Apple’s latest announcements, a new iPod range and a social networking tool (Ping), attracted the usual hysteria from its legions of fans and a fawning media. But was there really anything to get excited about?
Apple’s annual September press conference is always a huge event. And in many ways last week’s was no different, with Coldplay’s Chris Martin performing live and Lady Gaga appearing via a pre-recorded video.
Yet, following the event online (the conference was streamed worldwide – something that doesn’t happen when Alba makes an announcement) I was left distinctly underwhelmed. Could it be that Apple, the company that reshaped the entire personal entertainment industry, has lost its edge?
End of the road for iPod innovation?
Putting the glamour and hype to one side, what did Steve Jobs actually announce? Well, for starters the entire iPod range is to be refreshed. But the changes are hardly revolutionary.
The updated iPod Touch gets new cameras, the new Nano gains a tiny touchscreen display (how useful is a 1.5 inch touchscreen?). Meanwhile the new Shuffle ditches the headphone controls Apple introduced last year, replacing them with the iconic (i.e. old) click wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, I expect all of these models to work extremely well. Apple makes fantastic products – I’ve happily used my iPod Nano for a number of years – but none of these are game changers like the very first iPod Classic or iPhone.
Perhaps Apple’s recognised that it’s reached the end of the road with the iPod – especially when sales are at their lowest point since 2006.
Ping back social networks
To further refresh this market Apple has announced its intention to expand into new areas. The first of these is its attempt to create a new social network – Ping.
Ping lets you build networks of friends and musicians, which’ll then allow you to form playlists based on what those networks are listening to. With typical restraint, Steve Jobs described Ping as being ‘like Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes’. But I can’t see it ever achieving half the success of those sites.
There are already a number of music based social networks (last.fm, MySpace, Spotify to name just three) and they all work better than Apple’s effort. Ping is simply too limited. And the fact that you’re ultimately directed to the iTunes store makes it feel more like a marketing opportunity than a fun feature to use with your friends.
Update to Apple TV too easy
Jobs’ final announcement was about Apple TV, a set-top box that can stream media content from the internet directly to the TV. However, as with its iPods, this isn’t really a new product. Apple TV has been around since 2007 without ever winning over the general public.
I’ve no doubt some people will love this service (Apple is certainly not short of dedicated fans). Equally I’ve no doubt the choice of content will quickly grow as Apple licences deals with providers – as it stands, the UK only has a limited selection.
However, you can already watch free and paid-for content on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and internet enabled TVs (plus, of course, your home computer or laptop). And that’s before you consider the upcoming Google TV.
Over the last decade Apple has produced some remarkable products and has even changed the way we think about personal entertainment. Maybe that’s why I was so disappointed by these latest efforts.
Because as much as the Apple hype machine (one area where Apple remains unrivalled) may try to convince me that everything it produces are revolutionary must-buys, I know that’s not actually the case.