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  • Some of the Less Positive Aspects of the Apple Event

    September 3rd, 2010

    On the whole, it appears that Apple is getting great marks for its fall musical event, where a new lineup of iPods debuted. And, despite using a guitar on the invitation (denoting only music), Apple also upgraded its favorite hobby product, the Apple TV.

    It seems, as usual, that some members of the media have concerns about the gear Apple presented, and deeper concerns about some of the features and perhaps products that weren’t part of the agenda, such as a new iLife and perhaps an upgrade for the aging MacBook Air. Certainly there are valid points to raise, or at least they seem valid on the surface.

    Take the fact that the new iPod nano doesn’t let you view movies, nor take videos. Why would Apple remove two perfectly useful features? Was it all a compromise to switch to a square case design, or was there a deeper purpose in their removal?

    One area in which Apple excels is knowing not just what features to add, but which to omit, or perhaps to remove. So in this case, the powers that be decided that you didn’t need an iPod nano with a camcorder, or even with the ability to watch videos. In a sense, the nano is returning to its roots as it were, as a device primarily designed for listening rather than watching. The only thing you’re meant to watch is the touchscreen interface, or perhaps a photo from your library. Clearly Apple also deemed the presence of an FM radio and Nike+ to be useful.

    Now I suppose it could be argued that Apple was greedy, and removed the other features strictly to save dollars, although having such a small form factor might have made it difficult to add a camera. Or maybe, just maybe, their market research indicated that the vast majority of customers really didn’t care about movies and making videos, so they went bye-bye. It might have been nice to see a lower price as well, but I am not about to guess what the production costs and profit margins might be.

    The other issue is the touchscreen itself, although it looks real nice. You see, with physical controls, you can learn to reach inside your pocket and actually control the functions once you get a sense of where the buttons are situated. But with a touchscreen, you have to actually see the virtual buttons first. Now maybe I’m making too much of a deal over this, but it seems like a shortcoming.

    In the end, if the iPod nano tanks in the marketplace, Apple’s decision will have been shown to be unwise. But it may also be a hot seller, which would vindicate Apple’s approach.

    When it comes to the iPod touch, having an HD camcorder capability, and a front-facing camera for FaceTime, brings the product ever closer in concept to the iPhone — without the contract, as Steve Jobs says. But why not go the whole hog and add a real five megapixel camera, for sharp photos? I cannot imagine it would increase the bill of materials all that much, nor somehow cannibalize sales from the iPhone. It’s not as if the target markets really overlap all that much.

    As far as the Apple TV is concerned, one complaint I’ve heard on several occasions is the fact that there’s no internal storage to speak of. I expect there’s enough memory to handle routine buffering ahead of video playback, but that’s all.

    Every product has its compromises, and the price of a tiny form factor and super cheap price meant something had to go, and storage had to be at the top of the list. But since you’re meant to stream content from your Mac, PC, or the cloud, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Besides, once Apple’s gigantic new data center is online, it may push even more of your stuff to the cloud, even your iTunes stuff, although I rather suspect you’ll still be able to have backup storage on your computer.

    The real question, though, is just how many people will adopt the Apple TV. It’s not as if people have been clamoring for yet another set-top box, and that may be one nasty fact that Google doesn’t quite comprehend as they try to generate interest for Google TV. I’m not altogether sure why you’d need one, whether built in to your TV, deployed as yet another set-top box, or as a software upgrade from your cable or satellite provider.

    Clearly the Apple TV may not serve everyone’s needs. It appears to be useful as an alternate content device, not a replacement for your current products. Indeed, I wonder why I’d want to pay 99 cents for a TV show if I already have a DVR. Yeah, I suppose if I forget to record a show, I’m afforded a second chance to see it, or I have an opportunity to see it again. Of course, there are other streaming services available, even free ones if you can tolerate the ads. When it comes to movies, I think most needs are largely met by cable or satellite services, plus a video rental service.

    But that doesn’t mean Apple TV is destined to fail. The previous version earned a profit for Apple, and, at $99, the new model is a fairly casual purchase, particularly for the holidays. Time will tell whether or not Apple can remove the hobby label.



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