It’s the fifth anniversary of the iPod, giving the press plenty of excuse to write another “Franco’s still dead” story about the phenomenon of our time. Slate has two today, one about how the iPod isn’t revolutionary but merely an evolution of the Walkman, and another about how combination phone-musicplayers such as Nokia’s new N91 will knock the iPod off its perch.

Both miss a really important point: it’s the software, not the hardware! MP3 players predate the iPod by several years. There are literally dozens of Windows Media-based players that are cheaper and offer more features than the iPod. Why have they all failed against the iPod? Sure, the white shiny box looks cool, and the font in the UI reminds people of their first computer (which was a Mac…unless you were a programmer or a masochistic DOS devotee). But the real advantage comes from the iTunes software that iPodders use to collect songs from the hard drive, acquire them from Apple’s online store, arrange them into playlists, and transfer them to the device. It’s simple, attractive, intuitive, and works correctly. The Windows Media Player, as every 20-year-old knows, sucks in comparison.

This fact completely sinks Slate’s article about the N91. The author, a Mac user, probably hasn’t had much experience with the Windows Media Player, as he breezily states “PC users can get even smoother integration—the N91 connects directly to Windows Media Player without the need for an external application.”

But the other thing that this guy and all the other writers who’ve proposed that the musicphone will kill the iPod are missing: convergence never works. Over and over and over, consumers have shown that they would rather buy multiple devices, each of which does one thing well, than a single device that does nothing well. When I reach down to skip a song, I don’t want to accidentally dial my mom. When I want to call my friend Barry, I don’t want to start playing a Barry White song. No matter if the UI designers are geniuses, a combination device is by nature too confusing, and the “sacrifice” of carrying two devices isn’t really a sacrifice at all.

That’s not even getting into the business side of it. Carriers want you to buy their ridiculously overpriced songs directly over the air from their stores and charge you extra data fees for doing so, not buy them from an online store and transfer them to your PC. So they’ll be reluctant to stock these things. So they don’t want to stock any phone that actually duplicates the functionality of an iPod. Even if Apple comes out with the rumored iPhone, probably they won’t have agreements with all the carriers–will I really want to switch my coverage from Verizon to Cingular just so I can get a combo device? No. I want the best phone with the best coverage for making phone calls, and the best music player with the best features for playing music.

If Apple’s really expecting to sell 25 million iPhones next year, they’re smoking crack.


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