Happy Fifth Birthday, iPod! (And Many More?)

Mae : Wireless Mobility Blog
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Happy Fifth Birthday, iPod! (And Many More?)

On Monday, the iPod celebrated its fifth birthday. To celebrate this momentous event,analysts and commentators over the past day or so have been opining about the success of Apple’s MP3 player.

A common theme among the iPod birthday stories I’ve been perusing this morning seems to be analysis of just exactly how and why Apple came to dominate the MP3 player market in such a relatively short amount of time. Lots of people, not least manufacturers like Microsoft (which plans to release its Zune MP3 player in time for Christmas) of competing products would love to crack the winning code.

Two of the more interesting pieces (in my opinion) exploring how Apple infected the world with iPod fandom, are a PC Magazine article published on abcnews.com and a blog entry by PC World’s Harry McCracken.

In the PC Magazine article, Mike Kobrin notes that Apple captured 27 percent of the MP3 player market (pushing aside competitors like Archos and Creative) within a year of launching the iPod—and then goes on to list some of the reasons why he thinks the company has been so successful.

According to Kobrin, Apple’s success can be attributed to the following factors:

1. iPod dominated quickly because of its sleek design, innovative scroll wheel, and user-friendly music management software.

2. The iPod represented a leap forward in simplicity, and part of that was achieved by using what Kobrin describes as “a close system, requiring Apple’s software (and originally, Apple’s hardware as well).”

3. Apple’s iTunes Music Store was the lynchpin in capturing and keeping customers. The company created a complete system for obtaining, managing and using digital music.

4. Despite lots of competitor products (from companies like Microsoft, Cowan, Creative, Archos, iriver and SanDisk), the iPod still “is easiest to use and works very well.”

Kobrin does note that some people “are starting to wonder whether Steve Jobs is letting the iPod stagnate for longer than he should without any serious hardware-based innovation besides diminishing form factor and increasing capacity.” Yet he predicts that, “ even if Steve Jobs doesn't push through any radically new hardware designs or features, the iPod will see continued success.”

In the PC World blog entry, McCracken proposes a similar list of reasons why the iPod has been so successful.

1. What people really want is for entertainment to be as simple as pushing a “play” button. “The iPod comes far closer to meeting that ideal than any competitor, in part because it just doesn't all that many features,” McCracken says. “Which is why countless devices with more stuff at a lower price have failed to unseat it.”

2. Apple created a digital rights management system (DRM) that is as transparent as possible. iTunes incorporates a decent set of rules for what you can and cannot do with your music, which contrasts sharply with “the poke-in-the-eye-with-a-sharp stick that is Microsoft's digital rights management technology”.

3. iPod didn’t require people to reinvent all of their existing entertainment habits. iPod lets users carry the equivalent of a CD collection in their pockets, and purchase music in a similar way to purchasing CDs (the difference being its in digital format rather than on a disc).

4. iPod’s small form factor has been a vital element in its success. The MP3 player was “the first one that comfortably fit into your pocket. And Apple has been smart to continually release iPods that are thinner and smaller than those before them.”

Like Kobrin, McCracken warns that “technological races are never, ever over.” Unlike Kobrin, McCracken refrains from making a prediction regarding whether iPod will stay successful during the next five years.

“A smart company with cool products could still enter the field today and do to the iPod what it did to everything that proceeded it,” McCracken notes.

Anyone out there want to hazard a guess as to which companies might possibly unseat the iPod? I’m holding my tongue for now—best to wait and see what happens. In the meantime, I’m eyeing the new 8GB iPod Nano...