By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 6:31 pm
I’m sorry I wasn’t at Apple’s music event today to cover it live. I had fun watching it via Apple’s live video stream from the lobby bar here at the Grand Hyatt in Berlin, though. (I give the experience a B- from a technical standpoint: Eighty percent of the time, the stream worked well, fifteen percent I got audio but the picture froze, five percent it misbehaved in other ways. Then again, I was on iffy hotel Wi-Fi, so the glitchiness might have been on my end rather than Apple’s.)
Just about all of today’s news turned out to be less than dramatic: It was expected (the new iPod Touch) or less radical than the rumors had it (the new Apple TV) or involved minor products (the Shuffle and Nano). But as usual, I’m left asking questions about the upshot of the morning’s announcements. Such as:
Is the main message of the new Nano that the old Nano was irrelevant? It’s basically got two new features: It’s way small and it has a touch-screen interface. But it has a smaller screen than its predecessor (1.54″ vs. 2.2″). It doesn’t have a camera anymore (looks like it’s official that the camera-enabled Nano never killed the Flip). I assume it can’t play video. The pedometer is presumably gone. It’s essentially a different device–more like a Shuffle with a screen than a more fully-evolved Nano. If you want video and a camera, Apple is saying, buy an iPod Touch–a larger, pricier, more complex gadget. It’s logical advice for a lot of people, but is there nobody left who wants a fairly feature-rich iPod with the simplicity of the old interface?
Is the new Nano an iOS device? It has an iOS-like skin, and Jobs seemed to call it an iOS-based product when he referred to “other” iOS devices. But he never addressed the issue explicitly. Of course,the Nano’s OS only matters if Apple lets developers write Nano-compatible apps–which sounds like it might involve a lot of complexity without that much payoff.
What explains the iPod Shuffle’s evolution/devolution? I kind of liked the buttonless, voice-controlled version, but I apparently didn’t have much company. The new square Shuffle is an improved version of the Shuffle before the last one, retaining the last one’s voice control as an option but abandoning everything else about it. I’m trying to think of other examples of Apple, or anyone else, taking a detour like the last Shuffle before.
Is the iPod Classic a non-product? Steve Jobs said that Apple was updating all the iPods, and then didn’t mention the poor Classic–which left me thinking it was a goner. But it’s still in the lineup, in unchanged form. Will the last iPod with the original iconic click wheel design ever get a meaningful upgrade? Will it still be in the lineup one year from now?
Does Ping have anything to do with Lala? I still miss the brilliant music service which was bought and shuttered by Apple, and wonder whether parts of it will return, in one form or another, as Apple products. Among Lala’s features were social network-like aspects that let you friend people and see what they were listening to–similar, in broad concept, to iTunes’ new Ping features. Is Ping just vaguely Lala-like, or is does it really represent the return of (part of) Lala?
Does Ping show Apple wants to be a social-networking powerhouse? Sure, there have been features in Apple products which flirted with being social for years. But Ping is something new: a full-blown attempt to turn millions of iTunes users into one of the world’s largest social networks. During the event, I tweeted that there’s a war between Ping, Facebook, and Gmail brewing. I was joking–but if the version of Ping which Apple announced today is just the start of the company’s social ambitions, it involves new competitive fronts for sure.
Is Ping a bad idea? Hey, I’m not saying it is–in fact, it gets my vote as today’s most interesting news, by quite a lot. But people already complain that iTunes is too bloated and unfocused. And the notion of doing Facebook/Twitter-like social networking in an application rather than on the Web sounds a tad odd. I’m looking forward to trying it out and forming opinions one way or the other.
Is the new Apple TV more than a hobby? Apple has been ratcheting down expectations for the original Apple TV almost from the moment it released it, saying it’s just a hobby and that’s not selling particularly well. The new version represents a major rethinking of the hardware (it’s tiny and diskless) and offers new services and features (cheap HP TV downloads, Airplay streaming from iOS devices). There’s nothing strikingly innovative about the new Apple TV, though-at best, it looks like a nice rival to the very similar device known as Roku. (Google TV, which is designed to play all the video on the Web, looks more inventive.) Still, with Apple behind it, there’s a chance that the new Apple TV will be a game-changing breakout hit. I guess we’ll know if Steve Jobs starts quoting sales figures rather than disparaging the whole idea.
What happened to the idea of an Apple TV App Store? It was a cool idea. There may be iOS lurking somewhere within the new Apple TV, but Jobs didn’t say so, and it’s clear that the new one won’t run third-party software–at least not right now. Is this model an intermediary step on the road to an app-enabled Apple TV?
Can they make November come a little quicker? I’m really anxious to get iOS 4.2, which finally brings multitasking, folders, and the rest of the goodness of iOS 4 to the iPad.
Any answers to any of the above musings? Any additional questions of your own?