iPod goes into decline – apparently

Today’s Technology section in The Guardian carries a piece about the decline in sales of single-purpose digital music players in general, and Apple’s iPod in particular. If the data are accurate, it looks like the market (at least in western markets) is pretty much saturated, and new sales are limited largely to replacements; the lifetime of these devices, apparently, is about two years.

Well, not really a surprise. Classic S-curve stuff. There are only so many people in the world who want to own an iPod. And, so it’s suggested, the trend these days is towards devices with their own connectivity so that they can download directly and don’t have to be plugged in to a computer. Something like the iPhone, perhaps … or even my beginning-to-expire Nokia N73 Music Edition, which I only bought because it was the only one in stock in the store, I don’t use for music, and find highly annoying when every so often it starts to play noises in my pocket.

But one of the reasons I bought this particular phone is because it will replicate calendar and address book with my Mac. I take pictures with it; and I store a small handful of useful documents, like the local bus timetable, or schedules and confirmations for the current trip. And very occasionally I even do Internet or email on it. So multi-function is definitely In; I just don’t happen to combine music with it. Apple have sold 30 million iPhones in two years, as Steve Jobs announced yesterday. Part of the success of the iPhone and the iPod Touch is attributed to the App Store, which has notched up 1.8 billion downloads from 75,000 apps. Multi-functionality joins the consumer economy!

But the Guardian’s report goes on to suppose that the decline of new purchases of iPods will take the music industry with it, and I need convincing of that. The report quotes Mark Mulligan of Forrester who believes that “logically” the slow-down in device sales leads to a slow-down in downloads. But that assumes that the only people who buy downloads are first-time new iPod users. I don’t recall that sales of old-fashioned singles were expected to slow down when every teenager in the world owned a record player: or CDs, for that matter.

And it doesn’t square with Mulligan’s published research. Admittedly I can only see the abstracts, but in his most recent report he talks about the “immensity of the new creative opportunities that will accompany the radical product innovation that the music industry so desperately needs“, and about the continuity of relationship between music-makers and their buyers.

On Forrester’s Consumer Product Strategy blog, he admits, like many commentators, to being “underwhelmed” by Apple’s announcements this week – though the faithful were clearly glad to see Steve Jobs back in circulation, and gave him a standing ovation. But he suggests that “Apple is playing a smart game that builds the social context of their devices …”, with links emerging between iTunes and the social mediaverse (Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and so on). Perhaps, in line with what Mulligan suggests, more like my N73 than my iPod?

• Apple Special Event, Sept 2009: watch the video. Or see the iPod and iPhone press releases at Apple Hot News
• Music Release Windows: The Product Innovation That The Music Business Can’t Do Without. Forrester Research, 9 Sept 2009
• Is Apple Playing a Subtle But Smart Platform Strategy? Forrester Consumer Products Strategy blog, 9 Sept 2009
• Twilight of the iPods The Guardian (Technology), 10 Sept 2009

Our Forrester Blogs index now has podcasts too

I’ve undertaken a second major restructure of the Forrester Research section of the InformationSpan Analyst Blogs index. The Gartner section content has been updated, though there’s only one new Gartner blog this time. Also (update to this post) I’ve checked and revised my Other Blogs page entries.

Forrester organise their blogs in three main themes: enterprise IT; Marketing & Strategy (that’s strategy-for-marketing, not strategy in general); and Technology Industry (that’s vendors). Plus, there are a handful of more generic blogs including George Colony’s own. The InformationSpan index has now separated these categories; we include some cross-referencing between them.

A more significant development for InformationSpan users is that I’ve researched Forrester’s podcasts and added these to the index.

Most of Forrester’s podcasts are associated with specific blogs. Two of them (why only two?) have specific pages on Forrester’s own website. Most are served out either by iTunes or through a FeedBurner link. There’s at least one that’s available through iTunes but is co-hosted by Network World and doesn’t seem to be referenced on Forrester’s own site.

In other words, this is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. Like for like, it’s taken more sorting out than Gartner’s decision to index its blogs only by the most recent posting! While on the subject of Gartner: their own index to their titled blogs (that is, those not featuring a single analyst’s personal views) seems to have disappeared. So the InformationSpan index is now your best way to find these linked in one place!

Fortunately, there aren’t a vast number of Forrester podcasts so the research was feasible. No doubt I’ve missed one or two which aren’t in systematic places, and I’ll add these as they surface.

It would be nice if Forrester rationalised it, but in the meantime please visit InformationSpan and, as always, click on the link top right to the Analyst Blogs Index – or the one on this blog.

Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University, Silicon Valley

Getting back to earth after a great summer culminating in the wedding of my elder son, I came back to the Guardian’s report of this summer’s Singularity University summer school in Silicon Valley. At first view, it sounds like geek heaven: nine weeks in the former Moffett Airfield base, with high profile names like Vint Cerf, Nobel prizewinners and investors; and covering topics from the sub-microscopic (nanotechnology) to the super-macro scale (space science). Participants paid US$25K to attend. What’s it about?

Singularity University (SU from now on) has as its masthead mission: “Preparing humanity for accelerating technological change”. At greater length, this becomes: to “assemble, educate and inspire … leaders who strive to understand and facilitate the development of exponentially advancing technologies in order to address humanity’s grand challenges”. The masthead is somewhat misleading; this is about leading and driving technology, not just reacting to it; but it is about using technology to respond to and overcome “some of the planet’s major problems”.

It was, the Guardian says, the brainchild of the legendary Ray Kurzweil (Chancellor) and space flight pioneer Peter Diamandis (Vice Chancellor). There’s significant support from Google and from Stanford University; Cerf, of course, is now on the Google staff and Stanford’s links include their Media-X research mediation network for industry.

I won’t go over the list of ideas and projects which the Guardian’s report describes; follow the link below to read the article, or go to SU’s overview video linked below.

But the article is perhaps misleading. When I read it, I had the impression of a one-off  summer school. Far from it: SU runs ongoing executive programmes and graduate programmes, and the reported graduate session this year was a pilot for an annual event. The pilot was limited to 40 students. In future, the numbers will be treble this.

Check it out! And by the way, when you land on the home page, there’s a rotating series of photos from this year’s event. There are three panels at left. Two of them link to intake information. It isn’t immediately obvious that the third is the caption for the current pic. The Overview, from the top menu, provides a list of SU’s guiding lights.

The singularity, if I’ve understood it correctly (and only from the outline, not from reading the book), is the point at which human intelligence becomes primarily non-biological: the future Kurzweil envisages is one where the electronic brain-power we deploy comes to dominate human intelligence. So you might also like to look at Ray Kurzweil’s singularity.com website, with details of his book “The Singularity is Near” and links to notes which are, in his view, pointers in that direction.

• Singularity University
• A school for changing the world, The Guardian (Technology section), 3 Sept 2009. There are links to coverage in The Guardian’s weekly tech podcast, and to a picture gallery
The Singulary is Near: book, and other resources