Last week I suggested that the
iPod Hi-Fi represented a turning point in iPod accessories—one where Apple indicated its willingness to compete with its partners. What I failed to mention is that there’s more to it than Apple simply releasing an elegant boombox that competes with similar devices from the likes of
JBL, Bose, Klipsch, and a host of others. That “more” is Apple’s ability to establish an edge by adding unique capabilities to its iPod products via the iPod’s firmware.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Hi-Fi, he demonstrated that a Speakers menu would appear when you plugged the iPod into the Hi-Fi. As pointed out by Dan Frakes in Playlist’s
review of the iPod Hi-Fi, this menu allows you to change the EQ of the Hi-Fi via the iPod’s screen. Jobs also said that a forthcoming iPod software update would add this screen to 5G and nano iPods.
It turns out that there was no such update—this feature was built into an iPod software update released last January. Compatible iPods were just waiting for the right device to be attached to the iPod in order for it to activate this special screen. This, and a couple of other features in the Hi-Fi, indicate that there’s a sympathetic relationship between the iPod and Hi-Fi—one where each device brings a little something to the party.
This is an intriguing relationship, and one that could be of concern to iPod accessory makers. The relationship between the iPod and Hi-Fi hints that, if Apple chooses to make it so by embedding the proper features into the iPod’s firmware, Apple’s erstwhile music player could act as a “brain” for an otherwise dumb device. And, if I were in the iPod peripherals biz, this would make me nervous.
Imagine you’re an accessory manufacturer who makes the Video Dock Supreme. Plug an iPod into it and it outputs video to a TV. How would you feel when Apple releases its iV-Dock that streams audio and video from iPod to iPod (and out into your AV system) because the iPod’s firmware enables such capabilities with Apple peripherals (and Apple peripherals only)? My guess is that you’d find the playing field just tipped a little more in Cupertino’s direction.
In my last piece on the subject I said that Apple’s entry into the accessories market could be good for consumers—bringing Apple’s designs to a wider audience and motivating other accessories manufacturers to step it up a notch to compete with Apple. But if Apple holds what some might consider an unfair advantage by leveraging the iPod’s firmware to enhance only Apple’s products, we could be looking at less competition (and, ultimately, fewer choices) rather than more.
I’m all for smarter, well-designed iPod accessories. My hope is that those accessories won’t be confined to those bearing the Apple logo.