting the youth market in their marketing campaign. This is one reason why cheaper prices could significantly enhance sales number in portable audio players. More inexpensive semiconductor components allow producers of portable audio players to decrease the cost of the products. Even the larger capacity of hard-disk based portables is now experiencing decreasing prices (Bell, 2003).

            Both the price reductions and a larger variety of HDD-based devices along with consumers’ interest in using the devices to store video and even data will contribute significantly to the growth of the portable audio player’s market. From these factors, as well we can identify which product will be the next big trend among consumers (Bell, 2003).

3.3       Technological/Cultural Mass Adoption on Portable Audio Player

3.3.1    Technological Trends of Portable Audio Players

Technological trends are one of the most powerful phenomena that influence the direction of an economy. The phenomena would affect societies from not only economic perspective but also from social, legal, and other related perspectives. It is interesting to see there are many gadgets that entertain and help us to perform several activities in much easier ways.

In 80’s we experience the new era in enjoying music through the invention of Walkman, a simple, light and hence portable gadget. Since then we witness that portability becomes issue in developing new products, resulting in gadgets like Discman, Game Watch, Wristwatch,  and Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) with internet access embedded on it, to name a few.

Therefore, the technological trends of electronic gadgets are portability. According to talk portables (2006), portability becomes keywords to succeed in this fast-moving business. About.com in his article reveals that Nintendo sold more than 21 million DS units since its introduction in November 2004. The situation also occurs at other portable media like pocket PC that enable users to take a note, browse internet, and listen to music as if they use desktop computers at home.

3.3.2    Cultural Trends of Portable Audio Players

Sony’ Walkman, which was popular several decades ago, was one example of how portable gadgets become killing feature for electronic media. However, the success of electronic media does not merely depend on the advanced technology that a gadget poses but also cultural consideration.

Take for example is the story behind the invention of Walkman, a handheld musical device, a few decades ago. At that time, in 1979, research department suggested that handheld music gadgets are no way to make profit for Sony since according to quantitative research they conduct the collected data from samples showed that there are no people are likely to enjoy music while walking or running. This situation shows that over relying on quantitative data might result in misjudge and opportunity loss to produce a saleable product like Walkman.

In case of Sony, although the quantitative analysis shows Walkman is not saleable, however, ingenious foresight and vision of Sony Founder and Chief Advisor, Masaru Ibuka and Sony Founder and Honorary Chairman Akio Morita have promoted the production of the Walkman and flooded the market with it.

The decision was made since he saw that many African American people bring music players anywhere and he believed that portability becomes killing feature of future electronic media. It turn out, as we know, that handheld devices like Walkman, Discman and many others are saleable in the past, in present, and in the future.

3.3.2    iPod Craze

One thing digital technology favors computer industry is that any business that employs computer hardware could be considered as parts of computer industry. The issue of Napster’s termination due to illegal action had open new opportunity for legal music download industry although recently we can still download mp.3-based music through P2P (peer-to-peer) method of file sharing.

            Concerning the issue, Apple Computer creates new strategy by developing new killing gadgets when the company invents and massively produces iPod, a digital music player that supports legal download for 99 cents per track (Figure 1). This strategy highlights the Apple’s intention to rule out computer-related industry.

Figure 1          iPod Nano

Source: www.ipoditude.com

The obvious success of iPod has put Apple Computer as a serious challenger to Sony and Microsoft. In order to remain in the computer industry, Apple get their loyal customer by creating products that have great features, such as performing good design, user-friendliness, smart marketing, and clever promotion. The features include personalized blogs, iTunes, and many others (Figure 2).

The introduction of iPod is widely accepted by consumers as by June 2005, Fortune Magazine stated that Apple has sold not less than 15 million iPods. In September 2005, the fifth generation iPods are able to play video as well as music. Some called this new design a video iPod (iPod, 2005).

Figure  2          Features of iPod that improve relationship with customers.

Source: www.apple.com

3.3.2.1 iPod and Personalized Blos

            Blog is one example of how technology helps a person to share ideas in the Internet at no costs. It is exactly similar to write on a column in a magazine or newspaper where people can also share ideas on particular subjects.

By definition, the definition of a blog or Web Log is a “Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual” (“Blog”). This web page is typically updated daily and reflects the personality of the author.

A blog is somewhat similar to a public diary keeping that grows up to be an important item in supporting a company’s online business since it is more effective than online advertising or marketing.

For instances, Tom Wark, owner of a wine industry public relations firm, Wark Communications, has a blog that display his comments concerning various issues on wine-related industry (Richmond). He believe that blog provide his company a great benefit since the number of traffic into his company’s web site becomes two fold.

However, the use of a blog will not directly lead to more money since people or readers do not pay for seeing a blog. However, the owner of a company who use a blog might use a marketing strategy to make a blog becoming a tool for luring consumers to buy products or services the owner has. Therefore, the owner has opportunity to create a massive customers database.

            Concerning the potential of a blog, Apple also equips their iPod with the capability to blogging. IPoditude.com becomes the Web’s premier iPod blog that enables users to hunt down newsworthy in the world of iPod and reaches a targeted audience. In addition, iPoditude.com readers are those who hungry for updated news, info sharing, and passion. Currently, iPoditude links many site such as Gizmodo, iPodlounge, Planet iPod (featured feed) and many others.

Figure 3          Official Apple Website that enriched with iPod’s features

3.3.2.2 iPod and Challenge in Musical Industry

The invention of iPod seriously challenge the traditional CDs and VCDs since now customer can download music both legal and illegal since the format of digital music is now available in many forms and make people easy to download them.

In addition, the existence of iPod also gives challenges to music industry since the personalized selection of songs may put album in the weak position. This is because as music lovers, we prefer to select some pieces of songs from different singers and put them in the same folder since we might not like all the songs in one album from a particular singer.

Therefore, the existence of iPod becomes serious challenges for musical industry and helps consumers to enjoy music much better since consumers who express their ideas in www.wired.com feel they are sick of high album prices and limited availability. Meanwhile, the iPod and its feature, iTunes, enable consumers to download particular songs and share it with their friends at no costs.

Bibliography

‘Apple’s Strategy’, 2004, Retrieved August 16, 2006 from http://www.it-analysis.com/article.php?articleid=12794

Bartlett, Michael. 2001. ‘CES: plethora of Portable Audio Player- Industry Trend or Event’. Newsbytes News Network

Bell, Ian. 2003. ‘The market for digital audio players should remain robust over the next five years, driven mostly by sales of hard-disk drive-based portables and combination CD/MP3 players’. Digital Trends [online]. Retrieved November 20, 2006 Available at http://news.digitaltrends.com/article235.html

iPoditude. 2006, ‘Advertise with iPoditude.com’, Retrieved November 27, 2006 from http://www.ipoditude.com/ads.php

‘Portable Music Player’ [online]. 2006. Retrieved November 20, 2006 available at http://www.kuleuven.be/iccp/iccp03/history.htm

Richmond, Riva. ‘Blogs Keep Internet Customers Coming Back’, Wall Street Journal

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