Alas, poor iPod! We knew him, Horatio: A lament for Apple's music player

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?

  • (Hamlet Act V Scene 1)

The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time: The iPod is on a downward slope. Apple saw a sharp year over year decline in iPod sales - down 52 percent, from 12.7 million iPods sold to 6.05 million. This isn't the first quarter that iPod sales have dropped precipitously, either. What's going on?

Fair is my love, but not so fair as fickle

Apple's just-reported quarter ended in December, so that included holiday sales. It's understandable, then, that Apple saw a sharp uptick in iPod sales compared to the quarter before. But the trend is clear when you compare the 2013 holiday season to 2012: people just aren't as interested in iPods as they once were.

And why should they be? More and more people are carrying iPhones and other smartphones in their pockets, which can play music just fine. Sure, the iPod touch works with the same apps as the iPhone. But the iPod touch costs $229, which is more than many people will pay for an iPhone 5c on contract.

Apple's other iPods, the shuffle, nano and classic - all offer different storage capacities and price points, at $49, $149 and $249 respectively, but with more limited functionality: The iPod shuffle can only play music. The iPod nano has an FM radio and other functions, but lacks Wi-Fi or downloadable apps.

Then there's the iPod classic. The venerable iPod that started it all, back in 2001. The Click Wheel iPod is an anachronism - a physical hard drive inside, with a small screen. Apple's kept the device just barely on life support, a moribund legacy product that has gone untouched for several years.

For $249, the iPod classic can store 160 GB of music, which is fine if you have a big music library, or want to take videos with you and watch them on a small screen. But even Apple itself has pushed its customers towards relying on cloud connectivity with iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match, services that help Apple make up for the limited storage capacity of most iOS-based devices by relying on Internet connectivity through Wi-Fi or, in the case of phones, cell service.

Not so vile a sin as self-neglect

And that really goes to the root of the problem: At least part of the decline in iPod sales can be blamed to Apple's own ambivalence over the product line.

The iPod touch fifth generation model is getting pretty long in the tooth, too. It was first introduced in 2012, three months after the iPhone 5 went on sale, introducing a revamped seventh-generation iPod nano at the same time.

Apple followed up the following summer with a less expensive iPod touch that excised the rear-facing iSight camera and other features. Since then, however, the iPod line has gone untouched. It was something that raised eyebrows last September when Apple didn't bother to update them - something it's done almost every fall for years.

The clip-on iPod shuffle hasn't really changed very much in a while, either. You get 2 GB of storage for $49, small enough to clip to your shirt. But outside of changing colors, the iPod shuffle is still the same device that Apple's been selling since 2010.

Thou know'st 'tis common; all that lives must die

With over 6 million units sold in the holiday quarter, it's probably premature to declare the death of the iPod today. But the trend is definitely heading in one direction - the iPod isn't doing the business it used to, and, barring any major changes, probably won't.

But at the same time that iPod sales were faltering, the iPhone had another record-setting quarter. So did the iPad. The iPod's waning appeal may simply be an indicator of changing consumer tastes, and one that Apple's already compensating for by offering more appealing products with different functionality.

I, for one, still love the capacity of the old iPod classic. It's the only device besides a laptop big enough for me to transport my entire music collection, without having to resort to iCloud sync. But I don't love the click wheel or the old, busted interface - I'd much prefer to have an iPhone with all that storage capacity.

Until then, I'll settle for what I can get. But once Apple is able to get there, I'll join the exodus of customers who have moved exclusively to iOS devices and don't look back.

How about you? Do you still use an iPod, or is the iPhone enough? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Peter Cohen
  • Live long and prosper, iPod. Sent from the iMore App
  • The iPhone is definitely enough for me but I think that if apple wants to keep the iPod line going it's going to have to be as more of a touch gaming device. I have said for the last couple years and I'll say it here too, it needs a cellular data connection.
  • I have had the 160gb iPod Classic since it was introduced. I strictly use it for my car. It does freeze up on me from time to time so my plan was to buy a new one once they officially kill it off. Unless of course they go higher than 128gb on one of their other devices.
  • I actually did buy another one just last year as a backup thinking 2013 would be the end for the Classic. It was also an upgrade from an 80GB model, but I wanted to make sure I had something that would be around a while longer (and spare parts from the 80Gb if needed).
  • My 80gb is still going strong but was nearing its capacity. I also use it as a dedicated car device. I just got a used 160gb a couple of weeks ago for next to nothing. I still love my Classic.
  • My girls still have 5th gen iPod touches. My oldest, in the next 18 months will likely get an iPhone, so she will be done. My youngest is about 3 years out from getting an iPhone (or any cell phone), so could see one more iPod touch purchase in our future. That will be it for us. As a family of 5, we must have had 15-20 iPods in some incarnation since 2002. In the next three years, we will all be iPhones, on a bi-annual upgrade cycle. Seems like Apple knows where people are heading.
  • My gf has a 4th gen touch, and she wants a new one, but we were waiting for a 128GB one. She wants it because where she listens to music the most she can't use her data or have Wi-Fi, so streaming options are out. She wants to have her library on a single device.
  • Since my collection is so large, I travel with one of two filled Classics...
  • You only need a Classic if your collection is large and ALSO encoded poorly in some lossless format that requires literally ten times as much space. If you are not buying into the lossless codec illusion, you don't need the Classic no matter how big your collection is.
  • Any of my 63,000 lossless files can be transcoded on the fly to 128Kbps AACs when being transferred to my iPod or iPhone, so your argument makes no sense.
  • The iPod is dead. Apple's only choice here is to let the lineup gradually fade away or attempt to usher in a new era of higher fidelity.
  • Love my iPod Classic , 160gb not enough for me. Yes , I would love a phone or iPod touch with 200+ Gb flash memory. Until then, long live the classic!
  • I had an 80GB iPod Classic, so far as I know, it's still going strong. I gave it to my sister-in-law a year ago. I've learned to live with having only a portion of my library with me some time ago, relying on iTunes Smart Playlists to move music on and off my iPhone. The convenience of one less device to carry trumps the convenience of having it all with me at the same time.
  • No surprise, for a while now the phone has been people's music player and the need for a dedicated one doesn't really exist for the majority.. I'm guessing the ones still being sold are for kids to play games etc without having to give them a phone. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Until carrier options open up a bit more, a voice + data plan for almost any smartphone remains impractical for us. My current-model iPod touch is therefore a constant companion. I only wish I'd opted for more storage. Also: thank you for using Shakespeare quotes as subheads!
  • The problem with iTunes Match, aside from it being pretty buggy, is that the 25,000 song limit isn't even close to what a 160GB iPod an hold. It would also require a data plan to be able to use "anywhere" (which isn't even true since there are holes in coverage). I'd consider an iPod Touch if they released a 128GB version, but it wouldn't be a slam-dunk purchase for me until it was double that even.
  • I love the iPod classic and all its past click wheel family members. I take my iPhone with me everywhere but prefer the iPod Classic (or iPod Nano generations 1-5) for in the car. I can Rewind, Forward or stop by click wheel and feel without having to take my eyes off the road. Secondly, I have more storage on the iPod than I do on my phone. The strengths of one device preserve the battery life and storage space of the other and vice versa.
  • The iPhone is enough for me. The touch is too expensive especially having iPhone and the iPod Classic hasn't reduce in size and increase in capacity. So I had to let it go.... Good bye iPod... Sent from the iMore App
  • Valar morghulis, iPod. I hope the touch stays.
  • I still own an iPod Touch (5th Gen) and is still madly in love with it. That is until I can get my hands on a bigger screen iPhone or a retina iPad Mini 2, whichever comes first. Only then will I gladly give my lovely iPT5 to my nephew.
    And yes, it's sad to see that little by little its product line up is dying out but hey, who knows Apple might surprise us one day and do a complete refresh of iPods.
  • iPod now loosing stand people buying iPhone and they have it all Sent from the iMore App
  • I need a 250gb + if I wanted to keep all my music on a mobile device, however I think Music Match is good value for the money as I have access to download whatever I want onto the iphone/ipads as I feel fit.
    With "the young ones" not even bothering with downloads and listening via spotify/deezer/you tube then it understandable that the iPod classic is on it's last legs.
  • Currently listening to my iPod Classic as I write this. I've yet to fill up all 160gb, but the amount of music (and videos) on their currently is sufficient enough. I love my Classic! And yes, I have an iPhone as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • Do people REALLY need to carry their ENTIRE collection with them at all times? I've never understood that. I'm constantly listening to different things and when I'm over certain songs, I delete/replace them. I have over 5hrs of music on me a day and that's only about 2-3GB. And by the end of the week, I'm probably changing songs again. Having 160GB of music at once mind boggles me. I can see the iPod Touches fading out or being more of a "kid friendly" device until said kid can have the ultimate, an iPhone. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes. For those of us who travel for work or spend months on the road having it all with you is a godsend.
  • As Peter says, self neglect along with current phones are the main reasons. If Apple wanted to go after ipod sales, they'd add data to it along with proper specs. But they'd rather you buy an iphone and I can't blame them. Without the subsidy, margins are paper thin on these (for Apple standards). That said, my daughter prefers this type of device to an ipad. So I upgraded my iphone 5 to a 5S, and gave her my old one. The iphone 5 is already much superior to any ipod touch out there. Then throw in a 10 dollar a month tablet data SIM and it's an LTE ipod touch without voice.
  • I think the iPods are great for people who don't want an iPhone... But still is passionate about iTunes like me! I have a 7th generation nano and love it.. It's my portable music player with my collection of iTunes and I get the benefits of having an apple product with accessories for my nano.. So I can play my music in the car or at home on my bluetooth speakers which I love.. Hopefully apple keeps atleast the nano alive for people like me! Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Apple could stick it in a plastic case, give it a more modern GPU, then market it as a competitor to the 3DS and Vita.
  • i still use my old classic 30 gig which is dying as we speak. I use it at night to listen to my podcasts and music (yes imore podcasts too...) and i usually have it laying at my side. I don't want to use my iphone for this. I love my classic.
  • I use my iPod more than my iPhone. I commute on the train everyday, workout everyday and use it while I'm cleaning or cooking. I've had that iPod through almost three phone contracts now. It still works fine (although the spin wheel is a bit touchy) and I would hate it apple discontinued them and I do want to upgrade to a 160 gig model. The cloud services are to expensive and do not offer enough space and to top it off you don't get the best signal in the Chicago subways (most of the time no signal).
  • The only real iPod is the iPod Classic. My 160GB Classic is a tank that will never die! The touch is too expensive. For just a little more you could buy an Android phone with a cellular radio that is infinitely more usable. That's one of reasons why I now also have a Moto X.
  • I have a 5th gen Touch. It's great for work. Taking pictures and voice recording. Access to the internet and 32GB of storage. It is also my window to the Apple ecosystem. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • iPod sales aren't really decreasing - apple is simply seeing IPad as a feature for it's other devices rather than a device in itself. If we see it like this then arguably iPod has never been as popular! Indeed, iPod is vital. Can you imagine buying an iphone or even an IPad without an iPod being on it?
  • iPod sales are unquestionably decreasing. Having said that, I concede that tastes are changing - something I acknowledged in my conclusion. More people are drawn to more versatile devices that can make calls or have larger surface area.
  • Yes I completely agree - I think that was the point I was trying to make but you made it better! Sent from the iMore App
  • ....AND, the World, my friends, went NUTS when heard that Apple did not bid for a shitty thermostat maker who happened to be the FATHER of iPod and lost them to google!!! Dummies, look ahead. "Let’s go invent tomorrow rather than worrying about what happened yesterday."
    Steve Jobs
  • I still use an iPod classic & like having a large & diverse chunk of my music library with me. I've always bought 16GB iPhones (including my current 5s), but have recently been considering a 64GB & just loading a lot of music on there - just for the sheer convenience of not having to carry two devices. But, on the flip-side, I struggle with battery on my iPhone as it is, so using it as my one sole device will have a further negative impact on that. & as for iPod sales decreasing; there are two things here - one, a certain saturation point has been reached as the iPod has been out for so many years now, & two, people are switching to iOS devices for the reason stated above - convenience.
  • I miss the little square iPod Nano. When the battery dies, it's dead. I can't get another one. The iPod shuffle is the right size, but 2 GB doesn't even hold my Gym playlist. I waste more time trying to create a playlist small enough to fit in that limited space than I do enjoying it. Still, I'd rather not strap my iPhone to my arm when working out or mowing the lawn. As for my old 160GB iPod, it still works. Yet I never use it. It was a great alternative in its day, but that time is gone now.
  • Im a collector. Be it of apps, music, pictures, or whatever. Taking up more space on my iphone with music is just something that I've always hated. I go all day on some music & I'm just not with the extra battery usage of my main device (iphone) because I'm listening to music on it. I would rather have another device purely dedicated to music. Sent from the iMore App
  • How could anyone possibly need more than 15,000-20,000 songs with them at all times? It's crazy most people like a few hundred songs at best and virtually no one owns 1000's of CDs and needs to have them with them at all times... I have about 75Gb of music I've collected since the MP2 days way back and I listen to about 2-3% of that. So 70gb doesn't need to be on my device every second of everyday.
  • I have an iPod nano [6th Generation] that I use exclusively while I'm mowing the yard because of it's tiny size - if only it were water resistant.
    Everything else is iOS.
    (*That's not to disregard the older iterations of iPods that now live in the drawer.) :D
  • Peter, excuse me, but you are nuts. The iPhone IS an iPod, as well as a phone, an Internet connectivity device, a GPS unit, etc. The iPod has simply been absorbed into the iPhone and iPad.
  • As others have mentioned. The iPod is still great for many use cases. My boys both have iPod Touch's and have to earn the privilege of stepping up into a smartphone. Just because it is no longer the dominating "music player" in the market doesn't mean the product line should be killed off. If Apple retires the iPod then someone else (Microsoft, Google or even Amazon) will step in and fill the gap. I don't see that happening.
  • Sadly not even the iPhone suits my music needs anymore. I like to watch music videos mixed in with my regular music when i work out. Apple has made that experience worse with every iteration ios. Also the rest of the player has not really improved. I finally found an android app that behaves the way I want it to. So I guess I'll be taking my nexus 7 to the gym for the foreseeable future.
  • Microsoft responds to this new opportunity by introducing the Zune 2.0 REVOLUTION
    from the desk of Steve Balmer...
    After our competitors failure to capitalize on the emerging music player market as illustrated by their recent Q1 report of declining units shipped, we are proud to take the lead with the all new ZUNE 2.0 REVOLUTION
    Graced with a vibrant touch screen with gorgeous crisp squared corners, gone are the days of dull brown devices as we introduce our stunning hand sprayed pea green rustoleum color motif.
    Innovation as only Microsoft can, putting the rest of the industry back to the drawing board.
    Let's Dance ...
  • Apple should keep the classics. Maybe it's just a small subset of people but I know people who swear by the large capacity. I will also defend the nanos from two gens ago, the tiny watch sized ones. Bring those back. Sent from the iMore App
  • It is as always a question of money: if I have an iPhone, I do not need an iPod, since it is an iPod. Even limited storage capacity you can cope with cloud functionalities (itunes, match) and with streaming providers (like spotify, which I prefer) you have all music on board. So if you do not have ebough money for an iPhone and a respective contract, you go for the cheaper solution of an iPod. IF YOU STICK TO APPLE. You could also buy a cheap Android phone with a reasonable contract and us Spotify (there is even a free version,with add and shuffle play). I think if you decide for a storage version, you go for iPod, if you go for cloud or streaming you go for any smartphone, and this seems the future...
  • I went with the 16GB iPhone 5 because I got a really great deal on it. 16GB is to small for my tastes, so I will definitely be going with 64GB when the iPhone 7 comes out.
  • I'm going to end up falling through the cracks. I have an iPod classic (120GB) that, as with you, contains my entire music library. It's about half full. In theory, I could live with a 64GB iPod Touch, but I also occasionally load audio books on my iPod, and on those occasions, the iPod Touch would not have enough room. What I like about having my entire library with me is that I don't have to occasionally pick and choose which tracks get to go with me today. I have a massive play list that I always have on random shuffle, and it is my background music all day at my office, and whenever I travel in my car. I don't have an iPhone (I have an Android phone), and regardless of what phone I have, I hesitate to rely on my phone as my music player out of concern for battery life, given the fact that my iPod is on hours and hours at a time. I suppose the iCloud sync is an interesting idea, but not having an iPhone, and being in my car where there is no cloud connectivity, I'd be lacking access. I have been yearning for an iPod Touch with 128GB of flash memory, or more. I'd buy that and be happy as a pig in mud. I suppose I could buy some other brand of music device with greater capacity, but my car interfaces with iPods so well, that I prefer that. But, I fear that Apple won't release a device that quite fits my niche, and I may have to resign myself to accepting the fact that there aren't enough people quite in my category to attract Apple to that market.
  • Aloha: I have a Classic, 5Gen Nano & 4Gen Touch in addition to my iPhone & iPad. I use a wireless hotspot to access my music AND I have a 1TB Seagate HD to store videos & movies. I have 3 battery backups to keep it all going.
  • To Mrdevali… That comment sounds like something someone would say about the iPod when it first came out. "Gee, why would anyone need so many songs at their disposal when they can just have a couple CDs with their Walkman and could do just fine." I have 7500 songs in my computer. 95% of those where loaded from CDs (not digital purchases). I have an old 8gb nano that maxes out at 1400-1500 songs. I bought all those CDs over the years. They're mine. I want to be able to listen to any one of them at anytime I like wherever I am. Cloud storage for that many songs would mean paying for the storage (why should I be paying for storage "in the cloud" when I already have it stored on my HD). And you're at the whim of random Cloud outages. The iPhone did NOT really replace the iPod when it comes to storage. True, you can use it as an iPod. But the iPhone that's "free" is 1) older models that are 2) under cell phone contracts and have 3) only 16GB of memory (TOTAL memory for everything, including your songs). They can boost iPod sales again by slashing the price of the iPod Touch:
    32gb at $99
    64gb at $149
    128gb at $199 And make the iPod Nano be priced as "more memory with less functionality", tier pricing similarly to the way that iPad Mini is priced versus the iPad Air.
  • I have a 160 gb iPod Classic that I keep in the car attached to the USB port. I can have all my music in one place. Easily switch playlists from the radio. It is perfect for long drives and not worry about 3/4g reception. Plus I don't have to do any compression on my music as I do on my iPhone to save storage. I haven't used a cd in years!!! Lol
  • I love my iPod 5 . It could be because no new iPod 6 or because you can get a better and more affordable products for the purpose of a music player in android phones like the unlocked no contract Moto G for 200 for 16 GB or the nexus 5 for 349. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I think iPod should be kept around for kids, you know? They should' have smartphones at such a young age
  • i used to have an ipod classic with 120gb but the logic board went recently ans since then i've listened to everything on my 16gb iphone, im finding ti serves my purposes and i jus have to sync more often, before i would have more listen to podcasts for example.
  • Echo the love for the 160 GB Classic! Sent from the iMore App
  • I bought an iPod touch in 2011 and trades it for a PlayBook. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • I like having all of my music with me and not be constrained by data caps or wi-fi availability. I will keep using and loving my 160 gb iPod classic until a much larger capacity iPhone becomes available. 128 gb would still not be enough though. I would love to see an updated large capacity iPod with a touch screen like the current iPod nano. I'm not so interested in apps and games since I have those on my other devices and care more about my music than those things anyway. Sent from the iMore App
  • This post inspired me to write my own blog about the iPod. You can read it here:
  • Just bought a touch strictly for use in my car/work after reading this to store all my music as well as spotify playlists when I don't have a signal,streaming is great on the iphone when you have less GB to play with as it's mostly taken up with apps Sent from the iMore App
  • I always have the latest iPhone and iPad, but would be lost without my iPod shuffle. Probably sounds odd, but I have a contraption that I use at the pool while swimming laps. It fits onto my goggles at the back of my head and safely inside is my shuffle. Although there are options for an iPhone, I wouldn't risk mine and they are obviously clunkier in the pool. There is also the market for children - it often their introduction iDevice. More and more young kids have iPads, but these aren't conducive to carry around for listening to music.