The iPod is on life support

The iPod is on life support

Summary: The iPod might not be dead, but it's certainly dying, a victim of its own popularity and convergence devices.

SHARE:

When you think about Apple, you think iPhone, iPad or maybe even Mac. However, if you go back a decade, one product the company was well known for that has now sunk below the radar is the iPod. In recent years sales of this once flagship product have been eclipsed by the iPhone and the iPad.

Are the days of the iPod numbered?

Last quarter Apple sold 6 million iPods. Not a shabby number compared to Mac sales of 4 million, but a drop in the ocean compared to iPhone sales of 26 million and iPad sales of 17 million. Also, bear in mind that the cheapest Mac -- the Mac mini -- starts at $599, while the cheapest iPod -- the diminutive Shuffle -- is an absolute bargain at $49.

Apart from a spike in sales during the holiday season, iPod sales have been slowly declining for over three years now. Once Apple could count on about 10 million iPod sales a quarter, and double that over the holidays, but now that number has been cut by a third, and continues to fall.

Two things killed the iPod. First, there's an awful lot of them out there. Apple has sold a shade over 350 million iPods since its debut in 2001. That's a lot of iPods, and I can tell you as having owned quite a few over the years, they're incredibly long-lived bits of kit. Everyone who wanted an iPod more than likely has several laying about the place already.

The market is literally saturated with iPods.

Another nail in the -- tiny -- iPod coffin are smartphones and tablets, convergence devices powered by both iOS and Android that do what the iPod did, plus a lot more besides. Why carry an iPod and a cellphone when you can carry a single device?

The next chart clearly shows the how iPod sales first flat-lined and then started taking a dive. This dive steepened into a nose-dive as soon as the iPad came on the scene.

The decline is smooth and, so far at any rate, quite predictable. In a few quarters sales of the iPod will be below that of Mac sales -- which have themselves flat-lined -- and the era of the iPod will be truly over.

The iPod's job is done. It encouraged people to buy other Apple products. And it's a strategy that worked well.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Smartphones

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

Talkback

46 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Good reflection by Adrian

    Good article.

    I think the rumored 5th iPod touch needs to have some form of data, even if it's just 3G, or it won't succeed. iPod touches are no longer iPods per se -- you don't just use them for music. iPods have to move beyond that. the iPod touch is doing that, but with wifi data only it's very hard for it to reach its full potential.

    For me, it's either that or the iPod line will eventually be killed.
    RuAn03
    • Theres no point in a 3G ipod. Thats what an iphone is for. A 3G ipod would

      still need a data plan and since iphones are used 99% for data and 1% for acutal calls there'd be no real distinnction. Im surprised theres still 6M being sold a qtr. Id have thought hand me down iphones would have taken care of the little kids that would want ipods.
      Johnny Vegas
      • Then why...

        Little kids? Let's see, I see iPods being used by: joggers; commuters; SW developers; managers... all kinds of grown-up people.

        There really is no justification for 3G/4G data charges. How many people spend a majority of their time away from WiFi connections these days? And please don't say in the car; if your alone, well that should be obvious, and if you're not, how about being social instead of staring at your phone?
        aep528
        • If you're away from the big city centres

          then it's very hard to find decent free wifi. Some hotspots have ads, others are slow, and some have both problems. That explains some of the data usage. Also, what if you're on the go and need to check your email asap, or have to manage your company's social platform? There's no guarantee you'll have wifi available -- this is where 3G kicks in. An iPod touch with data-only 3G would be cheaper than an iPhone and let us use iOS to its fullest
          RuAn03
      • Pricing

        The iPod touch is better for those who can't afford to spend money on a contract for an iPhone. Some people also go with an iPod and keep their feature phones because they want/need iOS and its features but can't afford to get an iPhone with contract
        RuAn03
    • So you want

      An iPod that's literally the exact same thing as the iphone except it can't make calls?
      dsa791
      • Yes

        For a simple reason: it would be cheaper than an iPhone and it would make sure the iPod touch reaches its full potential.
        RuAn03
    • It's just like the transistion from cell phone to smartphone

      In the '90s cellphones didn't have apps or touch screens. It did one thing only, made calls. Now phones can do a lot more than that. The same thing applies with the iPod. Originally it was just for music but now it can do a lot more. I can't wait to see what the next iPod Touch will bring but I hope there's some inprovements to it. Call me crazy but I kind of wish Apple would ditch the curve edges on the iPod Touch and use the same design as the iPhone 4s for example. I feel safer holding an iPhone than an iPod Touch.
      dtourond
  • Ipod dying?

    If the ipod is no longer produced some other kind of portable music player will replace it. I have no need to buy an iphone and be tied to a phone contract and monthly data charge.
    dsc17usa
  • With the rumored lower cost iPad Mini, this trend will accelerate

    However, the iPod Nano, due to it's low cost and functionality, will remain Apple's "Gateway Product" for first time Apple consumers for several years to come.

    IMO, the iPod family of products still have about five more years of useful life yet before technology passes this ground breaking product line by. I suspect that I shall have the same fond nostalgic memories for this line of products as I do for my first ever home PC - the Apple II plus - when time eventually catches up to Apple's little music box.
    kenosha77a
  • Change in functionality, perhaps?

    It may not be a matter of killing off the iPod, so much as revising its original scope of work. The iPod came about to fill a particular market - high quality, easy-to-use MP3 players.

    As Adrian points out, iPhones, Androids and other smartphones can now easily fill this niche for the large majority of people.

    So, what remains? Well, at least in my case, the iPod shuffle is still an invaluable tool for exercise. It's small, light, and clips onto my clothing. I can adjust it and switch songs effortlessly, and without the need to look at the device. It distinguishes itself from the iPhone through its design and functionality.

    Other than that, it's difficult to see the point of most iPods. It might be the case that, in addition to the iPod Shuffle, an iPod touch with 250GB+ storage could be a niche product for those individuals with particularly large music collections.
    lapland_lapin
  • IPhone and iPad don't work for exercising

    They're too bulky and heavy. The Shuffle is great for this. I can think of several reasons to prefer an iPod over an iPhone or iPad: Cost, battery (keep the iPhone charged for calls/text/data), durability (iPhone is very fragile). While I keep songs on my iPhone for convenience iPod still has uses.
    ye
    • I work out using my iPhone to stream music

      I'll grant it's not as light or as small as an iPod Nano but it's not too bulky or heavy. Working out with an iPad however... what moron would even make that attempt?

      Having said that I've been on the lookout for an inexpensive iPod nano to take to the gym and/or a 3rd or 4th gen iPod to have a playlist that I can plug into a dock at a party and not have to worry about someone playing with my iPhone.
      athynz
      • Music players are a legitimate market (imagine!)

        "Working out with an iPad however... what moron would even make that attempt?"

        The same morons who are trying to use their iPad for everything else it is ill suited to perhaps? Seriously though, I'd be willing to bet that it has already been done. I can well imagine someone perching their iPad on the handle bars - hell, someone probably even has a bespoke attachment iGym(tm) iPad holding device for this very purpose.

        On the mp3 player side of things, I think there will always be a market for dedicated music players. I can think of several reasons:

        1) you don't want to give your kid/teenager a phone capable device
        2) better battery life
        3) no screen required (i.e. physical input)
        4) durability
        5) you just want to listen to music
        12312332123
        • So many reasons. .

          Great points, I'd like to add support for a dedicated music player.

          I own a Nexus S, Iphone 4, Shuffle, Ipod Touch, Nexus 7.

          Each have their own unique purpose. We'll other than the two phones . . . If you were wondering, I prefer the Nexus :)

          The shuffle for it's size and relative value. I can risk damaging it while out in my rzr or dirt bike. It has dedicated buttons to change songs and the battery will last a camping trip.

          While I do consume some media on my phone, I leave most of that to the ipods. I am away from the house for days and have a job that doesn't allow me to charge my devices. There is a bit of battery anxiety.

          The touch is used the most. I play games and consume all types of media gleefully dismissing the 20% warning. With this holding most my media, i dont need to spend the extra money on a 32 or 64GB phone. It also takes all the abuse of my physical, care free lifestyle saving me larger bills with things break.

          The Nexus 7: well, it's just awesome. Dog catcher, beautiful games, books. Or if im too lazy to power up the laptop to check stocks, email, Google something to prove my friends wrong.

          Please dont kill the stand alone music player. I need it.
          Adam Gallant
        • I guess I am a moron

          Thanks, I just love being called a moron. Calling others is not nice, just because you don't like doing something others might like to do. My lungs were horribly damaged from an atypical pneumonia in my early 30s The fist time I used an iPod, and later an iPad were in Pulmonary Rehab classes and Cardiovascular classes. Using a recumbent exercise bike or stepper are necessary and SO boring, and there is a nice place to put your iPod, then later iPad. ALSO they have apps that monitor your heart rate, BP and respiration. The damage to my body from trying to breathe alone after I got sick damaged my muscles and bones. RA set in. It's very painful. So when you work out at home and even when they send you to the whirlpools for medical therapy, they are not just VERY nice to have, so you have music to listen to or a movie to watch, they also have the health benefit of the apps. When it's hard to talk because of low oxygen levels, texting is perfect and needed. I'd be lost without mine and being on oxygen and housebound since my early 30's, I have to have this therapy and rehab program every day, it does get lonely and boring especially when you are alone at home and can't get out. At least at the classes there are people to talk to, but when going through the physical therapy and not having good oxygen levels, it is hard to talk, so voila, the iPod or IPad. My husband uses his from home to have video conferences on days I can't be alone, we can't afford a nurse, ouch, an iPad is much cheaper, which enables him to be with me on the days i need someone here, and he can still work in a more comfortable way, near me, where a laptop or desktop would not work. Be happy that you don't have to think of these uses for the iPod and iPad.
          donnalb
          • Take good care of yourself.

            Wow. I don't know why your brain isn't exhausted from having to think of all these workarounds. Unfortunately, companies look at the bottom line and not all the "lines" produced by heart monitors, respiratory monitors etc. And you are correct on so many levels. I've had Apple actually say to me "why don't you just get a desktop if you want a large screen" now that the 17" MacBook Pro is no longer. I guess having five spinal surgeries, including a four disc neck fusion isn't really in their business plan. Be well.
            ibernard@...
    • I make do with what I have

      The POS iPod Nano that a vendor gave me a few years ago finally all but stopped working (the menu button doesn't work). It's been nothing but aggrivation since day 1, but I used it because for a while I was using Nike + with the thing to track my running. Now I do all my tracking via SportyPal (a multisport app) on my Android phone, and recently started using it for audiobooks (my preferred thing to listen to on 2 hour runs or 6 hour bike rides). The drawbacks are battery life on a phone, and the size (and I just ordered an even bigger phone)...especially when I'm running, the phone bouncing around in my pocket is annyoing for the first mile or so.
      jvitous
  • And in one quarter, the iPod outsold

    Every Windows Mobile 7 phone since they were launched. Does that mean "Windows Phone" (Windows Mobile) 7 is also dead?
    Jumpin Jack Flash
    • Waiting for Gango

      Just you wait! OK, so Mango didn't change anything. And neither did Tango. And yeah, the Nokia phones didn't turn the world upside-down either. But now the thing to wait for is Windows 8! And then a new phone from Nokia in 2013! And then Windows 9! And Windows 10! It's coming! Real Soon Now! The world is waiting!
      Robert Hahn