Thoughts on Apple’s Media Event
Another awesome read by Apple boy Pete, who takes a look at last night’s Apple event with a whole whack of new stuff announced. I know I can’t wait for the AppleTV. Gonna be game changing. Would love to hear your thoughts on the event in the comments below
As one of South Africa’s number one Apple fanboys, I of course watched the live video stream of Apple’s media event on 1 September with baited breath (yes, yes, “reality distortion field” and all that). I think that yesterday’s announcements were Apple’s second biggest of the year, after the iPad introduction. Here is my take:
- iOS 4.1 is launching next week (Wednesday, 8 September, apparently, according to Apple’s Spanish site). While it seems to mostly be bug fixes, it includes game centre and high dynamic range photographs. In terms of game centre… We’ll have to see what it means practically for gaming on the iPhone, though as a keen gamer I hope that it means that the fragmentation of iOS social gaming into a dozen or so different third party networks (Openfeint, Plus+, Scoreloop, Crystal, etc.) will come to an end. More exciting to me right now is HDR. While the iPhone 4 (yes, I’m one of the lucky ones!) has a vastly improved camera, it is still virtually impossible to get good photos under anything but perfect lighting conditions. Parts of the image always seem to be either over- or underexposed. The HDR feature will cause the iPhone to take three photos in rapid succession: one under-exposed, one normal and one over-exposed. Through some magic, the three images then get combined into a single image with much better contrast.
- Wireless printing is coming to the iPad (and apparently iPhone too!) in November. Multi-tasking, folders, unified inbox, threaded email and all the other features we’ve come to depend on iPhone are finally coming to iPad as part of the iOS 4.2 update in November. Printing and multi-tasking would certainly make the iPad an even more useful device than it is today. It’s also worth pointing out that with the release of iOS 4.2 on both iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, it will mark the first time that all iOS devices are running the same version of the operating system and that hopefully in future the iPad will always be updated simultaneously with its smaller brethren.
- Apple has massively overhauled their iPod line-up. Seems like the iPod Classic is slowly being phased out; apparently it will remain on sale for now but it was the only model not getting a makeover today. I suspect Apple wants people to buy an iPod Touch rather than the aging Classic. The iPod Nano is now touch enabled and the size of two postage stamps, and the iPod Touch is getting feature parity in a lot of areas with the iPhone (retina display, processing power, etc.). The iPod is Apple’s only product that has seen sales numbers decline over the last year or two. I think they’re working to stem the tide to ensure that they don’t see further sales decline there. (The iPhone has been cannibalising iPod sales, it seems. Not a train smash for Apple, because the iPhone’s profits more than made up the difference. But after selling a quarter billion iPods over the last decade or so, Apple will surely not want to let a product line that was pivotal in their turnaround from nearly-insolvent dinosaur to most valuable tech company in the world just slowly die without a fight.)
- The new iPod Touch finally has front- and rear-facing cameras and a microphone. And guess what? You can now make FaceTime video calls. From an iPod Touch. Which is less than half the price of an iPhone. With no cellular contract (and no GSM connectivity). It’s not just Google that’s busy working towards making the telcos obsolete (in their current form) with Google Voice. Now Apple is making it possible to call people, with very high quality video and audio, through an intuitive interface from a portable media device aimed at teens and 20-somethings, with no call charges. AT&T, Verizon, Vodafone… Meet the future.
- Apple made a big deal about the fact that the iPod Touch is now the BIGGEST portable gaming device in the world. Kinda by accident, through the huge success of the app store, the iPod Touch (even without the iPhone) now has a greater market share than both Sony and Nintendo’s handhelds COMBINED with a 50+% share of both the US and global market. Part of that success is the ease through which games can be bought and downloaded from the app store. Part of it is the fact that high quality titles in the app store cost a fraction of what Sony and Nintendo games go for. Seems like Apple is finally making peace with the fact that they accidentally, and with great hesitance, became the traditional gaming giants’ biggest competitor. They demoed a game (a version of which is now available in the app store as Epic Citadel) that pretty much kicks the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS’s asses when played on an iPhone 4. Wow. Between Unreal Engine based games and John Carmack bringing Rage to iOS, you really don’t have to hide your iPhone gaming addiction from your PSP and DS wielding buddies. (In fact, they’re ones deserving your pity!)
- iTunes is getting a new logo. Now I knooooow. “Pete, that’s not a big deal.” Bear with me. Steve Jobs mentioned that seeing as iTunes will probably sell more tracks by next year than the CD retail industry does, it was time to get rid of the CD in the logo. Apple’s transformation of the music industry, for better or for worse (depending on who you ask and whether they make a living off selling CD’s), is pretty much complete.
- Right. So Google is trying to build a Facebook-clone called Google Me. Guess what? Apple launched their own social network today. In iTunes. A media player used by millions and millions of people. (iTunes now has 160 million accounts with linked credit cards.) It seems to be a hybrid of Facebook and Twitter, aimed at music discovery. Set up your profile. Follow people. Follow artists. Post video clips. See the Top 10 songs etc. of the folks you follow. See what they’re listening to at the moment. See Lady Gaga’s favourite music tracks (you know, the stuff SHE likes to listen to). Listen to those tracks. One-click buy them. Brilliant. And it’s right there, in an app millions of people use every. single. day. Unlike Google, Apple is actually playing into their strengths, solving a problem many media-afficionados have, building a social network on top of something that is already hugely popular. This isn’t a ME TOO effort. This is something I would use (and yes, I am the target market, since I love music and other forms of content). Oh, and of course Ping will work on iOS devices too. More than 100 million of them. Effectively, Apple is bootstrapping their social network with more users than Twitter currently has. (And someone made the point that Ping might just be the final nail in MySpace’s coffin, seeing as MySpace still manages to hang on to life support as a place where many bands promote their music.)
- Apple is relaunching the Apple TV. The new model (rolling out end of this month in the US and perhaps a few other privileged countries) is a quarter of the size of the original Apple TV. It’s a little black box, the size of your palm. It comes with Wifi and ethernet connectivity options, and has an HDMI output for hooking up to your TV. So essentially, to get it working is pretty much as easy as hooking up power, plugging the HDMI cable into your TV and BAM!
- The focus is all on streaming and renting. No purchases. Jobs said that people don’t want to have to manage storage, and I agree. HD TV shows from Fox and ABC can now be rented for 99c / episode. (The other studios are not yet keen. Seems like there are limits to the “Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field.”) New release HD movies can be rented for $4.99. You can stream Netflix and Youtube at the push of a button. The interface is extremely slick and efficient. You can also stream video and music from any of the computers in your house, and make photo slideshows from your photo library.
- Once the new iOS update arrives in November, you’ll be able to stream content from your iPhone / iPod Touch / iPad to your Apple TV. So you sit on the couch with your iPad, browse to a movie you half-watched in bed on your iPad last night, open it, tap a button to send it to your Apple TV, and BAM! it continues playing on your TV. No wires, no fuss. Seamless interaction between all your (Apple) media devices.
- All of this Apple TV fun costing… $99. I think that’s a brilliant price point for a device that both Steve Jobs and I believe will go from “hobby for hardcore Apple nerds” to mainstream now, and the perfect complement to the rest of Apple’s ecosystem. Soon, many people will be playing with three Apple devices in the living room. iPhone in the shirt pocket, iPad on the lap, Apple TV remote in hand. Steve Jobs really believes there is no such thing as “too much of a good thing.”
- (The caveat in all of this is of course that all this beautiful content is only available in a handful of countries. Which won’t stop me from getting an Apple TV, naturally, but will require a bit of nerd trickery to operate here in SA, given the complete absence of the iTunes Music / Media Store in our part of the world.)
And that pretty much covers it. Making high quality mobile calls without a phone, a social network, same content shared everywhere on any (Apple) device, an even greater gaming focus (and keep in mind that the games industry is starting to eclipse Hollywood), an improved and cheaper Apple TV… Folks, don’t sell those AAPL shares just yet! Apple’s brilliant transformation from also-ran to front-runner in the tech space is far from over.
Now if only Steve would bring the iTunes Media Store to South Africa…