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Christmas Gift Guide
Culture

RIP, iPod Mini? No way, fans say

Apple may have killed it off, but some consumers are still carrying a torch for last year's hot ticket. Photos: iPods Mini and Nano

Seems everywhere you look this holiday season, you see the iPod Nano.

The sleek little music player is making all the top tech gift lists, is featured in the major electronics retailers' circulars and continues to be one of Amazon.com's best-selling electronic gadgets.

But some consumers haven't been so quick to move away from one of last year's hot holiday gifts: the iPod Mini. Even though Apple Computer discontinued the Mini in September and replaced it with the Nano, these folks have been reluctant to take the Mini off their gift lists--and they're willing to pay top dollar to nab one.

Patrick McHenry of Erie, Pa., for example, just bought a pink 4GB Mini, which holds 1,000 songs, on eBay for $275. That's $76 over the original $199 price tag. But it's also less than McHenry would have paid at Compu-America--one of the few electronics retailers with the Mini in stock. The store is selling the same model for $349. And sellers on Amazon are listing prices for the 4GB Mini at more than $400.

So why would anyone pay so much for a Mini when they could buy the smaller and (some say) technologically superior 4GB Nano for $249, or even the new 30GB video iPod, which holds 7,500 songs, for $299?

In McHenry's case, it was to fulfill the Christmas wish of his friend's girlfriend. "She had her heart set on an iPod Mini mainly because they are discontinued, so not many people would have them," he said.

His friend's girlfriend appears to be just one of many fans of the Mini, which, unlike the Nano, comes in a 6GB version, and in a vibrant rainbow of colors: pink, blue, green, silver and gold.

In the past three months, about 36,000 Minis have sold on eBay, with the pace of sales picking up in the past couple of weeks, eBay spokesman Dean Jutilla said. As of Friday afternoon, 2,200 Mini auctions were under way on the site, he said.

The Mini has been averaging 15 to 16 bids per auction. That shows a strong demand, Jutilla added, especially when compared to the hot-ticket 4GB Nano, which is clocking in just slightly higher on eBay bids, at 18. And the average price per Mini--whether 4GB or 6GB--has gone up from $173 to $229, he added.

In living color
Compu-America sales manager Fred Rafi said he noticed a retail shortage for the Mini and last week decided to buy a bunch (he wouldn't say how many), even though he had to pay well over the retail price. He marked them up even further, and although he admits that it's kind of crazy, "people are buying them."

"I think it's because of Christmas, and a lot of people just still like the Mini."

Jeremy Horwitz, editor-in-chief of popular iPod site iLounge, said "there's no reason to prefer the iPod Mini (over the Nano) on technical specs." The Nano is faster, has better audio quality and a color screen, among other advantages, he said. So he can only guess that people are paying more for the Mini because it's now rare, comes in more colors, and, he said, is sturdier than the Nano, which has been accused of scratching easily.

"The Nano comes in black and white. Those colors aren't quite as fun," Horwitz said, adding that there also isn't a 6GB Nano, so there's no "intermediate step" for those who were ready to move up from a 4GB.

Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research, adds that the marked-up prices for Minis might simply be explained by the laws of supply and demand. "The availability of the iPod Mini appears to be limited...We saw a similar effect with the G4 Cubes when they were discontinued."

Wu said pricing might be a factor. With the introduction of the Nano, Apple upped the price for 4GB of storage by $50 to $249. The 6GB Mini cost the same as what the 4GB Nano now costs.

Apple has sold more than 28 million iPods overall since the players were introduced in October 2001, and some say the Mini, which came out in January 2004, accounted for just less than half that number.

So when the Mini was discontinued, it put accessory makers like Sonnet Technologies in a quandary. Irvine, Calif.-based Sonnet already had its PodFreq FM transmitter for the Mini in the works.

The company ended up bringing the product to market, anyway, knowing that "there are a lot of iPod owners who remain loyal to their model, regardless of the latest introductions by Apple," marketing director Christine Taylor said. "We felt that there was kind of a 'cult' surrounding the iPod Mini, and we wanted to redesign our PodFreq to attract those folks," she said, adding that the company's related slogan for add-ons is "love your iPod even longer."

Given the prices people are willing to pay for Minis, some might call it punch-drunk love, or in the following case, simply drunk love: An eBay member from the United Kingdom, who didn't want his name used for this story, recently ended paying $359.86 as the winning bidder of a blue 6GB Mini.

Why did he do it? "Errr, to be honest, I didn't know I was paying over the odds," he wrote. "I was pretty drunk when I was bidding."