Without Music, Apple Would Be Nothing

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David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images

The new Apple Inc. iPod Nano is displayed for a photograph during an event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012.

Eleven years ago, I watched Steve Jobs unveil the iPod at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif., headquarters. The following week, I made my best prediction to date: that descendants of the iPod would replace the PC, as they are now doing. Gizmodo generously called it the best iPod prediction of all time. A colleague once suggested that I get it printed on my business cards.

Steve Jobs was a music fan to his core. I’ve been learning more about the depth of his musical appreciation as I prepare to teach a class about Apple and the music business this fall. One of his most formative experiences was watching a wheat field sway as he heard the music of Bach, imagining himself to be conducting the wheat. (He was on acid.) Jobs dated the folksinger Joan Baez for a spell, possibly because Bob Dylan, one of his heroes, had gone out with her. And his infamous attention to detail was motivated to an extent by a recording of the Beatles crafting their wonderful “Strawberry Fields Forever.” He said it showed how real, flawed humans could work and work on something until it was perfect.

The list goes on, but suffice it to say that music was a big part of Steve Jobs’ life. Moreover, it transformed the company he co-founded with Steve Wozniak from a struggling computer manufacturer into the most valuable company in the world, reinventing the music, software and telecommunications industries along the way.

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If Apple had never delved into the world of music, it may never have made that transition; at the very least, it would have taken much longer. During that time, the world would have moved on. It might have been too late. Apple would not be the company it is today and may have faded into irrelevance or even worse.

Without music, Apple would not have …

… become so profitable.

When Jobs returned to Apple in late 1998, he simplified the company’s product line, eliminating projects like the Newton and narrowing Apple’s confusing array of computers to just a few key products. That was all about subtraction. The iPod was the first big addition following that period. As of today’s music-dominated keynote address, which ended with a Foo Fighters concert, Apple has sold over 350 million iPods. This not only made Apple extremely profitable but also helped it accrue a war chest that enabled it to expand into new markets.

… made Windows people switch to Macs.

It’s been said many times before, but it’s still worth mentioning: for many Windows users, the iPod was the first Apple product they ever experienced. Many of them loved their iPods so much that they thought, What else does Apple do this well? That so-called halo effect spread to Apple desktops, laptops, smart phones, set-top boxes and tablets. (The same is happening with Android-toting music fans, thanks to AirPlay.)

(MORE: Apple Planning Pandora Rival)

… become an entertainment powerhouse.

Without the iPod, there would be no need for iTunes. Without iTunes, Apple wouldn’t sell music, movies, television shows, e-books or apps. When this first deal to sell music online was made, little did the record labels know that the Mac-only iTunes, which could sell music to only around 4% of computer users, would lead to Apple’s controlling the mainstream digital-music market on all platforms for a decade or more, as its entertainment empire spread to other realms.

… revolutionized the telecommunications industry.

Once Apple had gotten a taste of building consumer electronics devices that were sort of like computers but way smaller and easier to use (e.g., iPods), the stage was set for another handheld device of a similar shape, one that also synced with iTunes: the Apple iPhone. Without the iPhone, there would be no Android, as a court recently ruled. Mobile-software developers would still be forced to wait through 18-month development-and-approval cycles for a tiny spot on a cell-phone “deck,” as the home screens used to be called. In other words: no apps, at least for much, much longer, until another company with the clout to make a phone that acted like a computer acceptable to cell-phone carriers surfaced.

… reinvented the tablet.

Without the iPod, there would be no iPhone. Without the iPhone, there would be no iPad. Steve Jobs thought tablets that used a stylus were silly, but once Apple had the iPhone, all it had to do to reinvent the tablet was expand the dimensions of the iPhone. As of today, according to Apple, the iPad has 68% market share among tablet users, and perhaps more important, 91% of tablet traffic to websites comes from iPads. Without the iPod, would Apple ever have gotten there? Clearly I am arguing that it would not have or, at the very least, that it would have cost Apple crucial years.

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… been cool.

To normal people — the ones who don’t spend all day reading liveblogs — computers used to be dorky. It’s hard to believe, now that geeks are “the new rock stars” or whatever and the most famous celebrities are known as much for their Twitter feeds as for their creative output. Music, as represented by the iPod, iTunes and those iconic ads like the one pictured above, made Apple (and technology, for that matter) cool to normal people.

The iPod was not just a music player. It provided the resources for Apple to build itself into the most valuable company in the world and the marketing to make normal people care not just about this one company but about the computing industry in general. It’s probably a good thing that Steve Jobs was a music fan.

28 comments
Shinzakura
Shinzakura

"Without the iPhone, there would be no Android, as a court recently ruled."And the court would be wrong.  Android was set to be a blackberry clone when it first came out.  While the iPhone made the Android crew change course for better or for worse, the iPhone had nothing to do with Android's existence.

Brian Greul
Brian Greul

It could really be argued that Apple exploited Sony's repeated failures to innovate the walkman platform.  Sony mastered the idea that music should be portable, simple, and easy.  When they did introduce a digital walkman it had a simple intuitive interface and was more durable then the iPod.  It lacked a good web interface to purchase music, which is something Apple intuitively understood.  Apple builds great user interfaces, period.  Apple has a history of turning corporate success into new levels of failure.  First with the Apple IIe lineage, and then again with the Classic Mac, Apple destroyed it's massive lead.  The challenge for Apple will be to maintain the relentless focus on user experience and interface simplicity.   The media has been crowing about the Apple v. Samsung victory... as they say, that's nice.  Google bought Motorola and it's IP arsenal.  Motorola invented the wireless phone.  They have strong, defendable patents.  I predict that Google and Apple are going to become good business friends... because you can make more money dancing hand in hand then fighting at each other's throats.

xbj
xbj

Yeah. Who knew that updating the transistor radio fad of Job's youth (with pirated music instead of free music from radio the lure) and later on, "walkie-talkies", would create a media orgasm bought with billions of Appledollars? Capitalism at its finest.

Who knew? Piracy/Apple has DESTROYED music, rendering it free and worthless. If not for money from live performances and advertising, there would be NO one making a living from music, whatsoever. And what is being exposed to the masses today is less than worthless for the most part. It was true in Job's day and it's true today: The public will buy (no, make that STEAL) WHATEVER worthless crap they hear the most and not bother to seek out anything else.

mjweber
mjweber

You got it backwards my friend. The iPad spawned the iPhone, although Apple released the latter first. If you're going to teach a class get your facts straight first! 

Arcadi
Arcadi

Serious question here: Whatever happened with that lawsuit where the Beatles were suing Apple because they used the company name Apple first for their record company. I know at one point that the agreement was that Apple (the computer company) was allowed to continue to use the name only if they stayed out of the music business. Obviously they broke that agreement. So where did that end up? Are Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr getting any of the Apple iTunes/iPod/iPhone/iWhatever profits? 

brenro
brenro

Compressed and strangled mp3 files do not equal music.

jameskatt
jameskatt

Why don't you title your article: Without computers, Apple would be nothing.

That would be stating something even truer.

PeterBlood
PeterBlood

The music industry conversely owes Apple their undying gratitude as well for keeping that industry alive as Napster and their ilk were picking their carcasses clean.  Yes the iPod was the gatekeeper to greatness ahead and as an evolving technology that begets another great idea it was brave to even make such a device.  As it was for Akio Morita at Sony who went against company resistance to make and sell the Walkman.  True leaders take risks, break with convention and go to where the puck will be with devices consumers didn't even know they wanted.

http://www.evancarmichael.com/...

Lucia Matias
Lucia Matias

Without fanatics and "computer fundamentalists" Apple would be nothing!

The kook-aid jar is getting bigger and bigger..

Raymond Chuang
Raymond Chuang

I think the time (pun not intended!) was right for the iPod because people wanted something that could store a lot of music but without the mechanical disadvantages of cassette players, CD players and Minidisc players. And it succeeded before Apple's wildest dreams: the iTunes Music Store changed the way people bought music, and the addition of podcast capability in 2005 literally created a new mass-media medium.

Ghodagadi
Ghodagadi

Without paper Time would be nothing.

domchristopher
domchristopher

" That descendants of the iPod would replace the PC, as they are now doing..." Haha... what? Full-featured computers are nowhere near being replaced by mobile devices such as the iPad.

O_Pinion
O_Pinion

Actually creating a market for apps is probably the most important piece in the Apple story. Hanessing thousands of devlopers to create applications that permeate every field of human endeavour was brillant. Cost Apple nothing, they earnt revenue on every one and suddenly the devices were indispensible.

John Rogger
John Rogger

Remember, the tablet PC came first....Apple and Microsoft have been taking each others ideas since day one...and always will! Windows 8 will change the PC world forever and they are now going to be Apple's true competitor! 

dorkus_maximus
dorkus_maximus

You mean Steve Ballmer is leaving Microsoft? Until that happens, Apple has little reason to worry about MSFT.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

No doubt the Music is important and the IPod played an important role, but once the IPad mini comes out the IPod Touch is an orphan. 

It's price point will suck in comparison to the IPad Mini and there just won't be any point.

The IPod Nano will soldier on, but the Touch is doomed from day one.

Ninety percent or more of the Touches audience will switch to the Mini and 50 times more people will buy the IPad Mini than ever would have bought a Touch.

If you think the Mini isn't coming out within a month or so (in time for Christmas) your dreaming.

So I guess your article is a nice requiem for the IPod.

dorkus_maximus
dorkus_maximus

Maybe. But the iPod Touch has a completely different form factor. The iPad Mini may be more functional, or whatnot, but it won't fit in a shirt pocket

kim kizyma
kim kizyma

sure...but who cares? the only point i found relevant was that the iPod is usually the first apple product people get into and as the old saying goes, "once you go mac, you never go back."

romano71
romano71

OK....and without music, our parties would probably be lame and we would have never even heard of Lady Gaga...does the article even have a point?

dorkus_maximus
dorkus_maximus

Yes, it does. The point is that the iPod put Apple on the track it's on today, and the iPod was motivated by Steve Jobs's love of music. Put another way, if Steve Jobs weren't a music fan, Apple might never have made the iPod and thus wouldn't be the powerhouse it is today. 

I'd say that's a point.

Jeeshman
Jeeshman

But it's such a blatantly obvious point it's not worth making.  The author is merely attempting to pat himself on the back for predicting the impact of the iPod, which is almost as useless as suing a product for having rounded corners.

Lars_the_pianist
Lars_the_pianist

I'm not sure that it's an obvious point - and I also believe the article misses what Apple actually did.

IMO - Apple did the classic marketing move - expand your business into adjacent contiguous markets - but don't abandon your original business - USE THE NEW MARKETS TO MAKE YOUR ORIGINAL  CORE BUSINESS STRONGER.

   (This is really hard to do - and I can't think of other examples.)

Jobs used the iPod - to make his core computer business stronger.  You needed iTunes to program the iPod and furthermore - Jobs used iTunes to open a portal into eCommerce. The computer became a means to manage 2 devices.

The iPhone also became sort of an expanded iPod - and Jobs further expanded iTunes into the App store.  But still - the computer is the key to managing content.

The iPad is basically an iPhone for people that aren't making phone calls --- but still the basic idea is using the portal if iTunes for eCommerce.

The linkage between all your devices really becomes iTunes - enhanced by iCloud (which allows you to share purchases between devices.)

In all these cases - you need a computer to manage the iTunes interface (try doing file management on an iPad.)  So the core business is made stronger.

Jobs realized that then total market revenue for computers was saturating (maybe shrinking)  So he and his team created contiguous markets that strengthened each other (albeit with some cannibalization) - and more importantly he saw this opportunity way before his competitors.   

Music isn't the deal - creating new inter-related markets is the genius.

Joshua Allen
Joshua Allen

I imagine that TIME is timing (if you don't mind the pun) is due to the upcoming anniversary of Steve Jobs death. True this article really says nothing, but because TIME is so infatuated with Jobs, they will go on an Apple gushing series of articles up to the anniversary. Thats usually what happens when seemingly significant figures die.

zaglossus
zaglossus

That's why the hub for their mobile devices is iTunes.

prithvitheprime
prithvitheprime

Yes, i agree. Most of the times the Apple seems to be dominating others in Music Album releases. They now got plenty of Apple product users, iPad,iPhone, and iPod seems they are up with the Music Store.