The iPod Join A List Of Once Popular Consumer Electronic Products


Last month Apple announced they would no longer be producing their iconic iPod. The demise of the once popular MP3 player joined a growing list of once-popular consumer electronic products which quickly became past. While there are many one-time popular products no longer available (eg, floppy disks, 8-track tapes, etc.) We will look at videocassette recorders, the cassette Walkman and the Blackberry. All of them were everyday consumer electronic products just a few years back. These products were done in by streaming audio, streaming video and multifunctional smartphones.

Meanwhile, there are other once popular products that are losing out in popularity to newer products with enhanced technology. It would be fun to take a look back at some of them.

iPods: The earliest versions of MP3 players became available in the late 1990s but held fewer than 100 songs. Also, in 1999, Napster, a peer-to-peer sharing platform was launched enabling 80 million registered users with the iPod that users could purchase and download songs at the iTunes store for 99 cents. The Apple iTunes store would soon become the world’s largest music retailer. Shortly thereafter, other rival companies, Sony and Microsoft
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, launched competitive MP3 players but were not as popular. Moreover, after a series of lawsuits, Napster shut down in 2001.

Apple’s iPod was introduced in October 2001. The original iPod weighed just 6.5 ounces and could hold up to 1,000 songs with a battery life of up to ten hours. The first iPod sold for $399 and Apple sold less than 400,000 in their first year. With smaller and less costly devices (Ie, Mini, Nano, Shuffle, Touch etc.) on the way, Apple eventually sold an estimated 450 million iPods.

The iPod, backed with a clever marketing strategy, became a “must-have” product. Additionally, the iPod was the first product that helped Apple reverse its revenue fortunes (Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997). Today Apple is the largest tech company with a market cap of over $2 trillion.

Helping to phase out the iPod was Apple’s own iPhone which enabled users to listen to music on their phones. In its final year of production only three million devices were sold (compared to 250 million iPhones). Another iPod legacy is the term “podcasting”, formerly known as “audioblogs”, was named after the iPod.

Video Cassette Recording: The origins of VCRs date back to the 1950s. It wasn’t until 1975 when Sony began marketing the Betamax, at an affordable price, that VCR
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s became widely available to consumers. The following year JVC introduced VHS. The two VCRs were not compatible. VHS had the capability of recording full-length movies (which Sony copied). Unlike Sony, JVC had licensed the VHS format and soon other consumer electronic companies including RCA and Zenith marketed their own VCRs. By the mid-1980s VHS won the format war.

The VCR introduced viewing behavior that continues to this day. These include, time-shifting, the capability to watch one program while taping another, the capacity to create a programming library, introduced binge-viewing, eliminated appointment viewing and gave viewers the ability to fast-forward through commercials.

Two movie studios Universal and Disney were opposed to VCRs and filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement. The two studios argued that recording movies at home hindered their ability to re-release films in theaters. The lawsuit Sony Corporation of America vs. Universal City Studios, Inc. eventually reached the US Supreme. Commonly referred to as the “Betamax Case”, the court sided with Sony in a 5-4 vote. Eventually pre-recorded VCR tapes (and later DVDs) became a lucrative revenue stream for Disney (Home Video) and other studios.

As costs dropped and more movies became available, the growth of VCRs exploded. Household penetration grew from 14% in 1985 to 66% in 1990. By 1998 over nine in ten TV households owned a VCR. In the 1980s Nielsen began measuring the impact of VCR recording (not playback) had on program ratings. Daytime dramas (aka “soap operas”) were an especially popular genre to record.

The popularity of VCRs with its poor picture resolution quickly waned as DVDs, Blu-Ray and DVRs grew in popularity and high-definition TV became the standard. In 2016 Funai, the last manufacturer of the VCR announced they would no longer manufacture the product. Funai, which began manufacturing VCRs in 1983, claimed in 2015 they sold only 750,000 units after peaking at 15 million units per annum.

At its peak the VCR also led to the creation of a new retailer video stores. The most popular was Blockbuster (“Be Kind to Rewind”) which began in 1985. In 2004, revenue for Blockbuster was $5.9 billion and there were 9,000 stores globally. From 1995 to 2001 there was even a Blockbuster Entertainment Awards In 2011 Blockbuster with 3,300 stores filed for Chapter 11. By the following year the number of Blockbuster-owned stores dropped to 51. Most recently, there is one Blockbuster store remaining; in Bend, Oregon.

Walkman tape: Before the iPod there was the Walkman. Sony introduced the Walkman in July 1979, a portable and personal audio cassette player that weighed 14 ounces. The development of the Walkman began when Sony’s co-founder Masaru Ibuka, an opera buff, wanted a lighter and portable cassette player when on long trans-Pacific business trips. With a retail price of $150 the Walkman in the first two months had sold about 50,000 units, well ahead of the 5,000 projected. The Walkman came with a blue and silver case, headphones (for privacy), and buttons (play, rewind, etc.). The Walkman was mobile, requiring a pair of AA batteries to play.

As its popularity grew, Sony made product enhancements including an AM/FM receiver, a water-resistant model and the “Discman” which played CDs. Sony also developed the Watchman for video. Other companies such as Toshiba, Panasonic and Aiwa produced their own portable/personal cassette player. Sony’s Walkman’s popularity peaked in the 1980s when it became part of the zeitgeist. In 1983 cassettes outsold vinyl records for the first time. The Walkman became a popular companion with aerobic workouts and people began walking more.

By 2010 Sony had sold over 200 million Walkman but with the popularity of audio cassette tapes waning and emergence of digital music downloads, Sony discontinued the Walkman. Today, the Sony music app is called the Walkman.

BlackBerry: The Blackberry was a wireless handheld communication device that was developed by a Canadian tech company Research in Motion in 1999. The Blackberry enabled users to send and receive emails from outside the home and office using a keyboard. Helping to popularize Blackberry’s was during the 9/11 when their network in New York and Washington remained functioning during the terrorist attacks while competitors failed.

In 2002 Blackberry introduced the first smartphone featuring cell phone, email capabilities and calendar entries. In 2007 when the first iPhone was introduced, the Blackberry had a 30% market share ranking second behind Nokia in sales. In response to the newly released iPhone, in 2008 Blackberry Storm with a touchscreen was introduced to less than stellar reviews. Nonetheless, by 2011 Blackberry reported sales approaching $20 billion. In 2013 however, the growth of Blackberry began to slow as consumers opted for the iPhone and Samsung Gala
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xy. Blackberry devices were also hindered by several patent litigations. By 2016, BlackBerry said it would not be making any more devices on its own.

There are a number of one-time popular consumer electronic products that continue to survive to this day. These include Palm Pilots, pagers (still used in hospitals), camcorders, vinyl records and handheld GPS devices.

There are other products that are no longer as popular as they once were. DVDs still remain although sales have been dropping with sales dropping by more than 85% since 2008. At its peak the household penetration of DVRs never reached 60%, far below its predecessor the VCR and usage has been in decline. Also, at its peak in 2011 the number of Pay-Tv subscribers exceeded 100 million homes; it has since plummeted to an estimated 74 million homes. These products are also feeling the impact of streaming video, with a larger programming library and the ability to access programs on demand.

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