Apple's Latest Product Announcements

I must admit, this week's announcement of new Apple products really got me thinking. There was a lot there that I couldn't really conceive of until I finally saw it implemented: online TV distribution, The Digital Hub, and the Video iPod at last. This was almost more of a conceptual and marketing breakthrough than a technological one for Apple, and it's really interesting for me to see how they're starting, gradually, to implement these concepts. I just want to talk fairly briefly about my thoughts on some of the main ideas brought to light last week.

The first thing that struck me is that Apple is the best thing to ever happen to U2. That band is so lucky ol' Steve apparently has a hard-on for them. I mean, does an iPod announcement take place that doesn't prominently feature these has-beens? Has U2 written anything interesting in the last decade? I think the band is getting a lot more out of this deal than Apple at this point. But this is just a snarky aside.

Next, I think Apple has really nailed, or is very close to nailing, the online content delivery thing. They proved themselves with music, and now other media want in. Big time. And Apple is not only happy to provide, but I think they do a hell of a job. In some ways, Apple has become the intermediary in the ever-hostile relationship between producers and consumers. They make all that ugliness pretty, and not just on an aesthetic level. The pricing scheme vs. quality of the downloadable TV shows is about as perfect as I can imagine. I find myself wanting to download shows I've already watched and have on tape, just because I can, and because they're cheap. Seems like a great deal. And if I ever miss an episode of Lost, I'll be checking iTunes long before I ever suffer through the Hell that is BitTorrent. Again, because I can, and because it's cheap. The great thing about a service like this -- the thing that Apple realizes -- is that the point of your two bucks is to bypass the hassle of the free alternative. It's the same reason I buy DVDs instead of stealing them: It's easier and the price is reasonable. Why do people still steal music? I'd argue it's at least partly because it's easier to do so, and the price of music is unreasonable. I mean compare: $1 for a 4 minute song vs. $2 for an hour long show. Someone is getting screwed in the music model. Three guesses who. That's why people steal music so much more readily than video. The downside to all this is the DRM, which I'm pretty sure works just like the DRM for music. I understand the reason for it, but I still think it's a pain in the ass. And, as I've just pointed out, the greater the pain-in-the-ass factor, the greater, in some ways, the motivation to steal. As long as the DRM is less aggravating than the stealing process, there's value added and folks will pay. But someone needs to come up with a better DRM model if they really want people to pay money for stuff they get on TV for free. Other than that, I don't have much to say about it.

The new iMac seems to be the first real, tangible iteration of the "Digital Hub" idea. If I could replace my aging stereo, TV, VCR and DVD players with this one device, I'd plunk down my fourteen hundred clams right now. Alas, the big caveat: no ability to record. You can't record anything from the TV. Again, I understand the reasoning here, but it's a deal killer for me. It's too bad, too, because it looks like they've done a brilliant job with the remote and the Front Row interface. But without the ability to record content, it's just a big, fancy, pretty DVD player. I think this is coming though. I think what we're seeing here is, like I said, the first iteration. Apple likes to seed an idea or a part of an idea before they go for broke. That's what I think they're doing with the iMac and Front Row. Just like they did with the iPod Photo, they're whetting our appetites for more, and giving us a gentle cushion, of sorts, on the future. Letting you envision the logical next step and get ready for it, psychologically.

Finally, the iPod. Not the video iPod; just the iPod (that now does video). Actually, it's important (to me anyway) to note that the iPod only plays video. And apparently, from the lack of firewire capability, that's all it will ever do. I can't say I'm surprised by this, though I'll always long for my own personal vision of what the Video iPod could (should) be (have been). Nevertheless, it is not to be. Still, the new iPod looks cool. It's another well-implemented idea, with much more potential than I would have imagined. Combined with downloadable content at reasonable prices, the iPod becomes a whole new entertainment device: Want to watch a movie with some friends? Download it, put it on your iPod, and head over to their house. Hell, put ten movies, a couple TV shows, and a party mix on your iPod, and you're set for a whole weekend of media fun. As a video teacher, I can see the potential for putting all the videos I use as demos on an iPod, and never again worrying about whether I have this DVD or that for class today. In short, I think video adds a social dimension to the iPod, where before it was quite the opposite. I'd imagine most people will not look at video on the device itself as they travel to and from work. Rather, I imagine they'll plug it in to the TVs of friends and watch movies and shows with other people, but in a much more convenient and portable way then they ever did before. It's a neat idea, and I'm very tempted to get one. That said, the lack of firewire bothers me. I'm a firewire guy. I do a lot of video work, and I need firewire. If I were to get one of these puppies, firewire would be sorely missed. Also, the type of video you can watch on the iPod is very limited. And unfortunately, said video looks like pure ass on a full-sized computer monitor. I don't know how bad it looks on a TV, but, apparently -- and I find this somewhat disappointing -- downloadable video content is only made to be viewed on an iPod. I, again, have a feeling this will change over time, and that we will see quality options for our downloadable video content sometime in the near future. But for now they are seriously limited.

Ah well. The Apple giveth and the Apple taketh away.

I don't own an iPod, and I never have. Almost everyone I know does, but not me. I'm a huge fan of Apple, but more for their computers. Yet, for the first time, I find myself tempted by the latest iPod. (Add video to something and that will tend to happen to me.) This is saying a lot. I think this latest batch of products shows, more than serious technological leaps, real conceptual breakthroughs in terms of the marketing and management of purchasable, viewable, online media, and the relationship between the producers, the consumers and the device. I, for one, am glad Apple is at the helm of this... Is it too soon to say, "revolution?" Yeah, probably.

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