The iPod is dead. Long live the iPod.

I read the news today, oh boy. Apple announced today that they are officially discontinuing the iPod, twenty-one years and some 500 million units after launching it.

I remember how crazy we all thought Steve was back then for entering a new market that seemed completely unrelated to Apple’s core computer business. The portable music player market was dominated by Sony and Creative Labs, and it seemed like a silly, low-margin business for Apple to get sucked into. But he was obsessed on building something better than the existing MP3 players, of course. At one point during the product development, he supposedly dropped an early iPod prototype into an aquarium to show the engineers (via the air bubbles that came out) how much wasted space they still had inside that case.

At the launch event in October of 2001, he gave each of the reporters in attendance an iPod of their own, pre-loaded with Steve’s favorite CD’s. And then — get thishe also gave them each a bag with the 20 physical CD’s, legally purchased, since it would be illegal to have “pirated” the music and copied it onto the iPods.

Think about that, and you’ll realize how far we’ve come.

In fact, what none of us knew at the time was that he was also in discussions with the music industry execs about a whole new paradigm. Less than two years later the iTunes Music Store launched — and for the very first time the music from all the major music labels could be legally purchased and downloaded. This was a huge deal. He had, behind the scenes, completely disrupted the entire music industry. In the first week, customers bought over one million songs (and of course also bought a bunch of iPods to play the music on).

The iPod of course eventually led to the iPhone, and another yet industry was completely turned upside down.

I placed the original iPod ad at the top of this post. One of the things I preach to my Stanford students is “Engineers develop features, but customers buy benefits”.

If you look at the ads from other MP3 players of the day, they all featured a laundry list the technical features: MHz, kW, MB, Db, etc. The Apple ad just said “1,000 songs, in your pocket”. Benefits, not features.

The iPod is dead. Long live the iPod.

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Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, run the 4thly Startup Accelerator, and coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center. Also, I love fish tacos.

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Bret Waters

Bret Waters

Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, run the 4thly Startup Accelerator, and coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center. Also, I love fish tacos.

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