The Obsolescence of iPod

Reading MobileWhack’s discussion of the “iPhone,” you almost get the impression that it’s conventional wisdom that the iPod will soon be obsolete. In fact, Simon says as much:

With micro hard drives like the one in the iPod mini making their way into phones, Apple’s fantastic product — which has single-handedly turned the company into a darling on Wall Street — will soon be as obsolete as a QWERTY keyboard in South Korea. Given the choice between carrying two devices or just one, consumers will choose one, and it won’t be the iPod.

I’m hearing a lot of this kind of thinking lately, and it seems to come from two directions: cell phones are going to subsume this or that thing, and also, iPods are going to get subsumed by this or that thing. Both of these ideas are pretty badly flawed for the same reason: different devices are good at different things.

The first has been a canard for a while. Cell phones are going to subsume PDAs! Cell phones will subsume the Game Boy! Cell phones will subsume digital cameras! Cell phones are going to do everything, because–hey–who’d want to carry two devices? Similar questions are raised any time a device gets the ability to play MP3s. Sunglasses with MP3 playback? Apple is doomed! Who will carry TWO devices?

Well, a lot of people.

I sold my Treo because the bulky form-factor of a PDA with a phone grafted on to it did nothing for me; many, many NGage users found themselves wishing for a GBA SP instead. It turns out that the most popular phones are the ones that are–wait–phones. Extra features are just that. Extra. No one sells their digital camera because they get a 640×480 one attached to their Samsung–at least, no one who’s serious about digital photography.

It’s not purely a quality concern, either. Even if digital cameras attached to phones had 4MP resolution, and we’re not that far off, most people would still probably prefer a real camera. Why? Well, for starters, a phone is a terrible form factor for a camera; a phone interface is a bad way to interface with a camera; and so forth. Every one of these arguments applies to a “cell phone/ipod” hybrid. An iPod’s interface would be a terrible way to drive a phone, and a phone’s interface would be an awful way to use the iPod. Even if phones do have “micro hard drives” in them (and there aren’t many that do), the storage concern is just one reason most people prefer the iPod to their phones.

Apple might introduce a phone, though I doubt it. But if they do, it won’t be because they fear the “obsolescence” of an iPod.


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