Opinion: The death of the iPod is Apple’s biggest opportunity yet

Bryan Smith weighs in on Apple’s decision to axe the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle, which could amount to the company’s biggest opportunity in recent times.

I, like many others, had my first foray into gadgetry not with a smartphone or even a feature phone, but with an iPod. I grew up at the cusp of the White Earphones Revolution, where many of us embraced Apple’s vision of an MP3 player.
The thing I recall from my latter school years – where just about all my classmates had their own iPod courtesy of a birthday or Christmas gift – was that there was truly an iPod for everyone. Where some went matte black Classic, others went Touch; and where the rest of us took up the colourful banner of the Nano, I picked up a second-generation iPod Shuffle.
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The iPod Shuffle still works for me. It was brilliantly simple in its execution, did one thing (and one thing only) well, and carried around 1GB of my music wherever I went. It was durable, light, and small enough to go anywhere – and propelled me through many a gym and study session throughout my years at university.
The iPod – next to the iPhone – is really the gadget that made Apple, Apple. What was unique about the iPod is that – contrary to the iPhone – is that it was accessible to anyone that was willing to use iTunes; and, at the time the iPod was at its zenith, most people were more than willing to get onboard with Apple’s jukebox software.
Where the iPhone grew to become an exclusive ecosystem of apps and services which locked users in for periods of a year or more, the iPod lagged behind. The iPod Touch became Apple’s sweeping attempt at coercing those who didn’t have an iPod and couldn’t afford an iPhone to come along for the ride – and for a good period that worked.
Thing is, however, that Apple doesn’t have room for part-timers anymore.
The Apple ecosystem has been continuously developed with exclusivity in mind; where one might buy one Apple product expecting to enjoy a premium experience, one is always reminded that that experience could be ever so greatly amplified by yet another product in the company’s lineup – that chain, for many years, has been iPhone, iPad, Mac.
While that ecosystem has cemented itself through applications such as Continuity and other endeavors, Apple was left to pick up the pieces of its music business. The propinquity and ubiquity of affordable Android devices that were just as much music players as they were smartphones sniped the iPod in its tracks, and the first casualty was the cumbersome iPod Classic.

“The iPod – next to the iPhone – is really the gadget that made Apple, Apple.”

The iPod Classic grew divergent from Apple’s vision; it was the iPod that many could have without becoming overly reliant on iTunes thanks to its large storage capacity, and the fact that the player had such a large capacity to begin with tussled with the vision premiered in the iPod Touch.
As the clock turned, Apple made one of its most ambitious moves yet – the launch of Apple Music.
Where users had previously relied on iTunes to store all their media and purchase new content, Apple Music obviated the need to own an iPod entirely; now any Apple device could access high-quality music services without the need for requisite storage. Where music had been left outside of the Apple ecosystem (beyond iTunes syncing purchased music between devices), Apple Music is now a driving force in the Apple ecosystem, having rallied 10 million paid users in short order.

The question is, then – as Apple has rightly asked – is there any future for an Apple device that can’t access Apple Music? The answer is no.
Thus, the scythe fell upon the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle; neither of which have benefitted from sizeable updates in recent years. While the iPod Touch limps on – relegated to Apple’s “other” product category – one can argue that the age of the iPod – and the White Earphones Revolution – has wound down to a close.
The iPod’s true success was that it not only birthed a revolution in the music industry, but that it inspired a conscious focus on design and necessity. Without the iPod, we may never have had the iPhone, and – in turn – smartphones as we know them today.
With the iPod’s death, Apple is left with its largest opportunity yet. No longer does the company need to concern itself with the age of iTunes or the sales of a dwindling media player – instead, the firm can leave itself to concentrate on furthering Apple Music.
The work on this has already begun, and it’s one that will see in earnest come December when Apple’s HomePod hits store shelves; where the company could have developed its own smart speaker solution to tackle the likes of Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, the company has developed one such offering that plays to the company’s strengths: music.

“With the iPod’s death, Apple is left with its largest opportunity yet.”

Where Apple previously built its music offerings on the premise that users could bring their own tracks, the company now has fair exclusivity on the content its users can opt to absorb – and while other options such as Google Play Music remain and, of course, users can leave their own tracks in iTunes at any time – the company can implement the lessons it has learned with the iPod into its music business; namely, the production of a streamlined product ecosystem around one key offering.
While the iPod’s best days might be far behind it, the spirited music player lives on. Apple’s AirPods carry the banner of delivering high-quality sound to one’s ears – and where AirPods can’t fill a lounge, HomePod will debut later this year; meaning that though the iPod may be nigh-on dead, the revolution it inspired will live on.
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What are your thoughts? Would you have any plans to purchase an iPod Touch going forward? Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments below!
Follow Bryan Smith on Twitter: @bryansmithSA