Who's Actually Buying iPods These Days?

Posted by Matt Birchler
β€” 4 min read

With this week's update to the entire iPod lineup, many have been asking "Who are iPods even for these days?" Well, I worked the last 3 years managing an electronics department for Target, and have sold a lot of Apple devices over that time. Since Apple doesn't break down demographics for who is buying each device, I thought I would share my experience.

It should of course be noted that I am just one person and my experience may not be 100% accurate with its representation of the market. After doing some quick mental math, it's fair to say 5,000-10,000 Apple devices moved through my department in my tenure. That's quite enough to pick up some trends, so here we go.

iPod Touch

The iPod Touch is far and away the best selling iPod I sold. I didn't sell it to everyone, though. It tended to be for either very young or very old people. While almost everyone between ages 18 and 50 have a smartphone that they're pretty comfortable using for just about everything, the younger and older crowds would flock more to this device.

The reasoning is pretty straightforward: if you have an iPhone, the iPod Touch doesn't do anything for you. I guess you could make the case that it's a way for someone with an Android or Windows phone to reap the benefits of the iOS ecosystem, but I never saw that in practice.

Kids would buy (or their parents would buy for them) the iPod Touch because of 3 things:

  1. It played games (Minecraft, mostly)
  2. It had YouTube
  3. It could stream music

A lot of families stopped buying iPod Touches once the iPad Mini got down to the $249 price point. You get a lot more device for your buck, and Touch sales dropped off very quickly. I could go on and on about this, but young kids love iPads more than most of us 20-30 somethings can imagine.

You also see more and more kids just using a hand-me-down smartphone that the parents have since upgraded from.

And then there were older people who bought Touches. They were more rare, but they were people who wanted something to FaceTime with their kids/grandkids. Maybe they wanted to use a couple apps they had heard about, but didn't want to pay the ridiculous data fees to get them on a smartphone. This was a much smaller market, and many of them would end up buying an iPod Nano (for reasons I'll address in the next section).

iPod Nano

I almost exclusively sold this iPod to older people. In fact, thinking back on it, I don't know if I ever sold one to someone under the age of 50. There are still some people who want to have a music player that doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the iPod Touch. They don't want a web browser, they don't want apps, and they don't want to stream music. The iPod Nano was the only traditional MP3 player in the lineup, so this is what people bought who we're looking for something that "just plays music." The Nano sold to people who wanted something that was easy to use and didn't distract them with all that other cruft.

The average tech nerd will look at the $149 price of the Nano and compare it to the $199 Touch and wonder why someone wouldn't spend the extra $50 to get "so much more." This question simply displays a lack of understanding as to how the market at large currently works. It's similar to someone saying "why would you buy an iPad when you can buy a Windows laptop of the same price that does more?" You can't always say what's best for people to buy based on the raw tech specs.

I have also seen some suggest that the Nano was a good device for kids who you don't want going online just yet. That's simply not my experience at all. Parents wanted a tool that would let their kids get on YouTube, listen to streaming music, and play games.

This makes total sense when you consider that 10 year olds simply don't have MP3 collections anymore. They certainly don't have collections like we used to have when I was a kid. I used to buy CDs and rip them to my iPod. I would borrow CDs from friends to do the same thing. I would find many ways to get music and cram my iTunes full of as much music as possible. This is not what "the kids" do anymore, so an iPod that you need to load files onto is completely useless to them.

iPod Shuffle

I call this the "I'm buying this as a gift" iPod. Almost nobody bought this for themselves, even though at $49 it was the most impulse-buy device Apple sells. They always were getting this for someone else who they thought would like it. Every once in a while I would get someone buying it for themselves, but it was pretty rare.

This iPod suffers from all the relevancy problems the Nano suffers from with the added bonus of removing the screen. Most adults who saw this iPod were happy when they heard the price, but quickly lost their enthusiasm when I explained the functionality.

The iPod Shuffle is not something a lot of people would buy for themselves, but they're pretty sure they know somebody who it would be perfect for. I suspect the Shuffle is the iPod most likely to be "lost" in a drawer after using it once or twice.


So who are iPods for? They're for people who don't have a smartphone, and that's about it. This makes complete sense, though. The smartphone came in and ate so many products' lunch. Apple's iPhone can do everything these iPods can do and do so much more as well. A smartphone is almost essential if you're a young to middle age adult these days, so you probably already have one in your pocket. For that majority of the population, iPods are redundant, and they don't even think about them most of the time.

iPods remain somewhat relevant amongst the very young and very old. But once again, the rise of affordable tablets has made even those markets shrink by the day. It's hard to think the iPod line is going to do anything but continue shrink even with this refresh.