As Steve Jobs checked off Apple's newest gear, you had to wonder whether some members of the media were quietly checking off their hits and misses. But with the premature disclosure of the new iPod nano's case in a Mac rumor site, and the growing reports about a $99 Apple TV and 99 cent TV show rentals, there weren't many surprises.
Yes, some of the fine details may not have been expected although, in retrospect, they all made perfect sense. Apple also tries to keep new product events tightly focused, so, with invitations to the press sporting a photo of a guitar, you just knew it would be all about entertainment.
That meant there was no update to the MacBook Air, and while you might consider what you do in iLife to be largely oriented towards entertainment, there was no compelling reason for an upgrade right now. The betting is some time after the start of 2011.
So, on Saturday night's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we spent the entire episode talking about Apple's special media event, where they introduced new versions of the iPod shuffle, the iPod nano and the iPod touch, along with iTunes 10 and the long-awaited upgrade for Apple TV in a new form factor.
Joining us for a sage analysis of the plusses and minuses of the presentation were author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, John Martellaro, Senior Editor from The Mac Observer, and veteran Mac author Ted Landau.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Nicholas Redfern presents an interview with journalist Jason Offutt, who returns to The Paracast to talk about his latest book, "What Lurks Beyond: The Paranormal in Your Backyard (New Odyssey Series)."
Coming September 12: Co-hosts Christopher O’Brien and Nicholas Redfern present a return visit with paranormal author and adventurer David Hatcher Childress, author of "Yetis, Sasquatch & Hairy Giants."
Coming September 19: Co-host Christopher O’Brien introduces an elder for the Zuni tribe making his first radio appearance, Clifford Mahooty, who will discuss Indian legends, including those involving "star people" who came to Earth in ancient times.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
The skeptics say that Apple Inc. has a lot of nerve, pushing out new products with the claims that they are game-changers, magical, insanely great and all that jazz. Certainly no company can hit a home run every single time, and, besides, there are competitors lining up to eat Apple's lunch, including the dessert.
Contrast Apple's egotistical behavior with that of Microsoft, which promises to imitate a competitor's product next year or the year after that. It doesn't seem to make sense to want to denigrate your own product, but if you can't match or beat the competition, at least show your good intentions.
Now last week's product announcements are, as usual a mixed bag. While the chatter is pretty positive about the new iPods and the attempt to take Apple TV beyond the "hobby" category, it seems that Apple's efforts at social networking, by adding the Ping service to iTunes 10, are drawing criticisms. I mean, do you really need another Facebook or Twitter? Isn't one of each quite enough for your busy life?
Of course, Apple's motives are far more mundane. The iTunes store is there to sell you product, and if you happen to have a good time giving Apple some of your money, so be it. Shouldn't the browsing and buying experience be enjoyable? That way, you come away more satisfied with the product or service you purchased. You're happy. Apple is happy. So what's wrong with that?
The launch of Ping has been somewhat rocky, as some complain about being spammed, or not having adequate warning about the consequences of signing up. Apple has also run into difficulty integrating Ping with Facebook. While most anyone with a normal-sized Web site can do it easily, without cost, iTunes has 160 million users, and that traffic can cost dearly. So Apple and Facebook will have to come to terms somehow, mostly financial. But I won't bet that it won't happen.
What concerns me the most, however, is that some analysts seem to believe that Apple, in introducing Ping, is somehow trying to compete with regular social networks, rather than focus on a service with a narrow focus that is designed, in the end, as a sales tool. It's one of those distinctions that isn't being grasped, though I'd think Apple's efforts to work with Facebook should have been a clue even to the casual observer. After all it does demonstrate that Apple's so-called "walled garden" isn't entirely closed.
Still, some members of the media are ready to write off Ping after just a few days, even though one third of the original downloaders of iTunes 10 signed up immediately.
Perhaps the most controversial feature of iTunes 10 is actually not something that changes the functionality in any way. It's the icon, which loses the CD emblem, evidently because the sales of digital music will exceed physical discs some time next year. Apple, some say, should keep the original icons until hell freezes over, and, besides, does the new version actually look better?
Well, the Apple logo has undergone some alterations too in recent years, and a company has the right to change branding. Maybe you'll get used to it, and, if Apple gets enough complaints, perhaps they'll set their graphic artists working on a new logo — or maybe not. But it's also true that iTunes isn't just about music, so in that sense, the logo is still limiting.
The biggest criticisms leveled at the new iPods are not so much the loss of the nano's video playback and movie making capability, but the fact that the classic remains unchanged. Of course, there's a good reason for that. The price of flash memory hasn't declined, which means that a classic with a solid state drive boasting 128GB or 160GB capacity would remain prohibitively expensive.
While nothing has been said so far on the subject, it would seem sensible for Apple to keep the classic in the lineup for another year, waiting for memory prices to fall, so they can send it off to pasture for good without customer complaints. Of course, if sales were to decline precipitously — and nobody outside of Apple really knows what percentage of total iPod sales the classic gets — you know Apple would put the classic out of its misery.
When it comes to the Apple TV, I hardly think you can say that calling a product a "hobby" represents hubris. Indeed, it appears that Apple is being very cautious about the its potential, while targeting it more towards a mainstream consumer in the hopes it will catch fire sales wise.
In fact, if you return to 2007, Steve Jobs didn't make a huge boast about the prospects for the iPhone either. He suggested sales would total 10 million by the end of 2008, a figure the iPhone handily exceeded. I also expect they didn't believe the iPad would be such a breakout hit, but now there are reports that Apple is working to boost production from two to three million units a month, which would be simply outstanding compared to every single estimate from all the supposedly knowledgeable industry analysts.
You can say any company that thinks its products are good has some level of hubris. Apple is put on the top of the list, but don't forget that most of their projections about the industry tend to be correct. Even the one about Adobe Flash, which still has serious performance problems on competing smartphones. Jobs told you that, but far too many people didn't listen. And there's nothing wrong with being confident of yourself when you're almost always right.
One reader sent me a message recently suggesting that I spend far too much time writing about broadband Internet, cable and satellite TV. But since these services are front and center for all of you — though I grant some of you still use dial-up Internet — I think these topics are very relevant.
Just this weekend, there was a published report that Clearwire, partly owned by Sprint, is establishing a test program to roll out a new wireless 4G LTE broadband service in the Phoenix area starting this fall, and continuing in the early part of 2011.
According to the company press release, Clearwire touts performance in the 20 to 70 megabits range, which puts it on a par with the best cable can offer, not to mention Verizon's FiOS. The real question, however, is whether this service will be offered as an alternative to existing broadband Internet service, or confined strictly for mobile phone use, which would seem a waste.
Now until the service is actually deployed, it's hard to say whether the claimed performance potential can actually be achieved, not to mention how much it'll cost. Certainly if Clearwire hopes to compete with existing ISPs, they will have to be aggressive on pricing, and I'd be curious whether this test will include service to existing homes and businesses.
I know my first attempt to get high-speed Internet involved a service no longer being supported, called Sprint Broadband, which employed a roof-mounted antenna to send and receive the signal, and a converter box very much like today's cable modem at least in terms of the appearance and operation.
At its best, downloads achieved a rate of several megabits, but upload speeds were often no better than dial-up. The situation got worse as the service became more popular. Fortunately, Cox finally brought their broadband service to my neighborhood, and I sent Sprint packing.
These days, Sprint has a mobile broadband service that is simply part of their existing cell phone network.
As those of you who have followed my various attempts to realize online nirvana realize, I have had a love/hate relationship with Cox, my current provider, largely because of inconsistent service and troublesome support. My attempt to set up Qwest as an alternative was a travesty, since they couldn't deliver more than a third of the promised level of performance. So I definitely would like to see a third alternative.
Also, being wireless, if Clearwire can successfully deliver speeds in the range promised at decent prices, I'd be curious to see how quickly and efficiently they can deploy the service here and elsewhere. More to the point, would a wireless service of this sort be workable in a sparsely populated rural area? As I write this, millions of people in the U.S. don't have access to broadband, except, if their homes have clear views to the proper location, for expensive satellite Internet.
I like choices.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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