iPod Juggernaut

One nice side effect of the continuing growth and success of Apple’s iPod / iTunes / iTMS platform is that we’re no longer subjected to moronic business and tech pundits proclaiming that Apple, despite its initial success, is“making the same mistake with the iPod that they made with the Macintosh in the 1980s.”

在“Why 2004 Won’t Be Like 1984”, before refuting it, I summarized this misbegotten meme thusly:

I.e., that Apple didn’t license the Macintosh, Microsoft did license their operating systems, and that’s why Microsoft won and Apple lostAnd now Apple is doing the same thing with the iPod and the iTMS.

At that time, you couldn’t swing your arms without knocking into someone making this argumentToday, thankfully, it’s dissipated. Oh, sure, it pops back up once in a while from someone exceptionally clueless, but it’s no longer part of the accepted conventional wisdom.

What happened at first is that many people had a preconceived notion of Apple as a company that throughout its history produced innovative, elegant products to great acclaim, only to see others slip in behind them, copy their designs, lower the price, and take the majority of the market — leaving Apple as a struggling niche playerThat’s how it always was, such pundits thought, and so that’s how it would wind up with the iPod, too(Never mind the fact that this notion, in the historical sense, is just plain wrong.)

Why don’t we see people spouting such nonsense today? It’d be nice to think my aforementioned驳议had something to do with it, but, alas, there’s a much simpler and obvious explanation: the iPod has become so successful that it’s impossible for anyone with even a shred of sense to compare it to the Macintosh of the mid-to-late ’80s.

The iPod turned 4 years old last October, and no matter what happens from this point onward — even if iPod sales start to decline — its success to date has been so great that it’s destined to be remembered as one of the great pop cultural phenomena of this decade, and perhaps even the greatestThe Macintosh of the ’80s was a tech-industry phenomenon, not a pop-cultural oneApple never achieved sales growth or brand awareness with the Mac like they’ve had with the iPod — not even closeDo you know anyone — anyone — who today doesn’t know what an iPod is?

And while Apple now is a darling of the business and tech press, lavished with attention and praise for nearly every move they make, that same historical bias against Apple — that which prompted the “they’re screwing this up just like they did with the Mac and Microsoft is going to steal this market away just like they did with Windows” postulation — is blinding them from the conclusion they ought to be reaching.

To wit: that the iPod is looking more and more like an unstoppable juggernaut.

Penny Wise,Pound Foolish

为了纪念两年前Macintosh的20周年,新闻周刊的史蒂文·列维采访了乔布斯The subject eventually turned to the Mac’s relatively meager market share:

If that’s so, then why is the Mac market share, even after Apple’s recent revival, sputtering at a measly 5 percent? Jobs has a theory about that, tooOnce a company devises a great product, he says, it has a monopoly in that realm, and concentrates less on innovation than protecting its turf“The Mac-user interface was a 10-year monopoly,” says Jobs“Who ended up running the company?销售人员。At the critical juncture in the late ’80s, when they should have gone for market share, they went for profitsThey made obscene profits for several years他们的产品变得平庸And then their monopoly ended with Windows 95They behaved like a monopoly, and it came back to bite them, which always happens.”

First, this is an extraordinarily insightful summary of what went wrong at Apple in the late ’80sSure, Jobs is far from an unbiased observer of Apple’s post-1985 executive decisions, but it’s very hard to argue with his conclusionAt one point in the ’80s Apple was earning staggering 50 percent profit margins on Mac hardware salesThey certainly profited richly in the short run with that strategy, but in the long run, that sort of pricing clearly limited unit sales growthThere were simply too many people unwilling or unable to pay $5,000 for a computerProfit and market share certainly aren’t diametrically opposed; the choice is which one you wish to maximize.

But second, look at that quote in the context of Apple’s iPod strategy.“At the critical juncture […] when they should have gone for market share, they went for profits.”Of all the myriad ways that Apple’s iPod position today differs from their Macintosh position 20 years ago, perhaps none is greater than this: With the iPod, Apple is going for market share.

iPods are certainly premium products, at least in the greater context of “portable audio players” — handheld audio tape and CD players typically cost around $20 or $30Go back in time to early 2001, and I wager you’d have a hard time getting most people to believe that they’ll soon be purchasing $300 and $400 handheld music players.

但与其他人相比数字music players, iPods are not only competitively priced, they’re often便宜Today’s Apple is very different than the old Apple, but many people still haven’t caught on以此为例recent essay by Joel Spolsky on “great design”

最后,iPod啊,iPodIt’s way more expensive than any competitive MP3 playerIt has fewer features than the competitionThe iPod nano, the tiny one that everybody’s raving about, is the only product I’ve ever seen that can be scratched beyond all recognition just by touching it lightly with your finger, and the shiny mirror back will be permanently covered in greasy fingerprint smudges from the moment you take it out of the elegant package until the battery wears out and you have to throw away the whole thing and buy anotherBut who cares?

The blue chip product in every category can usually be thought of as being popular尽管明显的设计缺陷奇怪的。

[...]

But that only gets you so far, as Creative, makers of the unloved Zen MP3 players, are learning the hard wayDespite having products that are better than the iPod by just about every reasonable metric, they are unable to even come close to Apple iPod’s dominant market share它们更便宜They have more memory它们支持更多文件格式等等Doesn’t matter: they still have single-digit market share while iPod is probably in the 80s somewhere.

It’s a fine essay on the whole, but as regards the iPod, Spolsky is flat-out wrongiPod是more expensive than Creative’s Zens. A mere glance at theZen Vision:M1shows that it’s a direct rival to the regular iPod: same height and width (4.1 × 2.4 inches) and the same screen size (2.5 inches diagonally).

然而,价格也是一样的A 30 GB Zen Vision:M is $299.99; a 30 GB iPod is $299(Even Apple’s price is more elegant.) So much for Spolsky’s claim that the Zen is cheaper and has more memoryMy guess is that Spolsky wrote this without even looking into it, on that assumption he didn’t even need to check the prices because, well, everyone knows Apple hardware is more expensive, right?

现在它true that the Vision:M offers more features than the iPod, including things like an FM tuner and voice recorder that are only available on the iPod as peripherals that cost more moneyBut the truth is that most people don’t care about these features, because if they did care, either iPod sales would have tanked a couple years ago, or Apple would have added themiPod competitors have been trying to out-feature-count the iPod from the get-go, and it hasn’t worked yet.

The simplicity of the iPod is one of the prime reasons for its appealThat it lacks many non-essential features is itself a feature.

Hence the dilemma faced by Creative, Sony, and all other would-be usurpers of the iPod’s throne:

  • 他们尝试添加更多功能,但没有奏效。

  • They seem to be incapable of out-designing Apple — both in terms of industrial and user interface design, the iPod is almost universally hailed as superior(Go back to the Zen Vision:M, for example: sure, it matches the iPod in height and width, but the iPod is about 40 percent thinner, 0.43 vs0.7 inchesPlus, the iPod weighs less and has much better controls.)

  • 即使他们可以design hardware as good or better than an iPod, they’re still in a deep hole marketing-wiseYou can’t beat a brand like iPod simply by throwing money at the problem.

And but so how else can they compete if they can’t win with more features, better design, or better branding? Price, right?

错误。

苹果公司并没有放弃iPod,但它们似乎确实在收费对他们来说比市场承受的还要多During the holiday season last year, for example, Apple was apparently selling iPod Nanos as fast as they could make them; I think it’s a fair bet that they could have sold just as many for, say, $50 more apiece. Instead, they priced them lower, putting additional pressure on their competitors and making iPods appealing to a broader segment of the market.

Apple can do this and still make a hefty profit because their overwhelming market share means they’re getting volume discounts on expensive components such as flash memory, tiny hard drives, and LCD screensThis means Apple can sell comparably-equipped iPods for less money, yet still make more profit(According to Apple’s quarterly financial statements, they typically make about 20-25 percent profit per iPod.2

In short, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, Apple’s iPod competitors are totally fucked.

如果他们无法赢得功能,他们无法赢得设计,they can’t win on price, what’s left? Their best remaining chance would be for Apple to somehow screw things up on its own, but considering recent history, that seems highly unlikely.

我再次回到史蒂文·列维2004年对乔布斯的采访Levy wrote:

Once a company devises a great product, [Jobs] says, it has a monopoly in that realm, and concentrates less on innovation than protecting its turf.

苹果公司在iPod方面做的并不算什么They took their best-selling iPod model, the Mini, anddiscontinued it at the height of its popularity, replacing it with the radically superior and totally new iPod Nano.

My 40 GB fourth generation iPod isn’t even two years old, but compared to the current iPods, it looks like a relicApple’s only serious competition to date has been itself.

iPod生态系统

If someone, anyone, intended to come out with a serious iPod competitor, wouldn’t it be here already? What could they possibly be waiting for? Clearly, the longer Apple maintains its lead, the harder it’s going to be for anyone to take it away.

No one’s admitting defeat, but it seems to me that some of Apple’s most-heralded competitors are giving upIf Creative’s executives felt they had any chance of winning in the market, they wouldn’t be公开威胁要发起专利纠纷, a strategy vaguely reminiscent ofApple’s disastrous look-and-feel lawsuit against Microsoft在90年代。

2003年10月,戴尔推出了他们的DJ系列of digital music players, a move heralded by many morons as the beginning of the end of the iPod例如Paul Thurrott, who, with co-author Keith Furman,写了这个宝石

Apple Computer’s tenuous hold on the portable audio-player market might soon fall thanks to a predictable foe, Dell, whose Dell Digital Jukebox (Dell DJ) is off to a strong startThe Dell unit is a bit bigger than Apple’s elegant iPod, but it features a more intuitive scrolling navigation wheel and support for Microsoft’s ubiquitous Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, which all online music services except Apple use (even staunch Microsoft competitor RealNetworks, which has its own audio and video formats, uses WMA — a telling decision)The Dell DJ, which I previewed at COMDEX last week and will review soon for Connected Home EXPRESS, also features dramatically better battery life than the iPod, lower prices, a built-in audio recorder, and — gasp — a simpler interface than the iPodAs the owner of two iPods, I’ve long expected the PC world to catch up with — and surpass — Apple’s entryMy only surprise is that it’s taken this long.

“脆弱的举动” - 我喜欢那一部分。

Now, here we are a little over two years later, and where is Dell?退出那是在哪里:

Dell will discontinue the 5GB Pocket DJ, 20 GB Dell DJ20 and 30 GB Dell DJ30 music players, said Liem Nguyen, a Dell spokesman. The company has decided to focus on the flash memory DJ Ditty player as a way of streamlining its MP3 products, he said.

Like other hardware makers, Dell has been unable to compete with Apple Computer’s success in the MP3 player marketSeveral have tried — notably Sony, Samsung and Creative Labs — but none have hit on a combination of hardware and software as winning as Apple’s wildly popular iPod and iTunes, said Richard Doherty, principal analyst at The Envisioneering Group.

One remaining argument against the iPod juggernaut might be that Apple can’t go it alone但他们是单独They have partners: iPod peripheral makersAuto manufacturers aren’t adding “MP3 player adaptors”, they’re addingiPod的适配器The New York Times reported last month thatiPod peripherals are a billion-dollar-per-year industry- 并且不断增长Assuming that’s true, my hunch is that more money is spent on iPod peripherals than is spent on competing (non-iPod) MP3 players.

The iTMS continues to grow; BBC News reported in November thatiTMS sold more music last yearthan traditional retailers like Tower Records, Borders, and Sam Goody.

In short, not only does Apple’s iPod/iTunes business not show any apparent weaknesses, they’re flat-out kicking ass in almost every way that matters.

So the interesting question is this: What happens if the next four years are like the last four years? How much bigger can Apple’s iPod business get?


  1. 我很想听听Creative的营销团队的人解释为什么他们把那个冒号放在那里。↩︎

  2. Plus, Apple sells many iPods directly from their web site and retail stores, while their competitors are stuck selling more units at wholesale prices to third-party retailers.↩︎