The Not So Great Future Of The iPod

by Tanner Godarzi Mar 16, 2007

Face it. Two roads lay before the iPod, good and bad. I have already covered the good, but the bad is a whole other story. That little metal and white player will eventually go the way of the Sony Walkman. Why would that be? Hasn’t the iPod been a major hit? Yes, but all good things come to an end.

Any Apple fanatic will promote the iPod to its fullest extent. The halo effect is a great thing at bringing in new Mac users but you can only be amazed by a portable music player so much. Don’t get me wrong, I like the iPod; as I type this I’m watching Heroes (great show but too fast paced for me, I prefer Lost which just happens to be on in half an hour) on my iPod. But as with any electronic device, as with any electronics manufacturer, they will go down. It’s inevitable, as with anything; whether you want it to or not, your computer or gadget will become obsolete.

So how does the not-so-great future of the iPod pan out? Well, last week I covered the great future of the iPod and listed how Apple could improve functionality through wireless features, allowing content to be downloaded anywhere. Common sense would say “Oh, he’s going to say the battery life is going to prevent the iPod from getting this awesome feature so that’s how it’s not going to be so great.” Wrong: the Zune (which sounds like a toddler’s toy) can pull off wireless with a very good battery life. By the time Apple adds WiMax support, if ever, they will have access to batteries able to support that kind of power consumption.

What will eventually ruin the iPod is not what makes the device but what powers it, what drives it at the core. The three words that have given Apple a monopoly, a stronghold on the MP3 market: Digital Rights Management. It is this that so easily allows Apple to control the portable MP3 market.

If you remember Steve Job’s open letter about DRM then you will know that was merely a letter saying “Yeah, we hate DRM, sort of.” Even some record labels are offering DRM music. The downfall of the iPod will be Steve Jobs and Digital Rights Management.


  • Kindly elaborate.  Is it the removal of DRM or conitnued use of DRM that will cause the downfall and exactly how?

    tundraboy had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 132
  • I disagree.  There has always been DRM in the form of physical media.  You may be able to play cassettes in any cassette player, but you couldn’t play them on a record player, a cd player, or your old 8-Track.  Now, the limitations are deliberately imposed and people take offense because the act is obviously intended to restrain.  Tell anyone they can’t do anything they think they should be able to do and some get their feathers ruffled.

    DRM will survive as long as it isn’t too restrictive.  Most people using iPods don’t seem to notice.  It’s the über-geeks who take offense because they want more expanded use.  That’s understandable, but there are workarounds.  I think the point really is, they just don’t want to work for it…

    I’m not a fan of DRM, but I recognize that I have a choice not to buy music with it.  As such, I rarely do buy DRMed music.  Best workaround yet.

    ricksbrain had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 14
  • DRM sells zero ipods. You were on much firmer ground when you said that all good things come to an end; of course they do. And concerning loose usage of the word “monopoly” you might look it up. It means exclusive ownership (no competitors). There are a seemingly infinite number of alternative ways to listen to music while on the go.


    Jim Stead had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 10
  • The downfall of the iPod would be something better than the iPod. It’s not that hard for a company to come out with an end-to-end solution for Music/Movies/TV/Games/Etc. Problem is nobody wants to attempt to compete with the current players. How many times have you bought a Creative Zen then went to the Creative Store… It’s not an End-to-end solution and that’s what makes the iPod work and will always give it that edge.

    While Zune does a good job at getting there, nobody knows what the heck it is. The commercials are garbage, in typical MS fashion. It’s an end-to-end solution but at the cost of abandoning all previous MS music store customers allready using the the some 10million MP3 players out there… It too has DRM and a more restrictive one at that.

    The only thing that would fail the iPod would be a long run of bad products. And Steve being who and how he is I don’t think we’ll see a 90’s era Apple product again. So keep it light, simple, and feature packed with the back end system to allow me to get whatever I want on it and I’m happy. I don’t have to go here, there, everywhere just to get music/movies/tv/games/etc. And I don’t have to worry “will it work with my next OS upgrade? Or will the next version abandon this DRM policy?”

    xwiredtva had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 172
  • Saying DRM sells iPods is nonsense! The iTunes Store is a convenience that MIGHT tend to keep an iPod user tied to the iPod, but its importance to selling iPods right now is minimal.

    Why is it so hard to understand that the iPod is king because it combines THREE powerful tools: an easy to use mp3 player that looks great too, a way to catalog music and get it onto the hardware, and a way to acquire music.

    The iTunes store is just one way to acquire music, using the iTunes software to rip CDs is another, downloading from other sites (legal and illegal) is yet another. In other words, the iTunes store (and DRM) is a very very small part of the whole enchilada. (Not to mention, easily avoidable.)

    DRM or no DRM - that has nothing to do with the iPod’s success.

    davidwb had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 32
  • Absolutely the worst article I’ve ever read on Apple Matters, and I’ve been a deaily reader for years. Tanner, if this is the best reason you could come up with that the iPod could have a bad future, then the iPod has a rosy future indeed!

    Since the most popular iPod holds 1000 tunes, and the average owner fills their iPod right up, then the (again, on average) 22 songs on that iPod bought from the iTunes store - the only DRM music an iPod plays - ads to just 2.2% of the music. If that doubles, heck if it quadruples - no, lets say it goes up 10 times, in the next few years (possibly but unlikely) the majority of music is still DRM free.

    The upshort is this; DRM has bugger-all to do with iPod success or failure. iPods are filled with music from CDs mostly - not surprising as CD sales still make DRM music sales like pretty small.

    So Tanner, please think about what you’re writing about before making an ass of yourself. Apple watchers expect Apple commentators to know what they’re talking about - or they get hauled over the coals - like you are here.

    Peter Cole had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 7
  • Tanner, you got to the meat of the article and then…stopped.  Is it DRM or the elimination of DRM that you think will doom the iPod?  It’s not clear from your last paragraph.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • This is insanely stupid article. You are joking, right?

    Timo had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 1
  • The reason DRM will kill the iPod is the fact that EMI considered removing Digital Rights Management from it’s catalogue. That’s already something in the way of getting rid of DRM. Apple would probably be the last to remove Digital Rights Management because it provides a lock in for some people with large music collections. iTunes represents a huge percentage of digital download sales that if the record labels were to remove DRM they would start with smaller online stores first to see how it would fare it out which would leave Apple last.

    Even still Apple has DRM in it’s movies, videos and tv shows, these users are still tied into iTunes, becoming so dependent on the software and the player it’s only time before Apple runs iTunes into the ground and the iPod. They keep throwing money into it. The iPod design is at a stop gap, you can only turn the screen and flip the controls, make the player skinny so much before people will become tired of the iPod.

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 70
  • The article, and the addition, still don’t make a lucid argument.  The iPod will evolve, just as CE has done for the last 30+ years.  I doubt that DRM is anything more than a bump in the road.

    gwschreyer had this to say on Mar 16, 2007 Posts: 23
  • I tend to agree that an open DRM (or DRM-free) system will be more popular. After all, it will win the investment dollars of a great number of companies.

    For now, Apple’s steps are good. Apple’s vertical control of the system has enabled it to compete with the existing distribution channels more effectively. If Apple doesn’t open up at some stage it’ll kill the iPod. But that doesn’t have to be now.

    Personally, I’m a firm believer in open competition at each level. I’d like to see Apple open up (maybe even sign on the disgruntled “plays for sure” companies).

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Mar 18, 2007 Posts: 228
  • Every product “runs its course” and the iPod is no exception. I thought you were going to say that battery power + video + wireless is the downfall of the iPod but suggesting that Apple’s relatively loose DRM isn’t what I expected.

    I’ve never owned a Windows portable device but it seems MS can’t make up its mind about music download outlets and flavors of DRM between retailers. As long as there are draconian forms of DRM, Apple’s is the best of what we’re stuck with.

    It would be great if the iPod had Bluetooth and wi-fi but, honestly, wired connections are fine for most of us. What makes the iPod easy to use is the lack of complicated setups and wireless connections inevitably give us trouble at some point. Wired always works.

    We’re all envisioning the meld of iPod + moible phone but the non-Apple solutions have been found lacking. I recently met someone who owned an LG Chocolate and she _never_ loaded (or bought) any music onto her “music” phone. My Nokia E61 load and play music wirelessly but its faster (and easier) to grab my 1st-gen Shuffle and earbuds.

    What will end the iPod is a lack of vision. But that’s not something Apple is short on.

    Eric Brodeur had this to say on Mar 18, 2007 Posts: 23
  • As long as there are draconian forms of DRM, Apple’s is the best of what we’re stuck with.

    Name one difference between Fairplay and PFS that makes Apple’s DRM “relatively loose” and MS’s DRM “draconian.”

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 18, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I should have broken that paragraph in two. “Draconian” wasn’t intended to be MS-specific, rather it varies by vendor.

    Apple allows burning to CD seven times and authorization of five other Apple devices for playback. Wal-Mart allows burning onto 10 CDs and any number of portable players (don’t know if there’s a hard limit).

    CinemaNow offers some movies for burning to DVD while others must be watched via a PC; their FAQ states iPod and PSP devices are not supported but don’t mention which are; another satement on their site mentions “Purchase any BUY movie marked ‘Plays on 3 Devices including Portable Players’ and download to your PC” but not every movie has a portable player license.

    MS decided the Zune isn’t a PlaysForSure device so anyone with a PFS library will need to burn CDs and import those tracks for use with Zune. Same goes for the MSN Music Store. Your Zune Marketplace purchases won’t play on a PFS device. One Zune can be synced to a PC and I’m not sure how many PCs can be authorized for playback. Some Zune Marketplace content cannot be shared with others even though Zune offers 3-day/3-play sharing.

    Xbox Live Marketplace movie rentals expire within 24 hours of pressing Play. Make sure your calendar is wide open should something come up and cause you to miss that 24 hour window. Even Blockbuster allows you a few days to rent a DVD (with all the extras).

    I’ll drop “draconian” and substitute it with “inconsistent” and “confusing” for Windows DRM. In any event, anyone buying DRM content and later switching OS platforms is in for a real headache.

    Eric Brodeur had this to say on Mar 19, 2007 Posts: 23
  • Thanks for clarifying, Eric.  I’d argue that what you describe makes Apple more consistent (slightly) but actually LESS “loose,” not more.  In fact, when MS moved from PFS to ZM, it became MORE restrictive in order to emulate Apple’s model.

    But ultimately, it’s like arguing whether you’d get kicked in the nads five times or six.  No matter who it is, it’s all bad and it all needs to go.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Mar 19, 2007 Posts: 2220
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