iPod: disappearing up its own headphone socket?
It's not without considerable interest that I read a piece in The Observer online today.
If what is being reported is a true reflection of the current status (and I have no reason to disbelieve) it appears as if the iPod could finally be in danger of falling foul of its own success story:
The iPod, the digital music player beloved of everyone from Coldplay's Chris Martin to President George Bush, is in danger of losing its sheen. Sales are declining at an unprecedented rate. Industry experts talk of a 'backlash' and of the iPod 'wilting away before our eyes'. Most disastrously, Apple's signature pocket device with white earphones may simply have become too common to be cool.
On Tuesday the eyes of iPod-lovers the world over will be on Steve Jobs, the co-founder and chief executive of Apple, when he seeks to allay fears that it could follow Sony's tape-playing Walkman into the recycling bin of history.
Myself, I’ve never owned one, and never really wanted one. I had already bought into the Creative market before Apple even launched the iPod and as such never felt the need to switch. Don’t get me wrong though, as a consumer, trained product designer and lover of all things gadget related I’ll admit I've had moments when I considered buying one, well, just out of curiosity.
But even I’m not that wasteful with money.
I was largely dissuaded because I felt that my Creative player had more to offer me by way of functionality than an iPod would.
However, many of my friends and peers have purchased those ubiquitous white boxes. This gave me access to a whole range of iPods, and then in turn the subsequent comments from the users themselves.
There appeared to be a common theme: battery issues and file type restrictions being the primary two. Precisely what sold me on my Creative player in the first place. On top of this I know a not inconsiderable number of people who have owned one and have stated they will never buy one again. Or still own one and rarely use it at all. “Expensive paperweight” being my favourite quote.
I felt vindicated for sticking to my guns and not buying in.
I’ve been laughed at, by many of these same people for staying with my, clearly unfashionable, Creative player. But amusingly it’s a player I’ve had for years, without fault. With no restrictions on file types and transfers. And a battery I can replace myself should I ever need to (I haven’t yet, after 3 years and constant playing).
Interestingly in the article, Carla Avruch from The Zandl Group is quoted as saying:
'Panellists cite that the batteries are not replaceable, so when they die the entire player must be replaced,' she said. 'We have heard from some conspiracy theorists that the batteries are made to die soon after the warranty ends.
'Other complaints are that iTunes [Apple's online music store] is overpriced and the format is not easily transferred on to other players. In our ethnography interviews, some long-time iPod-users told us that they have stopped updating their iPods because it's too much work, while other consumers who had bought iPods more recently had not even taken theirs out of the package to set it up.'
So it seems that my vindication could be even further founded.
As a designer I was always aware of the clear distinction between ‘form’ and ‘function’. In the case of iPod I firmly believe that Apple have embraced the idiom ‘function follows form’ with gusto, sacrificing potentially fruitful functionality to produce an expensive box that looks sleek and not a whole lot else.
In addition to this, for me personally iPods are just too common. They’re everywhere. If I’m going to spend that amount of money on a new toy I prefer it to be something more interesting. Purchased with a little more imagination.
My suggestion? Do yourself a favour and look at other manufacturers, there are many, many interesting alternatives:
- Creative have a variety of options (and Creative have stepped up their game considerably in recent times, many of their players clearly in direct competition with Apple).
- The SanDisk Sansa series offering an alternative degree of function flexibility (memory expansion, multiple file formats etc).
- Or if you want something with even more dynamism you could do worse than look at my personal favourite, the Archos range (the AV 500 for example, 100GB internal hard drive, 4" colour screen, music player, video recording etc. A little more money from your wallet maybe, but when it comes with a promise of up to 400 hours of video, 250 movies, or 1 million photos I’m pretty sure you’ll get your moneys worth in no time at all).
I'm curious to hear what the next installment in the iPod saga will entail. It should be interesting to see what Steve Jobs brings to the table on the future of the iPod at the conference on Tuesday. Innovate to stay ahead ‘n all that. Although I’m fairly certain no new developments will ever sway my opinion to any great degree.
Sadly I don’t imagine for one minute that iPod is about to come crashing down in flames overnight. However, when something dominates the market to such a degree, I suspect it really is just a matter of time before iPod really will get sucked into its own little Click Wheel.
Read full Observer story.