Is the iPod Doomed?

Posted on September 11, 2006

The Guardian asks: is the iPod doomed? In an article entitled "Why the iPod is losing its cool" The Guardian predicts that the iPod will go the way of the videocassette player and the Sony walkman, mostly because everyone has one, therefore they have ceased to be cool.
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.

Jobs is widely expected to announce the most ambitious iPod service yet - the sale of feature-length films via the internet for viewing on the devices, which may receive an expanded 'widescreen' and improved storage capacity. If downloading movies from a computer to an iPod proves even half as revolutionary as it did for music, the multibillion-pound DVD industry could be quaking. There are rumours that Jobs will also announce a long expected 'iPhone', combining the music function and sleek style of an iPod with a mobile phone.

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. Although it has sold nearly 60 million actual iPods and a billion downloaded songs worldwide, cracks have begun to appear in the edifice. The Zandl Group, a New York-based trends forecaster which regularly interviews a panel of 3,000 consumers aged 25-35, recently picked up its first significant criticisms. 'The iPod is far and away the most popular tech gadget with our panellists - however, for the first time we are hearing negative feedback about the iPod from some panellists,' said the organisation's spokeswoman, Carla Avruch. '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.'
We don't think that the fact that everyone has one means the iPod is doomed. The problem facing Apple is the growing number of people who are mad about the battery life and the fact that it can't simply be replaced at a reasonable cost. The other complaint we hear most often is the iTunes proprietary system which won't allow Windows users to download iTunes songs to a non-iPod digital player without going through some real technical gymnastics.

We're fond of the iPod nano for jogging and working out: but it needs to hold more than 4GB. We like the fact that's it's a flash player with no moving parts and it never skips. But there is a lot of competition on the horizon: Microsoft's Zune and Samsung's K5 (with built-in loudspeakers). We're not buying any new iPod products until we see what Jobs says at the conference and until we see what Apple introduces for the holiday season.