With my Macworld Senior Editor cap firmly in place, I’d like to say that I couldn’t have been happier when Apple shifted focus from the iPod to the Intel Macs and the next version of Mac OS X, Leopard.
iPod, iTunes, a trillion songs in your pocket, Pago Pago has been added to the line up of iTunes Music Stores, iTunes is now offering the complete works of Chad and Jeremy plus a pre-order on their new album, Old Sourdough reruns can be had for $1.99, oh look, there’s Bono on a blue background again….
But doffing that cap and replacing it with the sportier Playlist Senior Editor headgear, I push thoughts of Apple’s computer division aside and ponder, What’s Up With the iPod?
As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference winds down and anticipation of the High Holidays winds up, Apple will turn its attention to its most gift-appropriate wares—the iPod and its accompanying accessories. Yet the landscape’s changed since the last revision of the iPod. How will this Second (or Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth) Coming of the iPod play out?
Despite Steve Jobs’ previous protestations to the contrary, people do want to watch video on their iPod. Considering the size of its screen, the 5G iPod does a reasonable job of playing that video in a viewable form. But it could be better.
As in wide-screen better.
The 6G iPod needs that wide screen and so we’re looking at an iPod that can be viewed on its side. There has been endless speculation about how such a device might be designed—the most popular of which places a virtual click wheel as an overlay on the display. Seems smudgy to me, but perhaps Apple has found a display that dispels oil and crud.
Once you’ve got that wide-screen iPod you’ll need to feed it. The TV content offered by Apple is all well and good, but wide-screen cries out for movies. There’s no way in hell that Apple’s going to provide the tools necessary to rip DVD movies for the iPod—it doesn’t need that kind of headache from the MPAA—but it’s done its part by not actively interrupting the activities of those third-parties that offer such tools.
No, for Apple it’s The Store and The Store only. One hopes that the delay in the release of a new high-end iPod is tied to content deals that finally bring full-length movies to the iTunes Music Store.
For most of us, wide-screen will be enough, but Apple could do more. Untethering the iPod from the headphone cord would be high on my list of things to do. But it offers challenges, the largest being its toll on battery power. There’s no free lunch in regard to Bluetooth or Wi-Fi so power management would have to be rejiggered in a serious way to make these capabilities possible.
And then there’s the issue of size. Granted, you can pack any number of miracles onto a chip the size of a fingernail paring, but free space in the interior of an iPod is a rare commodity (some have suggested that the desire for a slimmer device contributed to the death of FireWire compatibility in late-model iPods). If Apple chooses to go wireless, it may do so with the addition of an optional dongle that attaches to the dock connector rather than risk bulking up the iPod with more internal components.
To this point, the umpteen “iPod Killers” have proven to be anything but.
Microsoft’s Zune, however, may give Apple pause.
No, not because Microsoft has a history of designing dynamite products or because its hardware/software solution is likely to immediately rival Apple’s offerings. Rather, Microsoft has the means (and, perhaps, will) to play the long game.
With the XBox Microsoft has demonstrated that it’s willing to get in and stay in a market new to it for as long as it takes to make a dent. If, unlike most of the iPod competitors you see today, Microsoft plugs steadfastly ahead, releasing a capable Zune 1, 2, and 3 over the course of years (and keeps content flowing at a similar pace) and tying the Zune to its upcoming operating system, Vista, in attractive ways, it could make a difference.
There’s also this: As was made clear in Steve Jobs’ recent WWDC keynote presentation, Apple’s got a thing about Microsoft.
The rest of the world could give a damn about what OS X features “inspired” similar features in Vista. During the keynote presentation Jobs and other Apple executives took pains to bring it up time and again. Sure, it’s meat for the Mac faithful, but beyond The Faithful, who cares?
And my sense is that if Microsoft is serious about eating Apple’s digital music lunch, Apple will be just as serious about combatting those attempts by doing Zune one (or many more) better.
And that makes me optimistic. Just look at what Apple’s done with its digital media business when no serious competitor has risen up to challenge the iPod’s dominance. Imagine what iPod/iTunes might be given Apple’s concerted effort to crush and humiliate the work of such a high profile competitor.
I, for one, can hardly wait for Christmas.