The iPod Touch is a gateway drug

August 17, 2017

Surprising few, Apple today discontinued the iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano. It’s an end of an era, and I think a lot of people — particularly from my generation — will be sad to see it go.

What surprised some was Apple sparing the iPod Touch from the axe. In fact, it didn’t just spare it, but it boosted its capabilities, raising the storage from 16GB and 64GB to 32GB and 128GB respectively. It also lowered the price to $199 and $299.

Steve Jobs once described the iPod Touch as like an iPhone, just without the phone. He could have saved himself some words and just called it a gateway drug to iOS.

The unique strength of the iPod Touch was that it offered the full iOS experience, despite costing a fraction of what you’d pay for a similarly-specced iPhone.

Touch owners get to play all the same games (which is huge, considering Apple initially marketed it as a gaming device). It has Safari, and a decent-enough camera. Pretty much everything works the same, except you can’t make phone calls, and you’re perennially tethered to Wi-Fi.

So, who buys the iPod Touch?

Kids, basically. In 2010, an AdMob survey showed that 65-percent of iPod Touch owners were under the age of 17. And while it’s now easy to find a pocket-money-friendly smartphone (like the Moto G5, or the utterly cheaptastic Alcatel Pixi 4), I imagine the iPod Touch owner demographics haven’t shifted that much.

I’m going to assume that Apple doesn’t sell many iPod Touch units anymore (not that we’d know, as it ceased reporting iPod figures in 2015). If I had to hazard a guess, I’d also assume that it’s okay with that, because it’s who’s buying them that matters. The few units that it does sell goes to people at the very start of their tech journey.

The iPod Touch goes into the hands of teenagers and pre-teens, who then use iOS as a point-of-reference for every mobile device they’ll use subsequently. Not only that, but they’ll build up an arsenal of apps and games. Leaving iOS will mean leaving them behind, making Android devices unattractive at any price.

And unlike other tech products aimed at that market, it doesn’t look naff. The iPod Touch has cachet. It looks premium and adult.

When I use the term ‘gateway drug’ to describe the iPod Touch, I mean it. Drug pushers often give the first hit of a drug for free. By pricing the iPod Touch at such a low price, Apple is essentially doing that, in the hope that the user will get hooked on iPhones and iPads for the rest of their lives.

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