Well you can't be a tech based blog and not talk about Apple's new product announcements. I would have posted something yesterday but being a historically anti-Apple guy I needed some time to calm down and gain some objectivity. (I have to remind myself that I'm an Apple share holder so what's good for them is good for me also). This event was all about the iPod and iTunes. Keeping focus is one of Steve's things so that explains why the 24" iMac was announced last week instead.
There were lots of things announced, but no real surprises (if you follow Apple rumors that is). The only real surprise is what was not announced - the wide screen iPod. (Yeah people also keep talking about the iPhone, but I don't see that happening). My top three announcements:
8G in a tiny player with no moving parts is a pretty good idea. Nice that they adjusted the price points. I'm bummed that the nano doesn't support the new casual Ipod games. (I think $5 iPod games are a cool idea, especially if you can get Bejewled). Good job making the case aluminum and less scratch prone than the previous model. Personally I like the older look better, and that brings me to the colors. Something bothers me about them. Actually more to the point, I'm bothered by their use as a psychological marketing tool. If you check out their Nano line up, you'll find that the colors are not equally available across all capacities. In fact there is a very careful distribution of color. One thing good marketers know is how to leverage the dimensions of 'status' and 'differentiation' in their products. Lets face it, now that nearly everyone has an iPod how do you stand out from the crowd? Well you have to have the most expensive iPod. The problem is that it has been hard to tell the expensive ones from the cheap ones from a distance - especially with the nano. Now this problem is solved. If you buy a lowly 2G model you can have any color you want as long as it is silver. From a distance someone will see you with a silver nano and know you are a cheap scape. If you have flashy colors then you are clearly middle class with a 4G nano. (Sure they offer the 4G in silver also, but I predict only the most clueless would buy one of those). And if you have a black nano - you are surely upper crust with your 8G wonder. As with the Macbook, black is for the 1337.
Bout' time. Now for the tricky part, since they decided to only offer downloads in one size (counter to some rumors on the topic) I'm wondering how the previous gen Ipods will handle the increased resolution. Maybe I just missed it in Steve's address somewhere. It must work somehow since even TV shows are now coming in the higher res. As for the movies, I'll say there were no surprises here. If this were 2005 some might balk at the fact that only one studio (effectively) has signed up. But after the success of iTunes TV shows, I don't think anyone need worry that the rest of the studios will be able to resist that sweet smell of money for long. I think that what remains to be seen is if the 'purchase' only model will be effective. To be sure there are some real trade offs paying near full DVD prices ($15.00) for an electronic only version that is DRM restricted, lower quality, doesn't include the extra DVD content and might get wiped out in a hard drive crash. At least these have been the traditional arguments for other download movie services includes Amazon's new Unbox. Now compared to 10.00 to go to the theater 1 time view, no pause, people with cell phones, young kids crying, people kicking your seat and eating stinky food, and walking on sticky floors it might not be so bad. Yet I wonder if a time-bombed rental model might be more reasonable. I like to watch a lot of movies (thank you NetFlix), but I don't really feel compelled to own that many. I guess time will tell here. At least with TV shows you are getting something you can't get anywhere else - the ability to download a show the day after it airs. With movies, they will be released the same time as the DVDs so the differentiator is not as clear.
Well the final piece of the puzzle is revealed. Many have been speculating on Apples strategy in the battle for the living room for years. Even Crazy Cringley has had more than his fair share of theories regarding this. I think this set top box approach is a pretty good solution for Apple. It extends their media control to the last battlefront- the TV. BTW does anyone know for sure that this will work with PCs as well as Macs. I have to assume it will. I think the specs of the box are very nice, the form factor is cool, but to be honest though I think that 299 is too much. Seriously you can get an Xbox 360 for 299 and use it to stream content as well as play awesome games. I have been reminded many many times, however, that I am not Apple's target customer so my perspective on Apple pricing is skewed. To be honest the iTV is not the only way to get your iTunes video onto your TV - even though Steve seemed to be positioning it that way. You can currently hook your Macbook or Mini to the TV with minimal effort and drive it with Front row. You can also use your Ipod via the dock + AV cables + remote. So what is the primary use case then? The most likely one seems to be users with fixed macs in an office. By fixed mac I mean iMac, mini or tower. Ahh back to the mini. I still think it would be a good idea to extend the mini to be the high end version of the set top box. When the mini first came out I mused that with it's minuscule form factor it would be the ideal media center PC. I wondered aloud (as did others) why Apple didn't throw in a tuner and optical audio out. Well in hind sight the decision not to embrace the tuner is obvious. Why help people record TV when you can sell it directly to them for profit. Also they have since added optical out to the mini.
So what is keeping the mini from being the uber version of the set top box? Well I think it needs a few things: