October 26, 2004


I'll go on the record right here in the wide open world of our blog and say that the Apple iPod Photo will be their first colossal failure in the iPod world. I'm not talking about something of Lisa magnitude, more along the lines of a Newton. (ed note: I actually once owned a Newton.)

How in the world could I make such an audacious assertion?
  • the only revolutionary change is the color screen
  • the screen is too small to be more effective than a digital camera preview screen
  • collapsing flash memory prices mean that people aren't looking for an external repository for pictures
  • 40GB is probably 20GB more than most people have in music and pictures combined
  • the next logical step is video, and people will hold out for that
  • it's priced $100 more than the most expensive current iPod
  • it's answering a question no one is asking
This is all coming from someone who actually wants an iPod "music." The good news of this is that there will be a glut of these on the market, and Apple will probably be driven to reduce their prices. They could bring them down to a $449 and $499 price point without having to compromise their $399 price on the non-color non-photo iPod.

afterthought: When you boil it down, the primary purpose of an iPod is a portable repository for files. One thing I still haven't figured out - what if you want to store your files only on your iPod? That's easy enough to do, because to the system, the iPod appears as an external hard drive. And, if you cheat, you can update your non-DRM protected music files on your own. However then, "syncing" it is moot, because you don't want your files in both places. By doing that, you forfeit the functionality of iTunes and iPhoto, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,

To frame the iPod simply as an external repository for files misses the point that people don't get iPods to store files; they get them to use files. If the iPod was only an external hard drive, nobody would buy it since there are plenty of less expensive, higher capacity FireWire drives available. While useful, that functionality is secondary or even tertiary, not primary. The fact is that the iPod is also a computer, so it's able to actually do something with the files it contains.

Apple has sold 6 million iPods in the nearly three years since the iPod was introduced (and greeted by dire predictions similar to yours, I might add), and a full one-third of those -- 2 million iPods -- shipped last quarter alone. Even with plenty of less expensive alternatives available, the iPod is owning the market. 65% of all digital audio players sold -- flash and disk-based -- are iPods. Of the disk-based segment (which includes Sony, Dell, and Creative), iPod represents a staggering 92%. Why is that?

The stunning success of the iPod boils down to features vs benefits. Customers don't care about the features of a product; they care about what that product will do for them. That may seem like a trivial distinction, but it's huge. A feature is just a specification, whereas a benefit is how that specification matches up to a customer's particular needs, real or perceived. People buy products for what they think those products will do for them.

With that in mind, reconsider some of your bullet points:

• The color screen is evolutionary, not revolutionary, and is also not the only change to the system. The photo functionality is the bigger deal. It's still a really pretty screen, too!

• The screen is intended to be a preview screen, and as such, is a perfect size. The iPod Photo outputs both NTSC and PAL for connecting to nice big TV screens so everyone doesn't have to huddle around (typically smaller) computer screens to see your digital pix.

• What's the best price you've seen on 20GB, 40GB, or 60GB compact flash cards? Hmm... For perspective, the cheapest prices I've seen on 4GB compact flash cards are $50 to $100 more than the cost of an iPod mini (which people complain is overpriced, yet we've had a tough time keeping them in stock), and the compact flash card can't even do anything with its contents other than store them. 8GB compact flash cards currently cost more than $2000 (you could buy a PowerBook or two iBooks for that)! Even when less expensive, higher capacity compact flash cards inevitably arrive, the technology still won't really be the issue. People don't and won't care which medium is used internally to store their media; they care about how they're able to use that media.

• It's an easy mistake to assume that most people's needs are identical to your own. Many current and future iPod owners have been waiting for higher capacity iPods to accommodate large music libraries alone. Now that photos are an option, the additional space is even more important than before.

• I think a video-capable iPod would be cool, but the reason Steve Jobs says there won't be one is that the screen is too small for effective video viewing (ironically similar to your complaint about the effectiveness of the screen for photo viewing). I personally think the video-out capability of the iPod Photo would address that concern for video just as it already does for still photos, but I don't get to make such product decisions. ;)

• I doubt the additional $100 will be a deterrent for people who feel that they need the additional capacity.

• The original iPod seemed to be answering a question nobody was asking, and look where it is now. People are already using the past two generations of iPods to store photos from digital cameras (transfered via third-party adapter). Now they can utilize those photos (and the rest of their digital photo library) while they're away from their computers. ...not to mention the new album artwork functionality (which I've long desired) now possible on the music side.

Do you still want an iPod for listening to music? You do know that the iPod Photo still does the music part, as well, right? And, that several non-photo versions of the iPod are still available? We should talk. :)