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What can the original iPod teach designers?

At Sozo Design, we have some experience with the Apple iPod. Several of our products, including the Kensington iPod Stereo Dock, have been designed with the popular MP3 player in mind. The device, even in its earliest incarnation, is an example of excellent design—clean, sleek and intuitive—and we have sought to emulate that with our own creations.

Twelve years after the iPod was released, it is useful to think back at how the device was received when it first launched. As a recent article in the Atlantic put it, the iPod at the time was not considered to be a revolutionary product. Rather, it was "just another MP3 player," and one that could only be used by Mac users—a far smaller portion of the computer market at the time.

"I question the company's ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod's current price," Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal said at the time, noting that the iPod cost $399—significantly more than other MP3 players on the market.

However, other analysts recognized that the iPod's design gave it a lot of potential.

"They've totally polished…the product," IDC analyst Bryan Ma said. Referring to the makers of a competing MP3 player, he added: "If I were an engineer at Creative Labs, I'd be scrambling."

Of course, we all know how this story ended. The iPod was eventually made available to Windows users and came to dominate the MP3 player market—a position it still holds today.

There is a lesson here. In a market that had been dominated by cost concerns, millions of consumers eventually chose their product based on its quality design.

Innovators, take note.

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