Losing its cool, Apple iPod gets ROI; plus auto industry avoids RFID

Coolness no longer sole reason to buy iPod; plus RFID foot-dragging in supply chain

The Diffusion Group is out with a study hinting that the iPod is no longer cool. That’s right, with more than 30 million iPods on the streets, it seems, the hip factor is wearing off. So all you smug Apple store employees can just stop wearing black right now, because your little cool game is over.

“Today’s iPod buyer is driven more by practical considerations than the enhanced social status that may result from owning an iPod,” explains Dale Gilliam III, director of primary research at The Diffusion Group.

Why did this catch my eye? Because I’ve been astounded as I go to enterprise conferences by how ways businesspeople have found to use iPods. And I think it’s an apt metaphor for the lifecycle of enterprise technologies, which are moving much more quickly these days from buzz to utility -- if they’re going to make that leap at all.

In the case of the iPod, I’ve heard doctors at UCLA are using them to transfer digital X-rays because it’s faster and easier than using the hospital’s network. A Microsoft reseller told me he sees small businesses using iPods to serve background music for phone systems and waiting rooms -- again, cheaper and more customizable than the old way. And some marketers are purportedly giving away iPod Shuffles to deliver a one-time audio advertising pitch.

What’s the iPod equivalent in the IT world? Hmm … Web services? RFID? AJAX? All are well into their mainstream utilitarian adoption phases after a relatively short period of obscurity and extreme hipness. Morale of the story: If you find a powerful new enterprise technology that few people know about -- maybe keep it to yourself and enjoy it!

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Speaking of RFID: At the risk of contradicting my statement above, AMR Research recently asked 70 automotive industry suppliers why they’re not yet using RFID to track non-disposable parts containers in their supply chains. AMR Research Director Kevin Mixer claims the industry is losing up to $1.4 billion a year by not deploying RFID -- not just in missing containers but also in extra fees to expedite parts to customers to compensate for container mix-ups.

Why the foot dragging? Four top answers: 1) Lack of standards makes deployment costly and challenging; 2) hardware integration costs are too high, leading to poor ROI; 3) near-term RFID usage is focused on warehouse and material management applications; and 4) the tags and infrastructure are still too expensive relative to existing, paid-for solutions.

I don’t know, but maybe this industry is just avoiding the mistake I made -- buying that early iPod that had a low battery life and was pricey, low-capacity, and full of software glitches. As a manufacturing professor of mine once said, never buy a car made on a Monday!

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