Why there will be no iPod killer — ever

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FJ de Kermadec

FJ de Kermadec
Mar. 30, 2005 02:07 AM

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When the words "iPod killer" first appeared, my first reaction was to blush slightly, cutely bat my eyelashes and think "How touching, these companies finally understood that Apple is on something"… Now, the exact same words tend to make me angry and puffy in a record-setting time — and that ain't a pretty sight.

Why? Because it looks like the whole consumer electronics industry is now trying to "kill" the iPod instead of inventing something of their own. Do you launch a new MP3 player? Well, make that an iPod mini killer. Some kind of watered-down DVD player? OK, that'll get rid of your iPod photo! And if your engineers are working on a vaguely rectangular device capable of emitting sounds, you gotta market it as the Shuffle exterminator…

My Economics 101 textbooks taught me that competition was the mother of innovation and the basis for a sound market. This, I am more or less ready to believe but we seem to have now left the competition zone to enter the obsession one, this dangerous area where, instead of wondering what customers need and how they could solve their problems, manufacturers focus on what the others already do — i.e. products that are already there, products from which only innovations and no breakthrough can come.

Thanks to the efforts of dozens of highly capable engineers worldwide, I can now go to my local Darty (the French equivalent of a "JCPenney meets Target meets CompUSA only less appealing" store) and pick about twenty gum-pack sized devices that do more or less the exact same thing — with some varying features here and there of course but nothing worth changing the sales pitch. Do I want to buy these? Not really… They are, after all, copies of a truly innovative product and who wants to buy a copy when they could have the added coolness of the original — even if it's sans Ogg Vorbis support?

As great as it is, an iPod is an iPod and will always be. It is the best designed music player on the market, the most good looking, the most robust one but it is what it is and, in some time (maybe weeks maybe dozens of years), people will want to move on to something new — maybe something else from the iPod engineers, who I am sure have many tricks up their sleeve, maybe not. The iPod may be the absolute best (which I do believe) but consumers will get tired of it, much like they get tired of any product, from computers to electric cheese graters. So instead of attacking a superb device by adding features to a product that doesn't really need any, what about trying to come up with something that will appeal to different people, solve new problems? That's what Apple did when they designed many of their most successful products after all…

Until next time, dear Mac users, enjoy thinking different!

FJ de Kermadec is an author, stylist and entrepreneur in Paris, France.