Streaming killed the Download Star

Apple has quietly discontinued two of its classic iPods, signalling the death of the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle.

If you are a Generation X, you would likely have memories of “downloading” mp3 files on your mp3 player, Ipod or otherwise. And you would relate to Millennials who are obsessed with their Social Media Apps on their Smartphones as you used to with your portable music devices. The difference is that you had a mobile phone AND a mp3 player. Today there is no need for two devices.

End of an Era

Two of Apple’s three remaining iPods have disappeared from the Apple Store, leaving the iPod Touch as the only standalone music device available.

Both devices were launched in 2005, four years after the original iPod. Apple sold 54.8m iPods at the peak of their popularity in 2008, but sales dropped to just 14.3m in 2014 before the company stopped reporting numbers.

The success of the iPod played a large part in the return of Apple chief executive Steve Jobs and Apple’s trajectory to become one of the world’s most successful tech players.


Jobs famously debuted the iPod Nano by pulling it out of the coin wallet in his jeans. For many users, their iPod was their first Apple device, paving the way for the success of the iPhone when it was launched in 2007.

So what really happened?

Simple cannibalization, for one: every one of those 51 million iPhones can take the place of an iPod. (Steve Jobs famously called the iPhone “the best iPod we’ve ever made.”) And as people increasingly get their music from streaming services, a constant internet connection could be key, something you don’t get with an iPod or even a iPod touch unless you have a Wi-Fi hotspot to pair with.

The decline of MP3 players shouldn’t be news to anyone though, certainly not to anyone who follows Apple closely. In June, 2009, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer admitted that cannibalizing the company’s MP3 players was all part of the plan:

We expect our traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves with the iPod Touch and the iPhone. Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer in 2009

“For traditional MP3 players, which includes Shuffle, Nano, and Classic, we saw a year-over-year decline which we internally had forecasted to occur. This is one of the original reasons we developed the iPhone and the iPod Touch. We expect our traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves with the iPod Touch and the iPhone. ”

Deja vu

In 1981, Viacom launched MTV. It used footage from the first moon landing and the song Video Killed the Radio Star to make it clear to the music labels and advertisers that it meant business. Before MTV, the music business (with the help of radio) was doing well. But video quickly took the industry to new heights. Fueled by the new medium, global music sales revenue quadrupled, before losing steam due to the new hip technology called the internet (and piracy).

Internet created technology stars such as MP3 music files that could be downloaded and Peer-to-Peer sharing sites such as Napster that allowed global downloads and boosted piracy. Apple’s iTunes and Spotify introduced streaming music and with YouTube gaining popularity, music started being consumed mostly online, while live on the Internet. Add to that the telecommunications advancement with cheaper data packages and WiFi services, and you don’t really have the need to download anything.

Streaming is here to stay, until some other technology kills it

Spotify (currently not available in the UAE) is the leader of the streaming-music pack, at least when it comes to revenue, with 20 million paying customers, out of a total user base that it says is around 75 million. Then there are others such as Pandora and of course Apple Music. But perhaps Spotify gained a fair share of it’s popularity after the famous scuffle with Taylor Swift.

Adele & Taylor Swift | Succumbing to Streaming

In 2014, the last time Taylor Swift released an album, people still bought albums. She pulled her catalog from Spotify the week 1989 was released, stating the service doesn’t pay artists fairly and doesn’t give them enough control over their content. “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music,” Swift told Yahoo at the time.

The experiment isn’t an experiment anymore.

In 2016, streaming became the dominant revenue driver for the music industry — when 1989 was released, it made up 27 percent of the revenue. Spotify grew from 10 million paying customers in 2014 to 75 million this year. Swift can’t ignore that.

Even Adele, a notorious hater of streaming, admitted that she would eventually catch up with the times shortly after she released 25 at the end of 2015, despite holding the album off streaming services for seven months. “I know that streaming music is the future, but it’s not the only way to consume music,” Adele told Time back in 2015.

Until a new technology comes or dramatic behavioral changes happens in the way we consume music, streaming is the way we will all groove to music. At least, for the time being.

With inputs from The Verge.

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Kiran Borkar

Having been part of the Internet Industry since the late Nineties, he believes Nostradamus goofed up by not predicting how the World Wide Web would change the world.

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