The September 2010 Apple event has come to close and with it comes a new lineup of iPods, updates to iOS, a revamp to the company’s “hobby” with Apple TV, and Ping – the social network feature integrated into iTunes. Considering this was a music centric event the question perhaps most asked was “how is Apple going to convince consumers to buy an iPhone and an iPod?” Did Apple answer this question with today’s announcement? In part yes, but mostly no.
Of the three iPod devices discussed in today’s event the Nano underwent the most changes with this new generation, with a significantly smaller form factor (approaching the Shuffle), multi-touch screen, and an iOS like interface. It will be interesting to see how consumers receive this new form factor. The Shuffle returned to a more practical (read smaller and return of the physical button layout) form factor – appealing to the active lifestyle (or those who want a minimalist design/operation). While one could make an argument for buying one of the smaller form factor iPods if you already own an iPhone (e.g. for exercising) the question remains for the Touch.
Features like the retina display, front facing camera (with FaceTime), iOS 4.1 and GameCenter (with multiplayer matchmaking) certainly help make a compelling package for the Touch, not to mention the thinner form factor, in the end it still does little to differentiate itself from the iPhone. The Touch remains a good solution for those consumers on different mobile carriers than AT&T and who want a full featured small form factor Apple device (iPad aside); however if new operators (like Verizon) start to offer the iPhone, this will add further competitive pressures on the Touch, limiting its value proposition. In addition more consumers are listening to online services like Internet radio, which requires a persistent link to the Internet, something the Touch lacks. While AirPlay creates a compelling dynamic in the home (especially when coupled to the new Apple TV device) again this isn’t unique to the Touch alone (AirPlay is coming with iOS 4.2).
Speaking of Apple TV, this was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of today’s announcements from Apple – not in terms of what was announced but what might have been. The rumor mill was quite active leading up to this event, with many pondering what Apple TV would look like with iOS. Naturally this could open up the doors to an expansive library of applications (and truly offer non-Internet connected TVs a quick upgrade, with a platform likely more robust that what is currently on the market) but perhaps more significantly complete (or complement) Apple’s presence in the game market. Steve Jobs made it clear that the iPod Touch is just as much a game platform as it is a media player – bringing this to the big screen (with dedicated controllers) could have made serious inroads into the incumbents market prospects. So while the changes and features to the device and service were positive (also the $99 price tag), it seemed like Apple TV could offer more. The addition of Netflix streaming was noteworthy, if only as an example where Apple TV has expanded its content library but also speaking to the broad presence Netflix has in this facet of the market.
The last part we’ll highlight is Ping. Adding social networking features to iTunes seems like a natural fit – considering the past success MySpace had with music/bands and the wide spread use of iTunes. Apple will however, have to move carefully or risk some of the fallout companies like Facebook and Google have encountered over privacy issues. There is also question if preexisting social networking service will integrate into Ping, or if it will remain a separate island (from a consumer perspective the former/integration would be optimal). With AirPlay, Ping and this generation of Apple devices Apple is offering a compelling unified experience in the digital living room (especially considering AirPlay on third party devices like speaker docks, AV receivers and stereo systems), perhaps more so than any company to date.