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iPod – iDon’tGetIt

I know Apple is the king of MP3 players. In fact, one could argue Apple is now more of a music company than a computer company, but that’s a whole separate post…

I admire the way Apple innovates. There’s no question they have some of the most awesome looking products in the industry. That said, why do people continue to pay a premium for a commodity like an MP3 player? I know…it’s a fashion statement. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fashionable guy, so it’s no surprise that I own a Creative MP3 player, not an iPod.

In perhaps the latest example of how life imitates art, Apple comes out with yet another, even smaller MP3 player with less capacity than most others available today. The reason I say “life imitates art” is because Apple is getting dangerously close to the scenario presented in this great spoof ad created by Scott Kelby. Take a moment and watch it. It’s hilarious, only because each new iPod model seems to be getting closer and closer to this “flea” version.

I’m sure Apple will sell a gazillion of the new “nano” model. It’s trendy. It’s tiny. Holy cow! I feel like such an idiot paying $199 for my Creative 40-Gig player when I could have waited to buy a 4-Gig iPod nano for only $249.

I wonder if these iPod shuffle and nano customers are the same people who routinely overbid on eBay? More importantly, how do I get a mailing list full of them so that I can start tapping into this segment?…


Bud Bilanich

Great post Joe. Thanks for the link to the "Flea" ad. I'm always advocating common sense solutions to business problems. Your post really shows how people are often willing to throw out common sense in search of "cool, hip and now".
Bud Bilanich
The Common Sense Guy


Most people don't care about space. Plus space doesn't really matter, as it'll shuffle the songs every time you plug it in.

Evan Erwin

You're just not seeing the Big iPicture ;)

The Nano replaced the Mini, as the Mini used a small hard drive and could not be used for jogging/rough exercise, etc. The Nano uses flash memory, like the Shuffle, which doesn't care how much you shake it, the music won't skip and you can't damage the product.

Also, price is not a factor when you think about some of the points you made:

* Fashion
* Looks
* UI (90% of non-iPod mp3 players have the WORST UI's on the history of the earth...tiny little silver buttons, anyone?)
* iTunes
* Status

Let me tell you that last one is more important than you may realize. Particularly for teenagers. Regardless of 10x the size, that Creative player won't get half of the street cred/respect/'props' that an iPod will, period.

Michael Miller

Evan's right. It's more of a status thing than anything else. But also don't discount the fact that the iPod remains the easiest-to-use portable music player, from it's extremely practical dial control to it's easy PC interface.

Now, what I *really* don't understand is all those iPod books that keep selling so well. Why in the world would anyone need a book to use an iPod?

Joe Wikert

Well, as a non-iPod user, I can say the books sell because those people aren't all that smart, right? After all, that was my original point.

Seriously, I get the whole fashion thing. It's the same reason why people used to (and some still do) buy the Cadillac over the Chevy, despite the fact that it's the same car with a bit more chrome. Also, as I originally said, I'm sure Apple will sell quite a few of these fleas, er, nanos. I'd just like to come up with the next overpriced fashion statement product so that I can laugh all the way to the bank. Do you think I could lure these people in if I say our next book has a completely new and cool user interface: it opens from the *left* rather than the *right*? Maybe I'm on to something...


You could easily phrase your question more generally:

"Why do people continue to pay a premium for any commodity?" Why buy expensive clothes, when cheap ones will keep you just as warm? Why buy a nice car, when a cheap Mazda would do? Why eat a nice meal, when beans and rice could nourish you just as well? Why buy a nice watch when a cheap drugstore watch keeps time just as well? Why buy any higher-priced "luxury" item when a cheap commodity version of it exists? This is not a simple question, and it certainly isn't unique to the ipod.

It oversimplifies hugely to say it boils down to being "fashionable" and "I'm not a fashionable guy". There are quite a lot of unspoken value judgements in that statement. Are you self-consciously "anti-fashion"? Do you go out of your way to find bargains, or do you just tend to buy the cheapest thing you see? These are all really value decisions that are different for different people, and perhaps differ depending on the purchase itself. For instance, I could not care less about my car, I do drive the cheapest car I could find that was reasonably reliable. It would be unthinkable to me to buy a fancy BMW or something. But, I do have an ipod, and a Powerbook, and it would be likewise unthinkable to me to buy some cheaper Dell Windows laptop.

Kim Dushinski

As a fellow Creative Zen Xtra 40G owner I have to say I agree with you 100%. Plus, on our Creatives we can put all types of files, not just audio files. I love my Zen!

Brad Hill

Evan, I'm not sure your list gets at the core truth. My "why iPod" list has just two entries:

1) Brand. I have watched individuals and families buy iPods in stores, and it's clear they have no idea what they are buying, what is an MP3, or that alternatives to the iPod even exist. The iPod brand has become generic, much the way "to Google" means "to search," even though Google might not be the best engine for many people and many queries. But this begs the question: How did the brand become so dominant?

2) Synergy. iPod's relationship with iTunes and the iTMS provides a complete solution unmatched anywhere else. Sony recognized this formula and catastrophically attempted to copy it with the Connect service and the first line of MP3-denying digital Walkman. Competing players that hook into Rhapsody, Napster, and Yahoo! Music Unlimited suffer from poor adoption of the subscription model, but even more because those programs do not have a legacy of desktop music management as iTunes does.

The upshot: Even though none of the three synergistic elements (iPod, iTunes, iTMS) is particularly good, in my opinion, the completeness of the solution is reassuring to consumers aware enough to see that picture.

Jim Minatel

I'll consider an Apple MP3 player when it comes time to replace my Rio Cali. I've never bought any Apple product in my life.
I've bought 3 Rios (starting with their original Rio PMP 300 in 1999) and when I bought the 2nd and 3rd, I kept fooling myself thinking "this time the software and the interface will be better" to justify buying one of the least expensive, biggest flash storage devices available. I was wrong.
I think the iPod popularity is more than just a fasion/coolness statement. Even many Microsoft proponants have said good things about the iTunes software and iPod interface. (Scoble had a famous post a while back challenging MSFT to develop a better alternative to iTunes/iPod although I can't find that post now.) Joe, based on your good experience, I'll put Creative on my list too when the time comes to buy.
And, BTW, the price today for a 1Gb iPod Mini on Amazon is $124. The 1GB Creative Muvo is $129. And the 1GB Creative Zen Nano runs $119-141 depending on the exact model. So, when comparing similar products, there isn't always a premium price for tha Apple. In this category, Apple is amongst the lowest price.
Does other manufacturer even currently have a 4Gb flash based player? I'm not aware of one to compare prices on versus the iPod Nano.
And re the motorolla, I'd be very happy with a phone that holds 100 songs. I don't need 40Gb worth of songs with me whereever I go.

Joe Wikert

I guess I'm a music freak, but I can't imagine spending $100 (or more) on an MP3 player that only has 1 gig of memory. I don't want to have to figure out what songs I can and can't fit on the device, and what mood I'm likely to be in when I listen to it. I went through that hassle about 4 or 5 years ago with my first MP3 player. The reason I went with a super-sized device is so that I can have everything with me at all times. There's even plenty of room to download all the podcasts I could possibly care to hear.

100 songs?! Yikes! I'd spend more time trying to figure out exactly which 100 to load than I would actually listening to them!

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