One of the unintended consequences of the success of the iPhone is that it has rendered the classic iPod and its diminutive sisters -- the nano and the shuffle -- nearly irrelevant. What do you need a second MP3 player for if you've already got a few hundred tunes in your pocket?
Apple (AAPL) was able to goose sales for a while last spring by sharply cutting prices on the iPod shuffle, but the tide is drifting away from the company's iconic product -- which once accounted for nearly 50% of its annual revenue. By last Christmas, sales of iPods, which enjoyed triple-digit growth as recently as 2006, had nearly flattened out. If something isn't done, they could soon be headed south.
Enter Steve Jobs, who is expected to appear in person at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco next Tuesday for a special media event entitled "Let's Rock." Jobs has made an annual ritual of introducing new iPods in September -- giving the company plenty of time to ramp up for holiday sales. In 2005 the star of the show was the original iPod nano. Last year it was the iPod touch.
This year, according to several converging rumor threads, Jobs will introduce a brand new edition of the iPod nano, a slightly modified iPod touch and a jazzed up version of the iTunes software that feeds content to them both. The details:
Will these changes be enough to bring back the days of double- or triple-digit sales growth? Probably not. But if the price cuts are steep enough and there are enough new and interesting things you can do with iPods -- like download applications from the App Store -- the latest versions could find their way onto Christmas wish lists for a few more years.
Below the fold: A taxonomy of iPods, past and present:
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