Apple's Telegraphed Punch

by Chuck Toporek

Okay, so everyone's abuzz today with news of the new iPod, and the new iMac. Video on your iPod, blah, blah, blah. Well, okay, maybe not blah, but you get my point. Unlike listening to your iPod, you can walk around and do stuff without worrying about walking off the curb and getting clipped by a bus. (Well, at least most of us can.)

To me, though, the new iPod is a device that's ahead of its time. Just as the first generation iPod revolutionized the way we listen to music, the new iPod will revolutionize the way we consume television. Sure, the initial appeal of the new iPod will likely be commuters who, for example, ride the MBTA's Commuter Rail to and from Boston and want to catch up on their favorite TV shows. A DVP in your palm, per se. What appeals to me most about the new iPod is not the small screen (I sure wish Apple would've gone with a PSP-style design with a wider screen that takes up the front and thumb controls on the sides), but the possibility of dumping Comcast or cable TV in general. The new iPod, in my not so humble opinion, is competition to the cable companies, and they should beware.

Think about it...

At present, I pay about sixty bucks a month to Comcast for a bunch of crappy channels I never watch, mainly so I can get local TV, ESPN, OLN, CNN, and a few random channels I watch during my insomnia fits. And because I'm not willing to belly up to the trough and spend money on a premium package to get HBO for shows like Six Feet Under or Deadwood, I end up renting previous seasons' shows from NetFlix.

So now I'm thinking, hey, if Apple were to strike a deal with HBO or Showtime, they could really change the way people watch TV shows. Make it a subscription service. I want to subscribe to the next season of Deadwood, so that'll be $20 or $25 for QuickTime H.264 HD versions of the show that I can download and watch on either my iPod or through my Mac (with the help of Front Row, but more on that in a sec), and they've just changed my viewing habits. The day after an episode airs, iTunes snags it and downloads it to my Mac and syncs that with my iPod. That'd be so cool! Not just because I could watch the episodes while commuting on the bus or from the comfort of my living room, but because it turns the screws on the cable companies who get way too much for what they offer. HBO and Showtime might even possibly make more this way than they would by getting whatever kick-back it is from the ca-co's.

And that leads to the "telegraphed punch". Apple clearly has something up Steve's sleeves with Front Row. I mean, just look at it! If you thought today's media event was about "One More Thing...", think again people. This is just the beginning. Speculate, postulate, hypothesize...whatever...but you can bet that the new iMac is just "The First Thing" we'll see that has Front Row inside. John Gruber over at Daring Fireball said it best:

"The full-screen UI of Front Row is just begging to be hooked up to a TV. Begging. Now that there exists a “video iPod”, the next new “Apple has to be working on this” mega-rumor is going to revolve around how Apple plans to bring this Front Row UI to your TV. What’s interesting about this is that while Apple has a reputation for making spectacular announcements, their long-term strategy for a media entertainment platform is unfolding incrementally."

Around this time last year, rumors were running wild that Apple was going to come out with some new home theatre device at Macworld San Francisco. Instead, we got to see the Mac mini debut, which was close, but not quite what some people were expecting. And with MWSF2006 just around the corner, I'm sure the rumor mills will be having a field day with hints and speculation about an Apple home media center device. It'd be great to see something that's the same size as other home stereo components, except something that's wireless and is packed with a large hard drive, a G5 chip, and a kick-ass graphics card. Charge $499 for it and I'm sure it'd sell like hot cakes.

Sure, I can't wait to get the new iPod, but what I really want is the next "One More Thing..."

What are your thoughts about the new iPod and Front Row?


2005-10-13 03:24:33
Incremental strategy
The incremental aproach is clearly the best way to go. Buying an expensive dedicated media center appliance is a big risk. I don't want to fork out 500 or more for something and then find out there are all kinds of technical and usability limitations, or hidden costs. Even TIVO, with a very easy to use and relatively low-cost device had huge difficulty penetrating the non-technical consumer market.

At a guess, I think Apple's strategy appears to be to put media centre capabilities into all Macs, then bring out a video-enabled Airport Extreme to connect them to your TV. Holding out on the release of this final link in the chain may look odd, but think about it. If they bring out all the components in a big-bang launch they'll start off with no user base and a cost of entry aproaching $1000. However if enough of the existing user base has compatible equipment, when they bring out the final elements they'll have a much lower cost of entry and perhaps even an existing compatible user base of users with higher-end systems.

Simon Hibbs