Hey Ellen, awesome read. I was right there as the mp3 players & ipod story unfolded, I’d say your observatins are pretty spot on! What I’d like to add is that everything you observed that Apple did differently from other hardware manufacturers then was done at a “designing for life” level rather than “designing for product”. When every manufacturer was still focusing on the hardware product, Apple was focusing on the entire user experience beyond the hardware —I saw it as the music experience Apple was delivering, and not just the iPod.
The combination of iTunes and iPod made that entire experience extraordinary, that noone else then could even come close to offering. Without iTunes, I doubt iPod would be half as successful. It made the product category leap from innovator / early adopter phase into mass market, with iPod the only viable choice for the latter. No longer do you have to know how to rip CDs into mp3, or use Napster, FTP etc to illegally download music — both of which was no obstacle for tech geeks, but for the masses it was an impossible-to-overcome wall. With iPod, a few clicks & 99 cents (plus your credit card) was all you need — easy! There was no way other hardware manufacturers at that time could pull off an iTunes-similar experience, so the many many and many hardware manufacturers were all left with scrambling for the small slice of tech geek pie, while iPod feasted on the much larger mainstream pie with a monopoly.
I wanted to highlight this because I see today many IoT startups are still caught in the why & benefits of the connected hardware product. The ones who are able to focus on the entire experience as the product (creating a seamless experience across the hardware / software / services etc) would stand so much a better chance to emerge as category winner.
Apply all that you highlighted in your post and then at a “total experience” level and not only one hard- (or even soft-) ware part.
Yes, easier said than done of course : ) and I suspect that requires innovation in execution of an idea. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
ps. Brought me down memory lane as well … launching JazPiper in April 1999 in Europe (where there were no Diamond Rio, Creative Nomad nor iPod), explaining what mp3 stands for, which on hindsight is interesting for techies but not essential for addressing mainstream users ;)