Go back a year and there was nothing that Apple could have done that wouldn't have earned them countless column inches of praise in the media. I'm pretty sure that Steve Jobs could have launched an empty cardboard box and, as long as it was white and had the familiar Apple logo on the front, pundits would have hailed it as remarkable. It seemed that Apple couldn't do anything wrong. But over the past few months, there's been a noticeable change in how Apple and their products are being reported.
It's hard to look back and pinpoint the exact time the tide of opinions started to turn but the first time that I really noticed it was when the news broke that the working conditions weren't up to standard in the Foxconn factory which makes the iPod. While the story was fair and Apple had been in the wrong (although it was Foxconn which let them down), even then I was surprised how most news articles blamed Apple directly rather than Foxconn.
By now is seems that the Apple glory days are over, so much so that some are now predicting the death of the iPod and downward spiraling revenues at Apple. Take a look at some of the recent coverage that Apple's had:
Why the iPod is losing its cool
“Apple has added ever more extras to its digital music-player in a bid to stem falling sales. But fears are rising that the device is now too common to be cutting edge.
Industry-watchers warn that the iPod could soon be regarded by teenage cynics as their 'parents' player' because a mass-market product rarely equates with edgy fashionability.”
Why Apple's New iDongle Will Fail
“While Steve Jobs may in fact be a marketing a genius there comes a point when Eskimos will no longer buy ice. $10-$15 for a poor picture quality movie is a bad deal. Yes, idiots overpay for things. Yes, there are a lot of idiots out there and yes Steve Jobs may be able to use the Obi Wan Kenobi trick voice with some, but I predict this thing [iTV] will flop hard.”
This is just a small sampling. I could go on.
Technology comes and technology goes and I don't think that anyone is naive enough to think that the iPod had an indefinite sell-by date. The Walkman, the Minidisc, the Psion organizer and the VHS cassette were all technological marvels that are now long gone. But I don't think that the future of the iPod is anywhere near as gloomy as some are predicting. In fact, even the reports about falling iPod sales are a bit misleading because they fail to take into account the fact that there are now more choices when it comes to buying an iPod (the nano and Shuffle).
This doesn't mean that there aren't any bumps in the road for Apple in the near future.
- First off, many Apple products see small, incremental changes over a long period of time. Think about all the various flavors of Mac OS X of the iPod. With the Mac OS it's a success because people are on an upgrade path, but for the iPod it's a potential pitfall because visually it's hard to tell the difference between a 1st gen iPod and the latest iPods. Yes, the iPod is cool, but 60 million iPods on and it's quite possible that the market is becoming saturated (of the 60 million iPods sold, it's likely that something like 20 - 30 million are still in use). See too much of anything and the cool will slowly wear off. Technologically, the iPod has come a long way since it was launched, but stylistically it's perhaps showing its age.
- Another bump is that the iPod was seen as a way for Apple to break out of the hardware market and bring in a significant stream of income from selling downloadable content through iTunes. The issue isn't about how many iTunes songs people have on their iPods, the real issue is to do with the number of players that are going to be entering the content download market over the next 12 months which will put pressure on Apple to keep iTunes unique, easy to use and cheap.
The direction that Apple are taking the nano and Shuffle is quite interesting, but I'm still waiting for a new killer feature to appear that really separates the iPod and iTunes from all the other portable media devices either already out there or in the pipeline. However, if Microsoft has fallen on their own DRM sword with the Zune by pulling the plug on PlaysForSure and leaving users that have DRMed content without a simple path to jump onto the Zune bandwagon, then Apple might have a lot less competition than expected.