When the iPod was first released in 2001, the notion that it would eventually spawn two new product families for Apple that would become the bulk of their revenue and profit was unimaginable.
Product experience began with the 4th generation iPod Nano. This early phase lasted a good 2-3 years in the early to mid 2000s. In those days, a heavy reliance and emphasis was placed on iTunes as the central focus of the fledgling ecosystem. The original value proposition that was successfully marketed to consumers was the ability to manage their song library and import CDs. Thus, for millions of consumers, the enticement into the Apple ecosystem began.
Whilst my iPod experience as a end user is with only one model, I have watched as Apple filled out the product line over the years, to maximize and cover all aspects of the market and ensure an iron grip on all segments. As of 2014, the iPod product line that saved Apple barely gets second thought as it’s younger siblings within the iOS ecosystem grab all the attention. It still has an impressive record though, and any company which can claim 6M quarterly sales for a product after 12 years can pay itself on the back.
Having passed a decade as a distinct product line, it will be interesting to see how Apple innovates and drives future growth for the iPod. The inclusion of the iPod Touch model as part of the iPod line tends to distort the pure iPod product; it’s form factor and iOS functionality make it more like a smartphone after all.
The iPod product line is the closest fit for any future iWatch type product in terms of size, particularly the iPod Shuffle. One key area of functionality that can offer further growth for Apple is to expand Airplay capabilities so that all their devices can easily connect to each other. The existing audio/video outputs of Airplay are just the beginning when you think about remote controlling another iOS device. I will revisit this topic against the iPhone & iPad product pages, but I will comment here on the Apple headphones. I’m sure this idea already exists, but a wireless headphone/microphone accessory with AirPlay capability would offer a wide range of applications: alternative to wired car hands free systems, voice command control in games, call centre/office hands free units, etc…
The iPod product line (with the exception of iPod Touch) currently uses processor chips outside the in-house Ax chipset so this kind of product enhancement is yet to be seen. Naturally the limited functionality of the product line does not justify this kind of enhancement and would undoubtedly affect battery requirements.
In the context of the previous hundreds of millions units sold, the iPod product line has passed it’s earlier stages of the product lifecy cake so it will be interesting to watch Apple’s product strategy for the line. Perhaps 2014s future announcements will unveil this exit/realignment within future innovations?