Apple, Wonka, Steve and Willy

At this point I'm surprised no one's ever made more of the analogy, but a quick (very quick) Google search reveals few comparisons to Apple and the mythological Chocolate Factory of Willy Wonka fame. And yet, the similarities are striking: a large, secretive, highly prestigious company that produces the best, most innovative products almost as if by magic, and that is heralded by an eccentric but extremely charismatic leader. In fact, substitute computers for candy and you'd be hard pressed to tell the companies apart. You start to wonder if, perhaps, Jobs was, himself, a big fan of the 1971 Mel Stuart masterpiece in his youth.

Today's presentation is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about. A big, huge media event, shrouded in mystery and hyped so expertly that candy lovers can barely contain their excitement. What will today's announcements bring? The Apple-faithful crowd around the virtual castle doors for the answer to that question.

The first thing on today's agenda was new iPods. Is there a more candy-like Apple product? I think not. Why, the shuffle was once even compared to a pack of gum, though the new model is now too tiny for such a comparison. And now we have colors — candy colors you might say — for the nano. Again. Whoopee. But I know a lot of people will be thrilled — literally thrilled — about this update.

The iTunes application itself is also apparently getting a facelift, both visually — in the form of multiple views, including a cool-sounding cover art view — and functionally — in the form of synchronization between computers. Can I just say? Finally! This has been the major reason I've never used an iPod. I may just have to start. Video in iTunes is now apparently higher resolution, which would seem to compliment the new iPod's brighter screen. And the "One more thing..."

Which would be, of course, movies. Movies are now available for purchase and download from the iTunes store in the new iTunes 7. Currently, Disney, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax are the only studios offering movies on the iTunes store, but I'm sure more will follow. The image is purported to be "near-DVD quality" and audio is Dolby Surround Sound. Nice. Movies are priced in the $9.99-$14.99 range, which ain't bad.

Perhaps not as Wonka-esqe as one might have hoped, but still, I'd say these are some pretty exciting and even significant advances for Apple's push in the consumer electronics and entertainment market. It's a gradual push that seems to come incrementally — probably never as fast as anyone would like — but Apple is great at this stuff, and they only seem to be getting better. And today is another baby step in the right direction. I'm still looking forward to things like an Apple-crafted cell phone. Or a media center — which, it now looks like, is in the works for release in the first quarter of 2007, and which would be about half the height of the Mac mini (wow!) and feature "wireless component video" over 802.11, optical audio and HDMI ports, and analog RCA audio ports, and which will work with Mac or PC, according to a very rare sneak peek at today's event. Now that's pretty exciting.

Codename: "iTV": Apple's Sneak Peek at Their Upcoming Media Center Hardware
(click image for larger view)

So yeah, I'm still looking forward. But if there's anything that Apple makes me do better than any company out there, it's just that: look forward. And that really is half the fun.

Now let's let those Oompa-Loompas get back to work, shall we?

I just got done watching the stream, and today's event was, really, one of the most impressive presentations from Apple I've seen in a while. Not only were there a plethora of exciting and significant product updates, but we got a rare glimpse into a product that's still under development, and that looks quite ingenious. I wanted to quickly share some additional observations on what I saw in the broadcast, particularly with regards to iTunes 7 and "iTV".

On iTunes 7:
Some quick thoughts on what is probably the most important development in Apple's media — nee music — manager.

  • This is a significant overhaul of the iTunes application, but still — in true Apple fashion — appears to leave all the things that make iTunes such a great media player and manager.
  • Both album view and cover flow are wonderful implementations of a concept that's been brewing for sometime – the visual searching of media. Such a basic idea, and just the kind of thing that has made Apple synonymous with ease-of-use. And it's beautiful, of course.
  • iTunes 7 allows any user with an iTunes account to get free album art, even for albums not purchased via the store. This is great news for folks like me, who tend not to buy via the iTunes store, and it's great for the Apple/iTunes/iPod brand. One more reason to go with Apple products, even if you don't use the store.
  • The "Music" has been stripped from the iTunes Music Store. It's now just the iTunes Store. One wonders if they'll somehow figure out a way to get rid of the "Tunes" in iTunes without mangling the brand. Can you say MacBook?
  • Video purchased from the iTunes Store is now at a resolution of 640x480, which I realize I mentioned before, but I feel that's quite a significant improvement. And probably necessary to convince folks to fork over $10-15 bucks for movies.
  • iPod synchronization and management looks much, much smarter and includes sync-management and software/hardware management. Nice! It's good to see that Apple doesn't let their significant market lead in this area keep them from adding great new management features. As long as they keep up like this, they'll remain on top.
  • iPod Auto-Sync also looks immensely cool. I only hope it works for tracks ripped from CD as well as those purchased from the iTunes Store.

On "iTV":
Thoughts on the newest Apple non-computer electronic device. Possibly the most exciting thing since the iPod.

  • This looks like another great implementation of a really interesting idea.
  • I was surprised that they chose to go with a connector box that ties your computer in to your TV, rather than a separate box, but after the presentation, I really think that's the way to go: integrating existing components, tying it all together. Brilliant!
iTV Concept: This Graphic Says it All
(click image for larger view)

  • It also looks like it should be fairly easy to set up.
  • Video trailers are streamed live off the internet, thanks to 802.11 wireless connections on the box. Neat-O!

"iTV" Data Ports
(click image for larger view)

  • And sent to the TV via a variety of video port options.

"iTV" Video Ports
(click image for larger view)

  • It begs the question, though: Is this a cable killer? Or will the reverse happen?
  • But for $299, it'll be hard not to get one.

"iTV": A Bargain at $299
(click image for larger view)

On Steve Jobs:
A couple quick final thoughts on the man himself.

  • Mr. Jobs looks healthy again, at least compared to how he looked in the Developer's Keynote. His presentation was as riveting as ever. Nice to see.
  • Jobs thanked quite a few people, including his software, hardware and development teams, and, of all things, artists. Also nice to see.
  • Jobs, at one point in the presentation used the term "The Sexy." Which was just a little weird to see. For me anyway.

So anyway, some pretty exciting stuff, I must say. One of the best Apple presentations I've seen in a long time. And three (count 'em, three!) "One more things..." Ya gotta love it.