Archive for October, 2007
When news of Apple working on new iPods that run on its legendary operating system first broke, analysts were expecting an iPhone like user interface on the new Nano and imagining all sorts of useful applications running on the iPod platform. However, when the new firmware visually turned out to be pretty much the old firmware with split-screen and CoverFLow tacked on, there was obvious disappointment. I believe these false expectations were at least partly responsible for the lukewarm reception that the new firmware received very early on.
Truth be told, I did not share some of those unrealistic expectations. You see, to run a core OS X build with decent graphics reminiscent of the iPhone requires a substantial upgrade in Nano/Classic processor and graphics capabilities. Both of those upgrades currently do not make economic sense and contradict Apple’s tradition of offering sequential product upgrades. So while the firmware has an OS X foundation, it doesn’t look at all like the iPhone’s rich interface due to hardware limitations on current generation players. CoverFlow IS something new, but it clearly looks and performs like a lesser hardware demanding version found on the iPhone.
But is interface eye candy such as CoverFlow the only reason behind porting OS X to iPods or is there a grander vision of where the iPod is headed with OS X? Apple, it seems, has made the decision to move to OS X on the new iPods to in order to progressively offer more features with ease on each passing generation while still stressing simplicity of use. So, look for more enhancements added to the next round of iPods and keep in mind that the overall product roadmap is probably headed more towards a portable personal computing platform rather than just a media player. But that, of course, is several years down the road.
As if we needed more evidence to prove that the iPod lineup is in a state of transition, here’s one more interesting tidbit to add to the mix: Apple is curiously not shipping a 2 GB iPod model. You see, the Shuffle has 1 GB of memory and the new Nano starts at 4 GB.
Other digital player manufacturers though, haven’t forgotten about the 1-2 GB market segment. Not taking into account their older models, Creative has no less than 3 new entries and SanDisk has 2. The main reason why there’s such interest in this segment is simple enough: the sheer volume of potential buyers in the 1-2 GB segment. As higher capacity players reach the saturation point among long time digital enthusiasts, manufacturers can continue selling their lower capacity hardware to a large new generation of users just discovering digital media on the go.
So, has Apple simply abandoned the 2 GB iPod model? No, I believe this is a planned strategic move on part of Apple towards a longer term product roadmap. The 1 GB Shuffle can survive through the holiday shopping season with decent sales relying just on the iPod brand desirability but beyond that, it needs a 2 GB sibling.
When Apple revealed its new iPod lineup for fall on September 5th 2007, I was hoping for more clarity on the future of the ubiquitous digital player. Since its introductions six years ago, the iPod family has normally gone through a major product refresh every other year and this was the year that major changes were due for the full size iPod and the Nano. However, minor facelifts, sparse feature enhancements, and mere color updates lead one to believe that the iPod family is in a transition phase this year perhaps largely due to other product commitments namely the iPhone and the newly released Leopard OS. The iPod does command a division of its own but, in order to drive iPhone and Leopard towards completion, Apple has had to count on help from all of its developers at times. So this year, instead of a clear vision for where the iPod is headed, there’re more questions on its future. Here’s a breakdown of the major questions marks by product category:
Shuffle – Introduced in MacWorld 2005 and refreshed in fall 2006, the Shuffle gets new colors but otherwise, it’s the same player as a year ago. With other digital player manufacturers such as Creative and Sandisk introducing competitive 1-2 GB players with more features, can Apple continue to offer a screen-less 1GB player at $79 and hope to maintain market share?
Nano – Gets a new high pixel density screen, form factor, and firmware but top capacity remains the same as last year at 8 GB. While I was expecting more, Apple has devoted more time to developing the new Nano than the other family members and its shows. It’s the star of the lineup in terms of sales and offers the cheapest iPod with a screen at the $150 price point. With memory prices dropping very quickly and competing players maxing at 16 GB, will there be a necessity for a mid cycle top capacity refresh?
Classic – Nowhere is the transition phase more evident than with the Classic. Gets a new metal top, chromed back returns and firmware is update. Otherwise, it’s more or less the same player as the original 5G two years ago. Why? Is the name ‘Classic’ itself a prelude to the end of the HDD based iPod with a click wheel? Will the physical interface change to an all touch screen and if not, what new innovations can Apple offer on the same interface?
Touch – Even though this is an all new player from Apple, it borrows the iPhone interface and in terms of features and user experience, it does not get the ‘best iPod’ to date label. Will Apple begin to introduce new media features exclusively on the Touch or will it continue to play second best to the iPhone? Will there be a HDD version with a 80-160 GB top capacity or will Apple continue to stick with flash memory? And finally, now that we know a SDK for the Touch/iPhone platform is coming, will there continue to be a deliberate lock out of unofficial third party software?
Watch this space for some very interesting answers to these questions coming soon.