We’ll start this entry with the following message: we love Singapore. The last few days here have been fun, delicious, and filled with interesting shopping. But as iPod fans, we haven’t been very happy with what we’ve seen here – an environment that seems no better for the iPod than it was at this time last year, and actually looked a bit worse from what we could gather.
In last year’s report, we noted that iPods were available all over the place for purchase, and we actively saw people shopping for them and carrying them around. This year, we’ve seen fewer people using or buying iPods relative to last year – a surprise given that Apple is now offering several less expensive models – but we’ve witnessed many people using lots of Apple’s emerging competitors: music-ready cell phones.
If Singapore is in any way a harbinger of what’s to come elsewhere in the world, Apple’s long-rumored move into iPod-enabled cell phones is more important and necessary than some people in the West have realized. Countless numbers of people here are carrying phones with MP3 playback features – Sony Walkman phones seem to have made some nice gains – and non-iPod flash players seem to be fairly ubiquitous. As always, there are cheesy low-end and knock-off offerings out there – see the cloned Oakley Thumps here – but there are also simple screened alternatives to the shuffle that appear to be pretty popular.
Having spent plenty of time looking to see what people are wearing, we’ve seen only a few nanos, one full-sized iPod and a couple of shuffles over the course of several days here – absolutely nothing by comparison with what the streets of Japan looked like last week. One of the nano owners had bundled his cell phone and first-generation nano together in a bag, pulling them out at the same time, something we also noticed happening once in a while in Japan.
On the vendor and accessory fronts, re-visits to stores we checked last year were nothing short of disappointing. Smaller, unauthorized shops aren’t pushing the iPod as aggressively as they were last year, and there was very little new to see – no major or even minor new accessories – with competing offerings from mostly no-name companies taking iPod store frontage. Bigger MP3 player companies such as Cowon, iRiver, and Sony had fair representation at these shops, but on the flip side, Creative is nowhere near as strong as it was last year – no longer are its advertisements ubiquitous around here.
Apple-only retailers weren’t much better. Mid-sized shops such as Apple Centres are only a little more interesting in that they’ve adopted large banners to tout the products of major vendors, such as Griffin, Belkin, and DLO, which place these companies in the same eye-catching visual position as third-party vendors such as Targus receive in PC-specific stores. The products? Again, nothing new. We saw a total of one type of second-generation iPod shuffle case – surprise, simple silicone – and offerings such as headphones and speakers seemed a surprising step behind even the Japanese retailers we checked last week. On the bright side, major U.S. vendors have significantly improved their offerings in Singapore, and now have plenty of products available for purchase here – the majority of good items we’ve seen in Japan and the United States.
Bigger iPod-selling shops? Pretty much the same story. Oft touted as the country’s biggest Apple Store, iShop by Club 21 lacked for both energy and new products on our return visit – one year after its opening, it’s looking more like a large U.S. Apple Store than anything unique at this point. We were actually actively disappointed during our visit to iShop, which refused to fulfill an advertised promotion on iPod hardware – 15% off iPod shuffles and nanos, shown on a large sign as we entered the shop. When we tried to buy a shuffle, which was in stock, the store’s employees pulled the sign rather than honor their stated pricing. Given the locations of the country’s Apple Centres, we didn’t have much of a reason to want to shop there before, and were so unimpressed by the experience that we wouldn’t advise others to do so, either.
One interesting additional tidbit: we were frankly stunned by the quantity of advertising space Microsoft has purchased for its Xbox 360 products. Signs that once touted iPods and other Apple products have been replaced by Xbox 360 and related ads, greeting visitors to places such as the Funan IT Mall. We also saw no evidence of the iPod cross-promotions we noticed last year, which even touted iPod nanos as prizes for dining at certain restaurants – from what we gathered, there’s no apparent sense in the air any more that iPods are a “must-have” or even major luxury item. The average visitor would have guessed that Apple had given up on trying to win mindshare in Singapore, or was beaten out for advertising space by competitors. We’re hoping that neither is the case, as we love this country and would hate to see it forgotten.