As we approach Apple's latest fall media event—an annual occurrence that was once described as the "iPod event," but has since morphed into the "iPhone event"—iPod fans are left wondering what will happen now that Apple's line of iconic music players have seemingly been demoted in favor of iOS. We're also fast approaching the ten-year anniversary of the introduction of the original iPod—a milestone that highlights the iPod's incredible success over the last decade, but also drives home how old fashioned the standalone iPod line really is.
Now, according to a new rumor out of TUAW relying on an inside, non-analyst source, Apple is supposedly planning to kill off the iPod shuffle and iPod classic this year. If true, that means Apple may not keep the iPod classic and shuffle around long enough for their last holiday meals. But even if the source meant in the coming fiscal year (meaning next year), it's clear that the non-touch iPods' days are numbered.
The decision makes sense. As we noted at last year's iPod event, the shuffle and nano are now nearly identical except the latter has a touchscreen with an iOS look and functionality, while the former is screenless with buttons. They basically occupy the same market space and target the same type of users, but one device is functionally inferior to the other—in fact, it's almost surprising that Apple didn't kill off iPod shuffle last year when it revamped the nano to become a mini iPod touch.
The same goes for the iPod classic, but for different reasons. Yes, there are some users who still carry around 160GB worth of music with them wherever they go, but those users are quickly dwindling as more advanced and feature-rich music listening options make carting your entire music library around unnecessary. When you have an iPod touch and a Spotify Premium account, for example, you suddenly have access to more music than what would fit onto that 160GB hard drive in the first place. And with the pending rollout of iCloud, any iTunes purchase you make can show up on your iOS device without your having to plug in and sync every time. Simply put, the iPod classic can only compete with its newer iPod siblings on storage space and virtually nothing else, and even that is becoming a less important element to music players over time.
These are realities that have lurked in the back of iPod fans' minds since the iPod touch first came out, and the sales numbers back them up. Apple's iPod sales growth has been dwindling for years now, with the quarterly unit declines beginning in mid-2009. The first three fiscal quarters of 2011 showed a seven, 17, and 20 percent year-over-year iPod unit declines respectively. But Apple says the iPod touch—when isolated away from the legacy players—is selling like hotcakes, which only means one thing: people just aren't into traditional iPods like they used to be.
"But what about the iPod nano?" Indeed, according to the latest rumor, the iPod nano would be the sole survivor of Apple's iPod strategy shift, but why? Apple knows there's a certain group of users—people who, in all likelihood, also own an iPod touch or iPhone—who want a tiny, minimalist music player for activities like going to the gym. (It does come with Nike+ built in, remember, not to mention the handful of other fitness-related functionality.) The nano is practically an iDevice add-on—an admittedly expensive one at $149 to $179 a pop, but that's likely to change if the iPod shuffle gets the axe.
These are all reasons why I would hardly be surprised if and when the older iPod style is phased out. It's 2011, and music players based on design and functionality from 2001 won't cut it. Apple may still be selling iPod classics every quarter, but Apple isn't the type of company to keep a deprecating product alive until its expiration date becomes the butt of jokes.