Ten Tech Blunders: Whoops, We Stepped in It!: Page 8

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8) The Entire Music Player Business Prior to the iPod

Blunder:

An entire industry let itself be swept under the carpet by a single product – one that was high priced, introduced late, and tends to break easily.

What Happened:

As Apple’s advertising machinery is happy to tell us, as of April 2007 the iPod had sold over 100 million units worldwide. Yes, this overpriced little piece of plastic with a hard drive is carried proudly by hipsters, tweens and middle-aged wannabes all across the globe.

Now that the iPod has assumed world domination, it’s hard to remember that it was late to the party. This music player wasn’t introduced until 2001. (In fact, it debuted the month after 9/11 – definitely not a fortuitous time for a product roll out.)

For years in the late ‘90s, the other music players had the market all to themselves. The Diamond Rio, for example, enjoyed such a high profile that it was the target of a 1998 lawsuit over illegal downloading, brought by the RIAA (which failed).

And don’t forget Creative Labs’ Nomad, the RaveMP2300, the I-Jam-100, and the awkwardly-named Eiger Labs MPMan F10. Most impressive was Compaq’s Personal Jukebox 100, which held more than 1,000 songs. All of these players piggybacked on the rabid success of Napster, with its free-for-all approach to the musical smorgasbord.

These device makers vied for an astoundingly lucrative market: young people with significant disposable income, eager to spend it on a plugged-in lifestyle. Capture this audience and uncountable fortune was to be had.

Yet for some reason, these companies couldn’t figure it out. Many of their gadgets were unwieldy, had poorly laid-out user interfaces, and low storage. Strictly teenage – or actually, not even hip enough to be teenage.

At first the iPod seemed like just another also-ran – and an expensive one, at an eyebrow-raising $399 at launch.

But then, in a stroke of brilliance, Apple created units that were interoperable between Windows and Mac. Going further, Apple negotiated with labels to create a legal online music store that was easier to use than the first movers’ sites – quickly snagging market share.

And then there’s the coolness factor. Apple turned what had been an ugly duck into a designer fashion accessory (that also plays music). Buyers seemed not to care about the comparatively hefty price tag as they frantically snapped up the must-have devices. In the ensuing melee, everyone forget that there were other companies that made music players. Diamond who?

Moral of the story:

It’s never too late to get in the market, as long as your product is vastly superior to the competition’s.


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