Single Status Update
The fall is about as simple and obvious as you'd think (became redundant due to smartphones) but the rise is a bit more interesting than I would have guessed, and contains an important message that's as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
In a nutshell, the original iPod actually launched to mediocre reviews and was seen merely as an accessory for existing Mac users (who were <3% of computer owners at the time) rather than the world-changing concept that we would probably think of it as today. This is because, as everyone knows, it worked only with iTunes, but crucially, iTunes was only available for Mac in the beginning. It was the release of iTunes for Windows that made it explode across the world as suddenly everyone could use it and they saw it for the desirable thing it was.
The lesson here is that when releasing a product that ties in with other existing products, there's largely two ways a company can go about this, and one is usually much better than the other for everyone involved.
"The lure" or "The stick" - Make it only work with your existing tech and not any competitors.
- Examples: console exclusives, iPod at launch, G-sync (until recently), and the new Apple pro display to a certain degree due to being configured in (mac) software rather than with normal on-screen menus and buttons.
- Pros: If this new product has more "pulling power" than the competitor's version of what it works with, it will make people give up their existing stuff and buy into your ecosystem in order to use your product. This works to some degree with console exclusives, where people will buy a console they perhaps didn't actually want just so they can play a certain game. This can allow you to avoid actually competing in the market and force sales of something that isn't necessarily even a desirable product.
- Cons: If this new product has less "pulling power", people will see the barrier to entry as not worth it, and it will be ignored and die quickly even if it otherwise could have been a good product.
"Make it for everyone" or "The carrot" - Make it as easy as possible to use the product, even if it means building compatibility with a competitor's ecosystem.
- Examples: iPod shortly after the initial rocky launch, Microsoft Office, and in truth, most products, particularly anything that is or obeys common standards
- Pros: Your product will sell much better because people can get into it without having to change significant other portions of their life or technology. This is obviously good for sales and thus profit, but also has a long list of other benefits. For one, it increases your market share which is powerful long-term. It also allows people who otherwise wouldn't have been interested (or able) to get a taste of your ecosystem to do just that. If it's good, this may just pull in people you otherwise wouldn't have hooked.
- Cons: Potentially requires more development effort and misses out on the ability to "lock people in".
It's no secret that because Apple made the decision to go with "the carrot" when it was still early days, the iPod became a massive success and effectively created and defined a entire new category of product. It also led directly to the creation and popularization of digital music stores and eventually streaming, as well as laid the groundwork for what would become smartphones. It's certainly an incredible legacy, and so it's interesting to imagine what the world might have been like today had they not made that fateful decision. It's likely the device would never have taken off, and as a result, we may have only seen an attempt by someone else years later, potentially delaying the entire course of history, and potentially causing Apple to fade into obscurity as another company filled this market for portable music players and later, a music store, streaming service, and for smartphones in general.
- "The lure" or "The stick" - Make it only work with your existing tech and not any competitors.