First of, I admit that I have owned an iPod. I owned it very briefly and did admire the attention that Apple has given to designing a well rounded MP3 player. However, I gave it away very quickly. I owned several other MP3 players before and after the iPod. The MP3 player that I am currently using is made by Samsung; and the main reason I bought it for was the radio tuner, followed by size and ease of use. Which overall brings me to the topic at hand, the future of the MP3 players in general and iPod in particular.
The reasons that I did not keep my original iPod and also gave away multiple iPods that I received as promotional gifts and purchase bonus are very simple on one side but point out some of the issues that will, of course only in my humble opinion, doom its existence.
To start with iTunes rubs me the wrong way. As a more technical person than the usual user, I did not like how iTunes took over my computer (with little to no choice), was consuming resources precariously and would not allow me to transfer tunes to anything else but iPod.
I went on to discover something else about myself while dealing with the iPod (and other MP3) players. You could call it a journey of self discovery of sorts. Though the idea of downloading and assembling your own tunes seems pretty cool at first, the stark truth is, it is a LOT OF WORK.
I did a completely statistically irrelevant survey to confirm my suspicions, I asked 7 people about their approach to iPod music management; astonishingly enough they did the same thing. Once they had loaded their favorite tunes, they made very few changes to their music play lists or downloaded music, ripped their CDs etc. Of course there are plenty of people who enjoy doing these things, they just don't seem to be in the majority.
This must probably go under the more "dah" moments in live. We all relish the choice, but are not willing to put in the effort. Thus, I like the other people in my survey realized that this downloading and song organizing part of the iPod does not work for us as the maker intended.
Thus, I am looking for the next wave of devices that truly promises to me the notion of complete choice by giving up any choice whatsoever. Counterintuitive you may say,"hah!" but not truly so I retort. I am thinking here of interactive, internet based radio available 24/7 with or without commercials, where I can pick a genre/type of music I feel like listening to, then I am able to make my preference known within the type by either fast forwarding or ranking the tunes. The new interactive radio station would learn my strange music ways and be able to quickly become adapt at knowing what to play to me, even be able to play medleys, cross music boundaries and present new bands/songs/artists to me.
No more iTunes, no more needing to download anything, if I like a song I can ask for more frequent replay. I pay or not pay (via commercials) professionals to go out there and find the stuff I like. A serving of Indy... here you go, newest Pop/Rock, right away Sir...
Now is this the stuff of far away future? Was I too quick to write the obituary of such an ingenuous device? I, of course, do not think so. The companies at the best position to deliver this are the companies that already sell us our daily other gadgets, such as the wireless carriers. They have realized this potential and working on services and devices that are nudging us ever closer towards this music nirvana. Unfortunately, they have only one way track thinking, e.g. make money directly on subscription services. Leaving out tremendous potential for ad dollars, cross marketing of goods (how about being able to buy tickets for a band you just heard that will be performing in your area. The carrier would know where you are located, they would know you just rated the song highly, bingo! you are ripe for the plucking.). I don't want to mention merchandising, but I think I just have. In other words there is potential beyond subscription for revenue.
I also see potential for our friends from satellite Radio; they have the content, but they need to get off the bandwagon that radio is one directional. The radio of the future is interactive. Their gadgets need to be improved and maybe a free service would be available for people that do not want to do subscription, but would be willing to get commercials or merchandising messages etc. Wow, this could be cool.
Apple is no dummy either. I believe, they have foreseen the death of the iPod already ;o) and I am convinced they are working diligently on the next best thing. What could this be? How could they capitalize on the trends I am predicting (crystal ball and all). iPhone is a start of course, but they just now get to a device that has sufficient bandwidth to access high quality music streams. What's the other way? Keep the best part of the iPod alive indefinetly and ensure it can get licensed easily and it gets into as many places as possible (Unfortunately licensing is not one of Apple's strengths). What am I talking about? The iPod's connection interface of course. Your radio clock has it, your car has it, your zip pocket in your pants will have it before you know it. It should become more ubiquitous than plain m&m's that don't melt in your hand. Thus, there could be a way in which the iPod could live on forever, however, its days as the music player of choice are numbered.