Sep 10

Apple hits the high notes

Fans of over-analysis surely enjoyed the rumors about what was going to happen at yesterday’s Apple event. Thankfully, that’s all behind us now. It’s time to start over-analyzing what really happened. Here’s my contribution:

Live streaming. Welcome back! After five years, it was good to see you again. If this was a real-world test of Apple’s new billion-dollar server farm as some speculated, I’d give it a 95% rating. The video was fantastic, except for a few glitches. Just need one little tweak in Server #11,355. (Update: See comment below. This may have been Akamai’s technology, not Apple’s.)

The Perky Factor. Haven’t seen Steve this “on” in a while. He was enthusiastic, animated and funny. That’s entertainment.

iOS 4.1. Kudos for fixing the two unforgiveables: (1) the proximity sensor, and (2) the horrid performance on iPhone 3G. Wireless printing is cool, but I’m most anxious to try out the HDR photo feature. You haven’t gotten me to leave my pocket camera at home yet.

iPod shuffle. Feels like a “do-over.” Has any new iPod ever been larger than the model it replaced? Buttons are back. Remote/earphone combo is gone. Much, much better. Apple design leads the industry, but on occasion it does lead them astray.

iPod nano. Holy cow. Home run. Out of the park. Love it to death. Apple will sell a ton of these in the holiday season. Who among us can resist the lure? Just don’t think you slipped this one by us, Apple: Last year, all your marketing was about the cool new video feature, this year you’ve removed it. We’ll let this one slide, only because it wasn’t real video anyway (not HD) and this mini-touchscreen is just too damn cool.

iPod touch. iPhone 4 set us up for this one. It’s exactly what everyone expected: Retina display, dual cameras and FaceTime. And let’s have a big hand for the A4 chip, which is now powering iPod, iPhone and iPad. Nice and snappy.

iPod prices. Our traditional deal with Apple has always been “more features, same price.” Is it my imagination, or are these prices creeping upward? Cue Darth Vader: “I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it further.”

iPod ads. When a company gets big and successful, nobody wants to be the one to screw it up. So you begin to stick with things simply because “they work” — even though the younger, brasher version of yourself wouldn’t have thought twice about shaking things up. The new ads are perfectly fine. They’re just awfully familiar. In fact, the new touch ad (click in the image above and skip to 35:40) is virtually a carbon copy of the 2009 touch ad and the 2008 touch ad — except now FaceTime is added at the end.

iTunes 10. Ping is a huge, huge, huge addition. Until now, Apple has been more of a bystander in social media, and Ping puts them right in the thick of it. Or at least closer to the thick of it. Following friends’ discoveries and following your favorite artists is one of those “why didn’t they think of this before” kind of things. Perfect. I’m already signed up and horrifying my friends with my musical taste.

Zing! Bing! Ping! But can we talk about the Ping thing? Since when does Apple go with a me-too product name? Zing was an embarrassing failure for Dell. Microsoft is putting millions behind Bing at this very moment. Surely there’s a better word in that dictionary somewhere.

AppleTV. Huge step in the right direction, giving us access to Netflix, movies, TV shows, all those good things. $99 is a great price. Its tiny form is impressive, though in practical use not a terrific benefit. It’s still another box with cables sticking out of it. Question: what happens to my current AppleTV? It’s not like Apple to render a product obsolete so quickly. May I have a credit, please?

All in all: great show, Apple. Thank you for a fun and interesting afternoon. Just make sure you terrify the right people in the lead-up to the next show. Your secrets seem to be leaking more and more these days…

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  • sarumbear

    The video was distributed by Akamai who are the industry leader. It had almost nothing to do with Apple’s new data centre.


  • ken segall

    Thanks, this is interesting. This article puts forward the theory that Akamai is handling the streams, and that it will be proven by what happens to their real-time visualization of active Akamai streams during the Apple event. But there is no update confirming what really did happen to those streams. So I still wonder…

  • rd

    Datacenter doesn’t go live until December at the latest
    according to last earning conference call.

    It seems like Apple only listens to customer when they stop buy their product thus shuffle. I guess those of us want a good camera will not be buying ipod touch.
    0.7 Megapixel is just embarrassing.

    AppleTV will still fail unless Apple creates
    channel like BBC. something unique.
    with iTunes U like subject matter.

    Ping is probably going to fail. It is just another
    social junk that will be just another way
    for corporations to spam.

  • rd

    I forgot to say
    that Mr. Jobs made a lot
    of error yesterday. never
    seen that many mistakes before.
    Must be he was distracted
    with something.

  • Ian

    I must say that Jobs seems to be gaing weight finally. He look much better and is starting to fill out his clothes.

    Otherwise I wish Apple would add a GPS radio to the iPod Touch. Then it would be perfect.

  • ChuckO

    I pre-ordered the AppleTV. At $99 and with Blockbuster gone for my occasional movie buying needs I’m looking forward to trying this. Plus I can get “Top Gear” in HD which Comcast doesn’t offer.

    I disagree about the new Nano. I don’t get that at all. I don’t think swiping on that little screen makes much sense.

  • Jimi

    @Ken, i’m not sold on the Nano. Taking away hard buttons on these small music players is a problem. If i’m riding my bike and a song with Chris Martin singing out of tune comes on, i’m going to want to skip to another song without having to negotiate with an impossibly small multitouch interface… It reeks of “we did it cause we could”, instead of being practical. Plus they took the camera out of it to up-sell people to the iPod Touch… Don’t think we didn’t notice.

    Also, I agree with ‘rd’ that Jobs seemed to be elsewhere during this keynote. He said ‘phone’ instead of ‘ipod’ a bunch of times, and mixed up the nano with the shuffle on multiple occasions. There was also a very long moment when he was going through his notes whilst demoing the Nano trying to remember why it was so great… Do you think it was cause he was picturing Steve Wozniak having sex with Kathy Griffin?? Oh god. My brain…

  • ken segall

    @ChuckO & @Jimi:
    I hear ya about the nano, but sometimes a product just strikes me — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — as “magical.” I’ll have to try it out personally before I lay my body on the line for it, but it appears to be one of those things that just makes you smile. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a smash hit.

    You’re right that this isn’t the kind of iPod you can reach down and click without looking, but I think we’re witnessing a conscious separation of iPod models. It makes our choices simpler. Shuffle is the no-looking-required iPod. Nano is the super-portable, visual interface iPod. Touch is the big-screen, full-featured iPod that shoots and plays video. Classic is the … oh, sorry — we don’t talk about that one :)

    About Steve. I did notice that he seemed to have a number of lapses in this presentation. That one moment where he checked his notes was especially odd, since he does have monitors on stage to guide his presentation. However, I don’t think it’s because he was distracted, I think it’s because he’s flesh and blood. (1) He’s still recovering from a super-serious medical procedure, and (2) he’s getting older. That’s a tough combination. I wouldn’t read too much more into it than that.

  • Scott

    I was very pleased to have the live stream back. I still remember going to the Apple’s corporate office in Reston VA and watching Keynotes via satellite there. It was always a lot of fun with so many other Mac folks around. Later, at the Apple Store at Tysons Corner VA, they showed a couple keynotes in their theater, which is no longer there.

    As far as the products introduced, Apple TV intrigues me more now than before. I may drop my Netflix account and opt for Apple TV instead. For the number of movies my wife and I watch, the cost minus the initial hardware purchase is about a wash for me. Since I have an iPhone 4 now, and several shuffles and a 3G Nano, I really don’t need a new iPod, but the new Nano just seems so cool.

  • Drew, Boston, MA

    Ken – Can you look into writing about the Nike+ application (not the GPS version). When I upgraded my iTouch to iOS 4.0 this application stopped working. The Nike+ community is overflowing with people in the same boat. While I understand that Apple cannot be responsible for 3rd party applications working/not working with an OS, this app is actually the software portion of their JV with Nike and comes standard on all iTouches, Nanos and iPhones. I waited, with many others, for a few months to see how Apple would address this problem and all they did was release a new, paid app that only works for the iPhone. No fix for the iTouch Nike+ app in 4.1. It hurts that a company would forgo fixing a broken piece of software in an effort to make $1.99/person, its is down right unacceptable when they refuse to even acknowledge the problem. What are your thoughts?

  • ken segall

    Unfortunately I can’t speak as an upset runner, only as one who is disappointed when details are overlooked. Nosing around, I do see quite a few people upset that their Nike + isn’t working right under iOS 4.

    I suspect it’s a manpower issue. When Apple tackles big jobs like major OS releases, I believe it’s often an “all hands on deck” situation. Lesser important things tend to get put on hold. But that doesn’t make such decisions right — and a mini-revolution from the Nike/Apple crowd would be a bad thing. I’ll keep watching the story, and I hope the Nike + users get some attention fast.