Record Player in Your Pocket

August 17, 2020

A look at how the absence of something can be a product’s selling point.

the logo superimposed on a highway network

Before the one color silhouette ads of people with white headphones listening to music in dramatic poses sold us on a revolution in music mobility, the iPod was first marketed more traditionally.

In the early 2000s we can see Apple using a tried and true method to sell new technology: describe it in contrast to the imagery and limitations of old technology. In an early print ad the iPod is marketed as being implicitly better than a cassette or CD player with the tagline “Say hello to iPod. 1,000 songs in your pocket.” - a claim neither of the previous technologies could tangibly make.

This isn’t new. We can see products and services all around us that still leverage this concept in an effort to persuade us to adopt new technology. Famously, the automobile was originally referred to as a horseless carriage. By defining the new technologies present in the automobile (steam power, batteries, and the combustion engine) in terms of a long-standing construct, customers understood their purpose, intent and most importantly, their superiority and how they could change their lives. The horseless carriage removed the mess of using a horse for transportation along with the upkeep to stable horses in the same way the iPod removed the bulk of physical music medium. This strategy plays out in the release of other Apple paraphernalia as well.

The original iPod came with those now iconic earbuds - you know the ones featured in the colorful, minimalistic ads. While they were complementary with an iPod or iPhone purchase many quickly lambasted the short cable and the ensuing tangled mess; cables kept in pockets or backpacks quickly knotted and tangled into a barely usable totem to modern clutter. Apple solved this recently with Airbuds; wireless headphones with a novel charging system retailing for over $100.

This is a prime example of innovation in the form of removal of a feature, where the absence of something is the product's selling point.

Bouncing back to cars for a second, we can see this cycle of problem-solution-problem-solution in the infrastructure surrounding the transportation matrix that has evolved over the last century. From changes in fuel systems to self-driving solutions, innovation in how automobiles are made spawns from the mess, clutter and chaos cars create. The problems of pollution, parking spaces and rush hour traffic are now automakers top concerns.

the logo superimposed on a highway network

“New and Improved” is a phrase slapped on nearly everything or implied by numbered releases and signifies both an increase in certain features AND a decrease in others. Think about how new phones continually get larger in screen size and resolution, yet thinner in width and with less breakable physical buttons or how electric vehicles get more and more mileage per charge. Whether its horses, wires, or physical bulk, the removal of clutter IS a new feature even if it’s not directly marketed as such.

This is equally true for the digital landscape. Do you use your phone for work and personal connections? What about your laptop? Whether it’s for work or a hobby, our use of these devices revolves around the digital services we use. Having too many services can bog down our screens with widgets, apps and links when we are trying to find something and distract us with notifications when we’re trying to get work done (or trying to take some personal time). offers a novel solution to this through dedicated workspaces that organize what you use, allow you access all of it on any device, and most importantly, declutters your digital landscape.

Highway runs on top of the app window

We feel a kinship to those innovations of the past that succeeded in improving on previous iterations, in removing clutter from our lives, and in making bold claims about how transformative something can be. When we go to buy a new phone, car, sign up for a new service or download an app, we don’t consider what parts have been removed, how it’s been optimized, what features have been added and what has been retired - we think about how these things will affect our lives. The automobile ushered in an age of territorial freedom (along with a radical change in infrastructure and energy production) and Apple’s products challenged the status quo of what people thought they wanted, by delivering solutions that innovate because of what they are missing - clutter.

Declutter Your Life

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