iPod - Death by media

iPod - Death by media

Summary: 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.


iPodGo 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.”

The Observer

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.”

Thomas Hawk

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Topic: Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • The popular press

    The popular press is mainly a Windows-centric echo chamber. So
    what's new -- Zune vs iPod, the fight of the century. Pick your
    champion. Get your tickets now!

    A few hatchet media pieces are nothing to Apple. The popular
    press has been hammering nails into Apple's coffin for years and
    years now. Apple is still here and won't be going anywhere soon.
    Someone has to lead the way.
    Len Rooney
  • They're used to being "beleagured"

    I think a better turning point was a little earlier--the lawsuits against bloggers. That's when you first started seeing the latest round of anti-Apple press. Apple fared pretty well in the sweatshop articles. Apple investigated, and the claims of the article were proven to be a lot less worrisome than originally written. Apple did the right thing, launched their own investigation and pledged to make any changes necessary.

    As for the iPod, I'd put money down that we'll see a new design by the end of the year, most likely the day after the Zune officially launches. The latest versions are just stopgaps to hold things over until then.
    tic swayback
  • A "killer" feature

    The one killer feature is a phone. They better do it before every other phone has the iPod "features" or people will realise they don't need to carry around a rebadged MP3 player
  • Once the iPod's popularity declines

    Apple's marketing people will need to think long and hard about releasing the clamp on the output format of iTunes, making it more compatible with other formats. Apple have succeeded in putting the iPod at the top of the market, now they should seriously consider making iTunes more compatible with rival products. Look at the difference making iTunes compatible with Windows made, now if they followed that through and made it possible to output tunes to other formats then iTunes would be the killer-app that it should have been in the first place*{1}

    [i]{1} Obviously making iTunes use mp3 as an output format would be very bad for the music industry to keep its DRM hold on the tunes, however I see no reason why other DRM-capable formats could not be used - WMA, ATRAC etc.[/i]
    • No need to change formats

      I agree that Apple will license FairPlay once iPod sales fall off enough and iTunes sales increase enough to tip the balance in their favor.

      But no need to go to mp3, WMA, ATRAC, just license FairPlay and let people sign up for AAC, which is what Apple uses and is an open format. The new Zune devices from MS are already on the AAC bandwagon.
      tic swayback
  • Apple is not going down

    I agree that the recent Apple coverage paints a poor picture of the company's future, but I also have to remind myself that Steve Jobs, love him, hate, whatever, is all about marketing. Because Jobs is a marketing guru, he won't let Apple go anywhere but up. Yeah, I have confidence in Jobs, just like I know I don't have in the 60,000+ people that work for Microsoft. Jobs has a track record of doing the unbelievable, giving consumers solid products, and doing things with a flair that no other tech company can match.

    I'm not worried about Apple, and if you are, you are wasting your time. Worry about the slow, painful death of the upcoming Zune. Watch how Vista succeeds on the OEM level, but eventually becomes a loser to the XP legacy. There are lots to worry about in the world of tech, Apple isn't one of them.

  • Goodbye Geeks, Hello Granny!

    What Jobs may have realized before everyone else is the shift away from geeks and digerati to consumers. iPods and iTunes are so (relatively)sound, reliable and easy to use, that they remove the barriers to using the technology.

    60 million iPods means there not all in hands of geeks, nor just in the hands of the young and/or fashion conscious. Granny has an iPod, and she uses it.

    If Granny can use an iPod, she might just try using a Mac - our Granny does, and she's thrilled to be connected to the grandkids and the rest of world. She picked this up at the tender age of 80.

    As far as the quality of the video in iTV is concerned, I think Apple is taking a page from Microsoft's book. If you get to 80% of what people want, sell it now and fix it later.

    Jobs has got it right - Apple isn't selling technology. Apple is selling "iLife" - YOUR life with pictures, movies and a soundtrack.
    • iPod's for Geeks? Since when?

      iPods are by design an easy to use, mainstream, generic fad. They're meant for the mindless millions, not geeks who know better. Instead of buying the first MP3 player they see on TV, a geek would actually do some research first to see what's on the market, which would lead to them finding any of the numerous other MP3 players out there that have more features, more storage capacity, and lower prices. They might not be as easy to use, but that's what being a geek is about, having the newest and coolest gear when the average person is years behind current technology. On top of that, you don't have to use proprietary iTunes crap to sync them up. Every iPod owner I've shown my gmini402 to can't believe that their iPod can't do half the things my device can, when supposedly iPod's the best thing out there. A photo/video camera built into an MP3/video player? Doesn't take a genius to figure out that's a good idea. Apple's been way behind with their technology, but the mainstream doesn't notice. iPod's for geeks? Rubbish.

      My Archos GMini 402 Camcorder:
      Only has a 20GB HD, but it's plenty, and upgradable.
      • Now, if it just had a touchscreen and PDA features!

        That would be truly awesome!
        • PDA features? I don't want to pay for

          a load of junk I wouldn't use. My iPod Nano is supposed to be
          something on which to play recorded music. I ignore the fact it
          can also store photos and text files; wouldn't care if it couldn't.
        • Actually, their touchscreen device will be out around Christmas

          The Archos 604wifi has a touchscreen, wifi capabilities, and a customized version of Opera's browser (tabbed browsing on a PMP? sweet!). It should be hitting stores this Christmas.

          Read about the Archos 604wifi here:

          Video interview with Archos Products Manager on Google:
          • mis read

            i read that as having a built in Oprah browser!!!

  • That's a large bet!

    With only 20-30 million iPods active in the world, betting on iPods soon death is quite a risky prophecy.

    If that happens Adrian, you'll become my new marketing guru. ;)

    My opinion is that 30MM is just a tiny little part (less that 1%) of the global 4000MM market. This technology -while widely spread in the US and Europe middle class- is just entering the rest of the world. There's a huge, humongous market ahead for iPods.

    Yes, they'll had to keep adding features. Yes, they'll had to lower prices. Yes, they'll had to create their own alternatives. But... death?

    I'm not saying iPod's ethernal, but the end of this technology does not looks as close as you say, and Apple's brand is in an enviable pole position of this -still- new market.
    • term??

      ive seen the MM term before, but whhat does that mean??

      thanks...and dont tell me to google that using an Ophrah brwoser :)

      see previous comment in case you dont get the reference :D
  • Goodbye iPod!

    iPod has seen its "glory days." The trend in Europe, Asia--and soon America, is merging communications, music (via mp3) and organization (PDA) into one device...the cell phone. Furthermore, with 95% of all computers being Windows based--coupled with the fact that all the newer phones will come with mp3 players that are compatible with WMA, I don't see how the iPod has a prayer! Check out the latest music vehicle that is going to put iTunes under: www.UBurnDigital.com , and "Watch The Commercial!" Movies, Games & Ring Tones are soon to follow!
    • PDA does much more than iPod

      I agree w/ you 100%. Why would I buy an iPod with limited capability and incompatibility issues? For the same price I own a windows mobile PDA that plays mp3 & video, browse web, cellphone, calendar, IM, etc etc. I'm a CPA/ consultant, and we create custom reports and applications for the PDA and the Web. The future is pretty clear. Check out www.InfoOnTheWeb.com.