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Even with iPhone added, iPod growth is slowing

Pundits note that Apple showed only 5 percent iPod unit growth over last year's first quarter. The real comparison must include the iPhone, which replaces any potential iPod sale. Even then, growth is slowing.

As CNET reporter Tom Krazit reports, Apple shipped 22.1 million iPods in its October-to-December quarter, up a mere 5 percent from same quarter last year.

But as I've argued before, you must count iPhone unit sales for a fair year-to-year comparison because each iPhone takes the place of a potential iPod sale. It's essentially the highest-end, most expensive iPod.

iPod Touch
Apple must have sold a lot of iPod Touches during the quarter because iPod revenue grew much faster than iPod unit sales. Apple

But even with the 2.32 million iPhones it sold, that makes a total of 24.42 million, for a total of 15 percent unit growth over the previous year's quarter. That's respectable and Apple's doing spectacularly well elsewhere--for example, iPod revenue (not including the iPhone) grew 17 percent over last year, suggesting Apple's selling a lot of high-end iPod Touch units. But compared with the previous quarter, which showed 17 percent unit growth in iPods--and 30 percent growth if you add in the iPhone--this is a definite slowdown.

I doubt people are buying other MP3 players instead of an iPod--I don't expect Microsoft to report anywhere near a million Zune sales for the December quarter, for instance. (Microsoft reports earnings Thursday.) Rather, I'm guessing that we're seeing the maturing of the MP3 player market. The early adopters were in three or four years ago and have already gone through one or two replacements. The mass market's been in for at least a year now, and now it's coming down to bargain hunters and the normal replacement cycle.