CASE: The Apple iPod shook the tech world. Industry pundits looked at it skeptically, not because of its functionality, but because it was a portable music player launched by a company that had no business in music entertainment. How did Apple pull it off?
The Apple iPod cometh
In October 2001, a middle-aged man came up on stage, pulled out what seemed like a shinny cigarette holder and introduced it with a clincher, “an entire music library in your pocket”.
Listening to music would never be the same again. It truly was a quantum leap. 1000 songs at your disposal in a device that wasn’t larger than a pack of cards.
At the time of launch, the iPod had to compete with CD players, flash players, MP3 CD players, and Hard drive jukebox players. None of them offered the same level of portability, storage, battery life, user controls, transfer speeds or design aesthetics. The iPod offered all these in one seamless product.
Apple looked at how the product fits into a user’s everyday life and worked backward from there. It answered user needs in a way other alternatives either didn’t notice or put too much stock in.
Apple wasn’t selling the features of the new product, it was marketing the benefits of the device and what they meant to customers.
Two up on the competition
At the time the benchmark for sound quality was the Compact Disc. The Apple iPod incorporated the same level of quality so as not to be a point of contention.
Portability was the main selling proposition of devices at the time and the iPod certainly delivered. But even so, battery life was a drawback. Offering customers 10 hours of continuous listening on a single charge alleviated what had grown to be a real frustration. The ability to fast charge the same battery to 80% in one hour reduced the hassle of long downtimes significantly.
If that wasn’t enough, transfer rates were extremely slow at the time and seem almost unimaginable today. Placing 1000 songs on your iPod in under 10 minutes via firewire was like something out of a sci-fi movie when you consider a transfer time of 5 hours over USB. And, being able to charge the device over the same wire while doing so was simply remarkable. Apple saw the task of loading up a user’s favorite songs as yet another opportunity to simplify and delight.
The control dial was minimal, compatible with Apple’s love for simplicity. Just five functional buttons and a scroll wheel that made operation quick and fluid. Imagine having to click your way through 1000 songs on the CD player.
With later iterations, we saw the infusion of color, video, touch, web browsing, gaming etc. along with higher storage capacities and integration with iTunes ( a program that turned the music industry on its head)
– Factual comparison with devices it competed with.
– Demonstration why every feature = benefit.
– Communication material that addressed every grievance users had even if they hadn’t realized it at the time.
– Showed users why the product would be the better choice.
– Portfolio architecture: Co-driver strategy. Apple & iPod.
– Positioning: “Your entire music library in your pocket”.
– Limited color choice. The combination of white & silver showed perfection, elegance, and innovation mixed with purity, optimism, and new beginnings.
– The packaging, much like the brand’s mantra – elegance in simplicity
– Simple yet innovative design. Consistent with Apple’s opinion on design.
– An informative lit screen. A forward-thinking interactive control system.
– Fluid functionality. Empower the user to pick and choose easily.
– Quick Scroll. Entertain the user’s need quickly.
– Quick transfer speeds. Don’t make the user wait.
– Quick charge. Every minute of downtime adds to user frustration.
– A single wire does both. Connect, transfer and charge at the same time if needed. Eliminate clutter.
The most valuable company on earth
Today, this device may not seem revolutionary, but back then it truly was. It gave rise to the present day iPhone and iPad (which house all the features of the iPod), and while the sales of the iPod have fallen drastically from previous highs (at one time accounting for almost 50% of Apple’s revenue), it holds a special place in Apple’s stable.
For a small computer company that had a market share of approximately 5%, this device transformed the company from a niche player into a consumer electronics juggernaut that has since been revered for innovation, design, simplicity and game-changing products. Apple was repositioned as an innovation powerhouse and a force to be taken seriously in the tech world.