The Guardian's Observer newspaper has a distressing article about the decline in the iPod's popularity. Brave analysts dared speak of the decline in sales earlier this year, and now David Smith puts it together in Why the iPod is losing its cool.
His theory is that the iPod is a victim of fashion: so many have sold that it's not longer fashionable to have white earphones dangling from the sides of one's head.
It's the Palm effect: eventually, everyone who's going to buy one will have bought one (or a second or a third). The market is limited, and gets saturated.
In this day of unending technology gadgets, there is too much choice, leading to smaller than expected markets. Creative, who at one time planned to outsell iPods, has slipped to third place -- 5% marketshare! I have MP3 players on all my computers, on two portable CD players, in my Sony Clie, my Palm T|X, my PhotoTainer digital photograph storage device -- oh, and on my Zen Micro MP3 player. There was even an MP3 player on that GPS unit I bought (and returned) last month.
There is a secondary effect: the popularity of the all-in-one gadget -- the cell phone that includes the high-rez camera with zoom lens, video recorder, sound recorder, Internet access, MP3 player, games, and Palm-type functions. When my son got his new cell phone with 512MB memory for music (expandable to 1GB), he wondered what he would do with his existing 512MB player. In this area, iPods are particularly at risk, because they are underfeatured (no FM radio, no mic, etc).
A tertiary effect is that technology companies are dreadful at selling consumer products. (Exhibit A: Windows. Exhibit B: the PC.) Here is a conversation I overheard at BestBuy over the weekend, a conversation I should not have heard:
Teenage girl: "Dad, how much music can I fit on this?" She holds up a 512MB MP3 player encased in a large hard plastic bubble pack that doesn't let her touch it.
Father: "I don't know. Probably not enough."
Stepping in, I told them: "A CD fits on to about 64MB, so 512MB will hold about 8 CDs."
A technology company thinks in terms of MB and GB; a consumer-oriented company would think in terms of real-world measurements, such as CDs.
(My son adds: many people think that only iPods are MP3 players; when he shows his Creative unit, people wonder what model of iPod he has there.)
So, the iPod isn't dying. It's just reverting to its natural sales level, kind of like houses or Internet stocks or tulips revert to a natural sales and prices after an unnatural period of overheated sales.