Music listeners crave more iPods

Shortage: Stores nationwide sold out of the digital players during the holiday season.

January 01, 2004|By Jon Fortt | Jon Fortt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - You're probably reclining in digital contentment during the holidays, snuggling with your shiny new iPod.

No?

Join the club. Around the globe, gadget lovers who hoped to get one as a present are learning that Apple Computer's little music players are in short supply. Many electronics stores sold all but the most expensive models - which prompted some desperate shoppers to spend $500 for the high-end iPod rather than do without.

The scarcity of the iPod, a smooth, white, digital music player, affirms its status as the It Thing, the tech industry's answer to Pilates and Orlando Bloom. Oprah, Moby and 50 Cent all like it. At 5.6 ounces, it's an inanimate celebrity.

Though Apple expected the iPod to be popular, its success seems to have outdone the company's lofty hopes. In Apple's annual report to investors last month, the company said it sold about 939,000 iPods in the 12 months ending in October; it sold 381,000 the year before.

"It still beat our overestimating expectations," said Kawika Holbrook, assistant manager at the Apple Store at Westfield Shoppingtown Valley Fair in Santa Clara, Calif., noting that his store had sold thousands since Thanksgiving.

Plus, fate may have conspired against a few iPod lovers. A large FedEx MD-10 airplane that caught fire last month in Memphis, Tenn., had a load of iPods on it, Holbrook said. "The picture was being passed around the Net, and we were like, `No!'"

Apple has not said whether any iPods were damaged on the plane, or whether the incident affected late-season availability.

It might be worthwhile for late iPod shoppers to wait a couple of weeks: Apple's biggest event of the year, Macworld San Francisco, begins Tuesday, and industry watchers expect that Apple will either drop the iPod's price or add features for it.

Demand appears poised to stay high, despite some disgruntled users. A San Francisco law firm filed a class action suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court on behalf of iPod owners whose built-in batteries have died. The plaintiffs seek free battery replacements, legal fees and a few other concessions.

"It's been selling extremely well," said Brett Boxwell, general manager at a Best Buy store. "With downloading technology it's been extremely popular. Some stores ran out."

Boxwell's store had one 40-gigabyte model left on display at 1:30 p.m. Christmas Eve. By 1:40 it was gone.

IPod's competitors also seemed to do well this year - there were just two 40-gigabyte players from Creative still in the case, but none of the cheaper models.

"I'm considering buying one," said Diep Le, who was at a Best Buy picking up a protective case for her father's iPod. She said she had trouble finding even accessories for the iPod, which her father has had for six months.

Despite the shortage, Le said, the iPod has an edge over similar models from Creative and Dell.

"For a lot of people, the iPod seems more portable, and it's trendy right now," she said. "They did a good job marketing it."

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