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The iPod, the RAZR, and the Treo – One Icon and Two Also-Rans

I have to admit that I was actually pretty impressed with all of the new iPods that Apple released yesterday. Aside from the snafu around the dramatic price decrease in the iPhone, I’d have to say that it was a pretty successful announcement (even if the stock price did not seem to react favorably to the news).

It’s hard to argue that the iPod has not become an iconic device. What’s interesting to me, though, is how two other formerly iconic devices, the RAZR and the Treo, have just fallen on hard times. As someone who owns several iPods, there are a few things that I’ve noticed about how Apple manage the iPod line:
Apple has conditioned me to expect a constant array of truly new (as opposed to retread) products. Each new iPod generation generally does two things. First, it usually makes the price/storage quotient for the new device seem like a bargain compared to what I paid 12-18 months ago. Second, each successive generation of the iPod generally introduces improvements along at least one dimension – size, user interface, navigation paradigm, etc. As an iPod owner, I know that the next generation of product will be better than what I have today – that doesn’t make me any less willing to buy new iPods at lower price points.

Apple actually takes chances and introduces features and functionality that push the envelope. I remember when the first iPod Shuffle came out and a lot of people thought you couldn’t sell an iPod with no LCD. Well, that’s not the case. Then the touch screen on the iPhone. The ultra-thin nano. The list goes on. I’m sure Steve Jobs and company have some other delights up their sleeves.

Look at the RAZR and the Treo. In my opinion, neither of those products has changed in any meaningful way since launch. The RAZR is still thin and has a slightly better camera now than it used to, but what else is better? The UI is still awful and its primary selling point is that its thin. And don’t even get me started on the Treo. It looks virtually unchanged over the past few years, unless you count the cosmetic removal of the antenna and the inclusion of alternative operating systems.

Successful products can be a real challenge and in the RAZR and Treo I see a real reticence to tinker with the golden goose long after the initial wow factor of the product has paled.

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