mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Does every product have to be a world-beater?

via InstaPundit comes an article calling the iPod Shuffle a value-subtracted product.

No doubt they'll still sell millions, such is Apple's brand and momentum. But I don't think the Shuffle will have anything like the impact of the original iPod itself.

Well, keep in mind the original Apple iPod was hugely innovative. It invented a new product category, the easily portable large hard drive MP3 player. Before the iPod, there were hard drive based MP3 players, but they were huge - imagine a desktop hard drive in a case. There were also flash-based MP3 players with manual storage space. The iPod was the first to combine a sizeable hard drive with a compact device, and with a clean interface to boot.

The Shuffle is not a whole product category the way the original iPod was. But that doesn't mean that Apple shouldn't have made it. There are a ton of reasons for Apple to produce it:

- It gives Apple an entry in the market for people who want an MP3 player, but don't want to spend $250 or more. Without the Shuffle, these people would either buy another brand or no MP3 player at all.

- It fulfills a need for those who need a flash-based MP3 player - ie those who exercise or for other reasons don't want to carry a hard drive around with them.

- It gives Apple a low-end MP3 player that works with their iTunes music store. While iTunes isn't going to make Apple rich, it is profitable. Every iPod, be it shuffle or not, is another music device that can play iTunes, and the more people who can play iTunes, the more Apple will make from iTunes.

The author also sees the fact that the Shuffle doesn't have an LCD or lots of storage space. The fact is that flash memory is way more expensive than the micro hard drives in the iPod and iPod mini, so making a flash-based device with that much memory would be cost-prohibitive. But there are advantages to flash devices - smaller size and no hard drive to damage. The LCD screen is a personal decision. I tend to think an LCD on a device as tiny as the iPod shuffle would not be a very good LCD. It would add cost, bulk, and not a whole lot of functionality.

I really take issue with the idea that a product that is not a groundbreaker shouldn't be produced, which is the sense I get from the author's last couple paragraphs. But most products aren't groundbreakers, but that doesn't mean they don't fulfill very real needs for some people, as well as make their companies lots of money. In the early 90's, Ford introduced the Explorer. It wasn't all that innovative - other competitors like Jeep had been making mid-sized 4-door SUV's since 1984. But Ford sold millions of them a year - at one point they were the best-selling vehicle in America. The Explorer wasn't that innovative, but it made Ford buckets of money. And that's what making a product is all about.


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