Monday, January 31, 2005

The Long Tail: The case against the Shuffle

Long Tail's The case against the Shuffle misses the point somewhat. Yes, the iPod Shuffle lacks a display. One must, however, consider the market niche that Apple is targeting with the Shuffle.

The original iPods provided a previously unseen level of portability for music (and data) and were a niche unto thenselves.

The iPod mini--introduced at MacWorld a year ago--was specifically designed to go after the high-end flash-memory based MP3 player market. It has captured nearly its entire niche--catapulting Apple's market share from 30% to nearly 70% in one year.

In this year's Keynote Address, Steve Jobs explained that the iPod Shuffle is specifically designed to go after the remainder of the flash-memory based MP3 player market.

In comparison, typical MP3 players have 256Mb or 512Mb of memory and cost $99 or $149 respectively. That level of memory represents about 60 (256Mb) or 120 (512Mb) songs.

The iPod Shuffle provides two 'flavors'. The 'small' one is 512Mb of memory (120 songs) for $99 and the 'large' one--with an unheard of 1Gb (240 songs) worth of memory--is only $149!! Apple is bringing their slick user interface combined with double the memory--per relative pricepoints--of their competition.

The loss of a display is a small sacrifice for the amazing practical value.

As to the signal-to-noise ratio argument, except for those songs that eventually get old through repetition, the iTunes store--Apple's online music store--sells individual tracks for 99 cents each. Gone are the days of ripping an entire album into the computer to capture a few choice cuts. (Although I don't know anyone who still does that with the built in abilities of iTunes to selectively import tracks from any given album.--Ed.) That online storefront has recently passed 250 million downloads.

In this case, the 'Long Tail' is in the heads of late adopters. Those of us who embrace the Mac and Mr. Jobs' concept of the digital lifestyle get it. Got it?

Now if Jobs and Co. can only replace the Newton...