Why there will be no iPod killer — ever

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

When the words "iPod killer" first appeared, my first reaction was to blush slightly, cutely bat my eyelashes and think "How touching, these companies finally understood that Apple is on something"… Now, the exact same words tend to make me angry and puffy in a record-setting time — and that ain't a pretty sight.

Why? Because it looks like the whole consumer electronics industry is now trying to "kill" the iPod instead of inventing something of their own. Do you launch a new MP3 player? Well, make that an iPod mini killer. Some kind of watered-down DVD player? OK, that'll get rid of your iPod photo! And if your engineers are working on a vaguely rectangular device capable of emitting sounds, you gotta market it as the Shuffle exterminator…

My Economics 101 textbooks taught me that competition was the mother of innovation and the basis for a sound market. This, I am more or less ready to believe but we seem to have now left the competition zone to enter the obsession one, this dangerous area where, instead of wondering what customers need and how they could solve their problems, manufacturers focus on what the others already do — i.e. products that are already there, products from which only innovations and no breakthrough can come.

Thanks to the efforts of dozens of highly capable engineers worldwide, I can now go to my local Darty (the French equivalent of a "JCPenney meets Target meets CompUSA only less appealing" store) and pick about twenty gum-pack sized devices that do more or less the exact same thing — with some varying features here and there of course but nothing worth changing the sales pitch. Do I want to buy these? Not really… They are, after all, copies of a truly innovative product and who wants to buy a copy when they could have the added coolness of the original — even if it's sans Ogg Vorbis support?

As great as it is, an iPod is an iPod and will always be. It is the best designed music player on the market, the most good looking, the most robust one but it is what it is and, in some time (maybe weeks maybe dozens of years), people will want to move on to something new — maybe something else from the iPod engineers, who I am sure have many tricks up their sleeve, maybe not. The iPod may be the absolute best (which I do believe) but consumers will get tired of it, much like they get tired of any product, from computers to electric cheese graters. So instead of attacking a superb device by adding features to a product that doesn't really need any, what about trying to come up with something that will appeal to different people, solve new problems? That's what Apple did when they designed many of their most successful products after all…

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different!


2005-03-30 18:47:56
Absolutely Right
You're absolutely right - it always puzzled me on several levels - first, that there's room for only one portable player so any possible replacement has to "kill" the number? When Ford comes out with a new Mustang, do people call it a Honda Civic killer? When Epson releases a new printer, people don't go all wonky and call it a HP killer because it has some new feature ... yet, every possible electronic device is a 'potential ipod killer ... $300 sunglass that hold 20 songs - ipod killer ... $250 game device with a 3 hour battery life and in which songs must be stored on a memory stick - ipod killer ... it's from a company with a recognizable name even in a totally different field - but if they release a music player - ipod killer (Canon camera or Virgin).

Is is some ancient DNA level hatred of Apple that any success Apple has must be "temporary" and so they, the seer that they believe they are can be the first to sneer, "I told you so?"

Like they even understand the OS battle of the late 1980's and 1990's - not only is the world entirely different but they fail to even consider that if Apple had a substantial portion of the OS market, dozens of companies would have swooped in to buy out Apple ... but hey, that would require thinking outside of the crowd - must safer to just repeat what they've heard - not really journalism but what they hey, beats being having to research and work for a living ...

The whole truth is that only Apple ahs beaten back dozens of companies with trillions of dollars of market cap to survive ...