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Thoughts on Apple’s Media Event

Marc
  • On September 2, 2010
  • http:/www.marcforrest.com

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…

Comments

  1. Waldo

    Good post. Interesting, with lots of details.

    But I have to say, the use of the word “bam”, in captials nogal, really does reek of a Steve Jobs presentation. A bit to American for me…

  2. Gary Meyer

    I’d have been way more excited about the AppleTV if we had a media store in SA… which we’re not going to get. You can be sure Multichoice is not never going to let that happen in South Africa.

    And I’m a little annoyed that the iOS4 for iPad is now only coming in November. Another two months of my iPad being a could-be-so-much-more device.

    …oh, and HDR with an unmounted camera? I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. Yeah, can’t believe we don’t get 4.1 for iPad. Surely they could have slapped Multitasking onto it without too much effort?

    I’m guessing iOS will do some form of image alignment in HDR mode… else those HDRs are going to look baaaad.

    -Tim

  4. pete

    4.1 was never going to come to iPad. Apple doesn’t release major versions of their operating systems without having put them through a developer beta first. There never was an iPad 4.1 developer beta. So the fact that there isn’t going to be an iPad 4.1 didn’t bum me out because I knew it wasn’t going to happen. And with a beta cycle of around 6-8 weeks, November was about the earliest 4.2 would realistically happen. If you know what you’re NOT getting for your birthday, you’re less bummed out when you don’t get it :-)

    I was a little bit bummed about the fact that the Apple TV doesn’t have an app store (in spite of many rumours that it would have). But then, we also had to wait a whole year for the app store to come to iPhone. Apple, for all that they SEEM to be focusing on being revolutionary, mostly take a slowly-does-it approach on their products. We’ll see. I believe an Apple TV app store is going to happen — Apple seems to be enjoying giving Sony and Nintendo an uphill battle in the portable gaming space, so I’m pretty sure they’d like to see whether they can bring that into the living room too. (Note that the Apple TV apparently has an A4 processor – the same one powering the iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4 and iPad.)

    HDR… I think it is workable on iPhone. My (way too many) years of parking in my alma mater’s signal processing lab suggests to me that the source images don’t have to be exactly identical for HDR to still output sharp images, provided you do your image processing correctly and that none of your source images are blurred. In HDR, you’re not so much merging the images as you are applying spectral info from one or more source images to another source (reference) image. Folks seem to be getting good results with apps like TrueHDR today (average rating for the current version on the US app store is 4.5 stars).

  5. Ray

    I think the new ipod touch is great, hey it’s a camera replacement for sure and a combined gadget for all things really. This will will be really cool.

    I’ve been following rumours on the ipad “2” or 7 inch version, I think everyone was expecting some mention of it at the keynote last night, although it was mainly a music event, I think we can safely say the ipad 1 is here to stay until at least mid of next year 2011.

    Anyway for me right I’m thinking to go with the new touch, that is a perfect device for me, don’t like lugging cameras around, keeps my music in one place, games on the train (here in Australia at least) and the ipad, the ipad is 50% tax deduction here, as the tax office views it as a form of a laptop, which is also for educational expenses. I’ll just have to get a hard screen and case cover! for me kids ;_)

    Anyway good read and summary, I enjoyed watching the event also.

    Ray.

  6. Greg Mahlknecht

    This was one of the weaker Apple presentations, and only hardcore fanboys, obvlivious to anything that companies other than what Apple are doing, seemed happy. A more balanced summary of the event is here http://community.winsupersite.com/blogs/paul/archive/2010/09/01/apple-s-2010-music-event-meh.aspx

    To summarise my thoughts as an iphone/ipad user, but non fanboy:

    Apple TV – mediocre at best. Far more expensive than Netflix/Hulu/Amazon’s content, and the device itself is inferior to what Samsung is putting free into its new panel TVs using the Bada platform ( http://www.samsung.com/us/samsungapps/ ) .. $99 and $0.99 suddenly looks like a bad deal, and Apple’s way behind the curve on this one.

    Ping Social Network – as the first article I linked points out, it’s a copy of what Zune had years ago, and Apple fanboys laughed at. I guess they’ll find a reason to love it now.

    Steve’s forced talk-up of iPod Touch as a gaming platform -and utterly BS figures inferring that more people play games on it than real games handheld platforms. This suggests to me that Windows Phone 7 is going prove a worthy opponent in this space, Apple revealing the Games Center and push for gaming comes as no coincidence so close to all the great press about WP7 in this area lately.

    All I wanted from this event was the iPad iOS4 to be announced “available now!”, because the iPad is almost useless as a productivity tool without task switching. And I bought mine with the expectations of it not remaining a toy for so long.

  7. pete

    Thanks for your comments Greg! A less hyperbolic take is always valuable!

    What excites me about the Apple TV is the integration with my content on my Mac, iPad and iPhone (which I do use a lot for content consumption). Also, with Netflix integration, the Apple TV isn’t entirely locked into the iTunes Store content eco-system.

    Now that I’ve had a chance to try Ping, I’m a bit less enthusiastic about it. It has a lot of obvious missed opportunities, and its limitations are quite crippling. Knowing Apple, they’ll evolve it quite a lot over time because it has a lot of potential. The advantage that Apple has over Microsoft is that they have a much larger (content) community to leverage.

    While I see the merits in your Apple TV and Ping comments, I have to disagree on your gaming comments. While Jobs’ stats are definitely misleading (if one looks at absolute lifetime sales of PSP and DS vs. iPod Touch), the iPod Touch (specifically) and iOS (generally) have become a tremendous force in gaming. The fact that major publishers like SEGA, Rockstar and Square Enix are releasing quality games for iOS either alongside other portable platforms or specifically for iOS is an indication of iGaming’s ascendancy. I somehow don’t think Sony sees iOS gaming as something that lives entirely in Steve Jobs’ mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdPvVCbLY5c

    The advantage to iOS gaming is that it’s a very broad net, with something for everyone from the casual Doodle Jump / Angry Bird crowd to the hardcore RPG crowd with Chaos Rings.

    Whether Windows Phone 7 will achieve anything significantly in gaming is somewhat tied with how the platform will do in general. While I am glad to see Microsoft trying to change course from the disastrous route they’ve been taking in mobile over the last three or four years, WinPho7 might just be too little, too late. We’ll see.

  8. Greg Mahlknecht

    @pete: The BS I referred to was: “The iPod touch outsells Nintendo and Sony portables combined! It’s got over 50% marketshare for portable gaming worldwide” … that’s BS. People buy PSP/DS *ONLY* to play games, it’s an afterthought for iPod touch owners. Meaningless and totally misleading comparison. Reality distortion field at full.

    A few major publishers have dabbled in iOS games, but it’s not a platform that’s well positioned to dominate it going forward. Fragmented hardware specs, etc. Not great.

    I tried to look at Ping, but realised it’s only available in iTunes 10. REALLY?! What a joke. So it’s a social network that I can’t just log in from a browser and interact? I’m not installint iTune10 just for that. They really need to rewrite iTunes/win. I know the Mac version is liked by most mac users, but the Windows version is almost universally despised. Why don’t Apple just improve it? They’re either crippling it on purpose, or are massively incompetent, as it’s no secret that there are FAR more Windows iTunes users than Mac users.

    >WinPho7 might just be too little, too late. We’ll see

    I see this a lot, and it also crosses my mind, but you just have to look at history to find it’s not true. Apple entered a crowded market and did well. Then Android came up against that and did even better. All MS needs is a great product, and they’re in the game. It’s never “too late” to have a great product do well. Build it and they will come.

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