Backstage: The iPod family, cheaper, but fewer pack-ins

Back in January, I shared my suspicions that the San Francisco Macworld event would see some price changes for the iPod family – $149 to $599, perhaps $99 to $599, or maybe even $99 to $499. Truthfully, I never would have guessed that the numbers would be even lower – a $99 minimum and a $449 maximum. That just seemed too un-Apple. A $150 price cut on the 60GB iPod photo (that… I… just… bought…)? Impossible.

Well, that’s what happened this morning (see our front page news stories), and the world is hugely better off for it. iPods starting at $99, iPod minis starting at $199, full-sized iPods at $299, and color iPods at $349. I would use the words “insanely great,” but they seem a bit cliche. Lower prices = more iPod owners = more iPod lovers. And we love it when more people love their iPods.

There are only two little related jigs in the announcements. First, as with the fourth-generation iPod rollout, Apple accomplished the price breaks by dropping items from the boxes: mini owners lose power adapters ($29, for shame!) and FireWire cables ($19, okay), representing a – wait for it – $48 price difference. iPod photo owners lose the AV cable ($19, hmmm), FireWire cable ($19, okay), photo Dock ($39, ummm…), and Carrying Case ($29, eh), totalling $116. That one’s more acceptable, because these parts were each more optional – some way more optional – and there’s actually a bit of a price drop, besides.

The second and related point is this: we’re officially beginning to see the beginning of a backlash on the cost of iPod accessories, and this isn’t going to help matters. Most of the backlash is coming from the low end of the market, where prices are most sensitive, but people might otherwise be willing to buy reasonably priced extras. I think it’s going to be compounded by this pack-in decision. Having to buy your own AC adapter was just barely tolerable with the iPod shuffle. But will people feel the same about a $199-$249 iPod mini? And will having to buy an AC adapter for $29 sour someone on buying other (overpriced) accessories?

Apple had it right with the prior generation iPods: pack all the necessities into the box, and define necessities a bit loosely. Mac owners will want FireWire, PC owners will want USB, and the cables cost 50 cents a piece to make, so throw them in. The AC adapter? Costs a dollar or two, so toss that in, too – remember, some people (especially those with older computers) might not have powered USB or FireWire ports. Let people buy extra adapters and cables if they want to charge both at home and work.

When the new iPod mini was announced sans power adapter, it took about 3 minutes for people to message me with the first “what a bad move” gripes. While time will tell whether people -really- need the adapter or not, it would really stink for Apple to have any significant fraction of its new low-end customers feel like they’re being forced to buy a $29 adapter that other companies – and yesterday’s Apple – would have tossed in for free. Admittedly, I already have my 4GB mini and 60GB iPod photo boxes filled with the old pack-ins, and won’t be personally bothered by the missing items. What do you think?

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