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Ask HN: Why is there no competitor to the iPod Touch?
31 points by makeramen on Sept 14, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments
Is there a viable competitor that I'm missing?

And why do other vendors think they can compete with the iPad if they can't compete with the iPod Touch? The iPad after all, is partly so successful simply due to the fact that "it's a big iPod Touch."

Anyone who can manufacture an iPod Touch competitor can also manufacture an iPhone competitor. So, in order to choose to compete with the iPod Touch, the manufacturer would have to believe their profits would be higher than if they built a phone.

This is unlikely, because:

  (1) Phones are more expensive. ($400-$800 vs $200-$400)
  (2) Carriers help market the phone.
  (3) Carriers handle telephone support.
For the manufacturer, making a phone offers both higher revenues and lower costs.

It would seem that the only company with an incentive to manufacture a viable iPod Touch competitor is Google. But they don't have any manufacturing capabilities.

Of the three points, I suspect (1) is most important, which is why you're seeing iPad competitors but no iPod Touch competitors.

The iPod Touch is successful specifically because it is a non-phone device that resembles a really hip phone. It appeals to many people who are not interested in paying for a high-end service plan.

So here's the underlying question: Why is it that no Android handset or Blackberry is made available without the cellular equipment ? What's special about the iPhone/Touch that it can hack it as a lifestyle gadget?

(P.S. Samsung Galaxy Tab doesn't count. It's not even close to the same form factor as the Galaxy S.)

"The iPod Touch is successful specifically because it is a non-phone device that resembles a really hip phone."

Disagree. From my personal view, I have an iPod Touch and love it, but I'm really not a fan of the iPhone (I have a blackberry, and if I were to look for a non-blackberry, iPhone wouldn't be near the top of my list). From a non-personal point of view, iPod Touch was popular long before iPhones existed, so you can't explain its popularity with "it looks like an iPhone".

Phone manufacturers do provide telephone support. I worked for Nokia's tech support and the same outsourcing company did Samsung and Motorola.

The call volume is less than the network will get, largely because the average person can manage to pound '333' (or whatever) on their phone but won't find the number for Nokia.

The Zune HD seems to have been designed to be a competitor to the iPod touch. I think their main failure was not hyping it up enough. However, with the onset of Windows Phone 7, we may see a bit more hype on the horizon.

Archos has some touch devices that look pretty sweet, though they aren't exactly a household name.

Cowon has the S9, which seems to have been designed around the same idea as the iPod touch, but they're even lesser known than Archos.

Creative probably has something too. I think it mostly comes down to the fact that Apple has ridiculous name recognition when it comes to mp3 players. Most of the players I mentioned are better featured and more "open" than an iPod touch, which sounds great to hackers and tech enthusiasts, but normal people want something that is simple, shiny, and recognizable (trendy). And Apple has their fists clenched tightly around that market.

The closest thing I can think of is Zune, but Microsoft couldn't seem to get that right. They're the only company that could have, but they failed.

A big part of the appeal of the iPod Touch is that it runs apps from the App Store. It would be easy to make a media player that does most of what the iPod Touch does, but a real competitor would have a very tough time overcoming the app store barrier to entry. So your only real choice is Android as far as the apps go.

So the question is why haven't there been any Android versions of the iPod Touch? I don't have an answer for this one. It could be that only Apple is in a position to sell a product for the price of a smartphone (up to $400) without the phone part. In that same price range you can buy most Android phones without a contract (the Evo 4G is $449 no contract), so maybe anyone who would have bought an Android version of the iPod Touch just gets a phone.

Also, considering the price of the iPhone ($500-$700 without contract) vs iPod Touch ($230-$400), it could be that Apple sells the iPod Touch at a loss and makes up the difference with App Store sales and iAd revenue. A 3rd party would not be able to do this.

"Microsoft couldn't seem to get that right" - I think the depends on your definition of "right" is :)

The hardware and UI of the software on the Zune are (IMO) better than the iPod Touch. I enjoy the visuals of the Zune playback. I love scrolling through my artists, albums, etc. on the Zune compared to the iPod. I believe they did get that right.

I also love the Zune Marketplace. For example, I love the song "No Heaven" by Champion. Which lead me to a group called Bane. The first few listens of Bane were good. But I soon grew tired of them. They didn't have the replay value that Champion does (to me. I mean no offense to any fans). In the iTunes model, I would have to buy the music and be stuck with music I don't like. So I think that Microsoft got it right there. I know there are others that do streaming as well Last.fm, GrooveShark, etc. but I think (or least I thought) that Microsoft had the leverage and money to get a comprehensive streaming library the size of iTunes and/or Amazon MP3. And this gets into the areas where I think they failed...

Their marketing didn't exist. The only commercial I remember is some kid that traded a song with a convenience store clerk. And the only reason I remember it is because of the groan that came out of the audience that saw the commercial. I don't recall what Zune called the music sharing, but it was a stupid word. And the commercial forced its use.

And the other big fail - it feels like a hobby to Microsoft. It feels like a product that they don't care if it succeeds or not. If it does, great. If not, whatever. It's hard to get excited about a product that a company isn't even excited about.

I don't recall what Zune called the music sharing, but it was a stupid word. And the commercial forced its use.

I believe it was called "squirting", which was very unfortunate at the time because zunes were a shade of brown. Jokers would ask "What's brown and squirts?"

And the other big fail - it feels like a hobby to Microsoft.

I think that many divisions at MS pale in comparison (revenue-wise) to the Office (Sharepoint etc) and Windows divisions and thus feel like hobbies to the corporation.

Strictly as a music player, I'd agree that the Zune UI is at least as good quality as the music player in an iPod Touch.

But there are so many more valuable things the iPod Touch can do vs. a Zune, that I can't see how there is any comparison of the two platforms where the iPod Touch doesn't dominate.

Games? Maps? Web? Email? SMS? Photos? Wikipedia? The list goes on and on ... Flight tracking? Unit converter? PDF reader? Word processing? Spreadsheets? Skype?

In a field of music players without the iPod Touch, the Zune is, hands down, the best. But the only devices that come remotely close to the capability of an iPod Touch are iPhones and Android handsets.

I actually agree that the Zune HD is a worthy competitor, at least from a hardware and UX perspective. In many ways, Apple plays it safe from a design perspective with the iPod touch, and Microsoft actually went out on a limb and bet on the Metro UI paradigm. It wasn't a complete win, but I personally like many aspects of it, and am looking forward to seeing if Windows Phone 7 can successfully translate that into a useful phone experience.

Their marketing didn't exist.

That's part of what I think Microsoft didn't get right. I remember one Zune commercial (featuring Mims - This Is Why I'm Hot). There was a whole field of Zunes, and the first one started playing the song, then a few more, then all of them. They didn't make it clear that the first one was sharing the song with the others. I use Windows PCs, have an XBox 360, and up until recently I had a Windows Mobile Phone. Microsoft failed to get me to want a Zune the way Apple fans want an iPod.

The Zune isn't available in Europe...

Or Canada. They even sold the original Zune here, then pulled out when the Zune HD was released.

So what's the reason things in the US often don't get made available in Canada? Are there some specific laws that are difficult? Tariffs? Seems like Canada would be about the easiest market to be in for a US company (after the US).

Speaking with no authority besides that of annoyed Canadian, I think the "After the US" is the key issue. Most of the laws I'm aware of tend to deal with the stereotypical Canadian things (Media/Canadian content, natural resources). I can't offhand think of many things that are available in the US and Europe, but not in Canada. It appears to me that the extra effort to set up international sales just for Canada is rarely undertaken until the home zone (US/EU) is taken care of, and then Canada is included when they go 'worldwide', if they do.

An Android version doesn't exist because there are strict hardware requirements and capabilities that devices must have before they can license the Android Marketplace. Right now this requires phone, internet access, and etc.

Google is rumored to relax these restrictions in the upcoming releases so tablets and other devices can use Android and also be able to license the Android Marketplace at the same time. This is when you will see the Google sanctioned Android be on more devices.

I think your last point is probably closest to the mark, that the iPod touch has much lower margins that are made up on app store sales.

The base model probably has low margins, but there's a big markup on the extra 16 or 48GB of memory in the more expensive models.

The iPod touch is cheaper than you say. Mine was 169€ (around 175$ I guess).

Archos has several nice players which also run apps, but their primary attraction is being able to play virtually any type of video without re-encoding.

Negatives: poor support for older models and charging extra for codec packs.

Yeah, Archos is the main company I can think of, at least in Europe. They pretty much pioneered the portable MP3 player market years before Apple. Archos' main problem is they like to control everything and aren't that good at finishing/refining their software, which is why the whole Rockbox scene started and produced amazing firmware for the early players.

Nintendo DS? PSP? No they're not a feature to feature equivalent but they're there. PSP Go was meant to be a competitor anyways.

Half the juice of the iPod touch is Apple's wildly successful distribution channel, iTunes/App Store. Games are huge on that device.

Android's app offerings, especially in gaming, aren't nearly as mature. There's also more junk in their store (though obviously the App Store has its share of junk, too).

So absent phone functionality, I'm not sure how exciting a phone-less Android device could be, except for geek noodling and hackery. I'd buy one for that, but I'm hardly the mainstream audience they'd need for success.

Meanwhile, the iPad is very satisfying for web browsing alone. It just feels good to directly interact with a large region of content. The apps are again a big part of its power, but more power comes from its satisfying physical UI. It's an idea worth stealing, but competitors will need to make their OS integration airtight to truly challenge the iPad.

Everyone that I know essentially takes this stance:

If you want a dedicated music device, an old-fashioned large storage (and nowadays cheap) iPod is more than perfect.

If you want a full-featured device with a large touch-screen and some internet capabilities, no one wants to carry an extra device along with their phone, so they just look for a phone with those features.

I personally just prefer the all-in-one phone, multimedia, and internet touch screen device. I don't want 2-3 decently sized gadgets in my pockets all the time.

That may very well be true for you, but over 35,000,000 iPod Touch customers disagree with you.

The main thing that drives the Touch is the fact that it's connected to iTunes, with all the music and apps. Android phones can compete with the iPhone, because like it or not, Music/Apps are still largely secondary to why people buy phones: voice calls and text messaging. I chose Droid over iPhone partly because i can get it much cheaper on my Verizon family plan (also, unlimited data), and I need a phone, I don't need an iPod Touch..

But to really, viably, compete with the iPod Touch, you need three things:

  1) An as good music experience as iTunes.  So far, no one has that.
  2) An almost as good App Store.  Android market is maybe the closest, but it's still way off.
  3) Something else truly magical that iPod Touch doesn't have.
No one else right now is really capable of hitting one of those 3 things, let alone all of them.

The most obvious two that could have killer iPod Touch-like products are Palm and Google (Android):

1. Palm's in trouble with just its phone. It seems like they have to figure out their webOS phones first before launching something like this.

2. Google's problem is the same issue they ran into with the Nexus One. Google doesn't do retail. It doesn't like retail. An Android phone can easily be sold by the Carriers. Gladly. An Android media player, however, needs to be sold in retail. And that means offering things like a store, or agreements, and telephone support, returns, etc.

Apple, on the other hand, understands retail and does it well (see Apple Stores and website), as well as already have a killer phone on the market.

I would put HTC at the top of that list. They make the best Android hardware I've seen so far, and seem pretty good at UI and marketing as well.

And Samsung. Because I hear they are indeed coming out with a phone-less version of Android... but they would have to wait atleast a few months, since current android 2.2 requires phone functionality to be present (from what I hear), and 3.0 will remove that restriction. And hence true competitors to ipad and iphone touch will happen then (around end of year). Current android tablets like Samsung Galaxy Tab have a phone built-in, which is unnatural. Anyway, with 3.0 release I think you can expect several ipod touch competitors by first quarter of next year -- beginning from a device by Samsung and probably expanding to other mfgrs like HTC, Motorola, Dell, etc. -- all using android.

Viable? Time will tell, but Philips has something on the horizon:


Wow, sounds nice.

On Quora, this question would probably be filed under "Questions That Contain Assertions".

There are competitors. They either don't get it, don't have the talent needed to produce what the marketers would like to produce, or some combination of the two.

I wonder why there aren't more competitors, though. I think the main reason is that Android device companies are more focused on getting the phone right.

At this moment only Samsung has the strength to go directly against Apple in this market.

At last IFA they presented the Samsung Galaxy Play 50 based on Android 2.1: http://www.ibladi.com/2010/09/samsung-unveils-the-galaxy-pla...

"The iPad after all, is partly so successful simply due to the fact that "it's a big iPod Touch."

...and the speed!!! The A4 processor in the iPad makes the iPhone 4 seem slow, even though they both use A4 chips. Maybe its hard to compete with a great OS + good hardware...

The iPod Touch is a pocket pc with the OS done right. With that said 6+ years ago there were plenty of devices similar to the iPod Touch. I had a Dell Axim but I ended up selling it when the iPod Touch came out because I like the iOS more.

iPod Touch is really interesting from an educational perspective. I am working with two different school districts who are using iPod Touches instead of netbooks.

The amount of functionality you get for the price is amazing. The lockdown nature of Apple products is actually a benefit in this sector.

The lack of competition here will mean Apple have a head start on marketing to children starting in elementary school.

my favourite part about the comments this is going to get is that your question is going to be perceived completely differently by a lot of people. I'm seeing comments from people who immediately assumed you meant "competitors for the ipod touch, the game platform" and people who think you meant "competitors for the ipod touch, the media player".

Good question. I had to score a Motorola Droid off eBay and put in a decent microSD card to fill this void.

Nokia N810. And it does flash.

Granted, things were getting a bit sluggish in terms of web browsing on this device with the native (Firefox-derived) browser but Opera Mobile 10.1 beta version for Maemo in Turbo mode (using Opera proxies) has given this device new life.


Easy. It is an iPod. It is just a music player. Nothing to see here. Move on competitors. Move on.

Huh? It's an iOS device, and as such, supports 250,000 apps. It's hardly "just a music player".

Really? Can it play Angry Birds too?

I hadn't heard of this game, but it looks fun. And, yes, you could run this on the iPod Touch.



Great links. Can you find one with a cheat to the golden egg that does the bird piano?

[Hint: sent from my iPod Touch]

The sarcasm was obvious but i chose to ignore it because it is poison to forums and rarely done well.

It wasn't sarcasm. It was a shortened version of the argument that, among other things, the iPod Touch is the most important device in the iOS product line and it has always been the case. As such, Apple carefully positioned it as that it will be as invisible as possible (for example sale numbers are bundled with iPods not iPhones) while it slowly grows to become "the one". The decoy was apparently good enough that even Google failed to notice the opportunity. They made the Nexus free from carrier but not free from phone parts. Or, it was, generally speaking, some argument along these line. But since long arguments lead to useless arguments, they may become poison to this "forum". So I avoid. Most of time. Now you owe me 8 upvotes. [sent from a Chrome browser NOT on the ChromeTouch].

I was refering to how your post said something ("It is just a music player. Nothing to see here.") which was the opposite of your intended meaning ("the iPod Touch is the most important device in the iOS product line"), emphasizing how unbelievable or unlikely it would have sounded if taken literally, thereby illustrating the obvious nature of your intended meaning.

That's what I picked up on, but ignored.

If there are two lines: read between them. If there is only one: TL;DR;

Until now it escaped me that your username is an anagram for "to troll on".

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