The iPod Was Released 10 Years Ago Today

Will Goring, 10 Nov 2011

No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

– CmdrTaco, Slashdot

My prediction: you’re going to see an awful lot of that quote today.

In a way it’s a shame that’s the famous quote, because you only have to scroll down a few pages of coments to find this gem:

Raise your hand if you have iTunes …

Raise your hand if you have a FireWire port …

Raise your hand if you have both …

Raise your hand if you have $400 to spend on a cute Apple device …

There is Apple’s market. Pretty slim, eh? I don’t see many sales in the future of iPod.

– LoudMusic, Slashdot

No, not many; just three hundred million.

Of course, while it’s fun to point these things out as manifestations of how unpredictable the meteoric success of the iPod was, and how risky it is making predictions, it’s not really fair to poke too much fun at either CmdrTaco or LoudMusic; while history vocally disagreed with their assessments, they were both, at the time, kind-of right.

CmdrTaco wasn’t predicting the sales of the iPod, and he wasn’t reviewing the iPod as an item of consumer electronics; just like everyone at the time, he was looking at it as a geek’s music player (I’m not convinced that, at that point, even Apple knew what they had; to me, everything in the initial launch says high-margin, low-sales-volume music player for Mac users.) From that perspective comparing technical features with the competition makes perfect sense, and looking at it from that perspective, the iPod was not hugely impressive. Of course, even from a geek’s perspective, I think the iPod was a long way from “Lame” (no other player had got close to that storage/size ratio,) but as a statement of opinion it’s fair enough, and the massive sales the iPod went on to enjoy do nothing to invalidate it.

LoudMusic was actually dead-right at the time – to a certain extent. It might sound laughable now to have predicted the iPod wouldn’t sell many units, but rewind 10 years and no-one could have predicted what actually happened. More importantly, to achieve that success Apple had to address the very issues LoudMusic pointed out; remember that having iTunes at the time meant having a Mac; can you imagine the iPod taking over the world as it did if Apple had never released a Windows-compatible USB version?

Where I do think LoudMusic was short-sighted is in his assumption that, having identified the bounds of their market, Apple wouldn’t take steps to extend it. It goes without saying that hindsight is always 20:20, but it seems obvious to me now that once the iPod had sold like hot-cakes to Mac owners, the Windows-compatible version was inevitable.

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