Daniel Eran Dilger
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Apple’s 2009 iPod Event

iPod event 2009

Daniel Eran Dilger

With the launch of Snow Leopard barely two weeks old, Apple is ready to shift focus to the next thing: new iPods at its 2009 music event. Here’s what you can expect.
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The iPod Town Hall Event

Unlike American congressmen on their last recess, Apple won’t be facing an angry, hostile audience worried that the government might take over its own single payer Medicare program. But it will have to deal with critics, even if they lack the resources or access to fill the auditorium with rabble rousers chanting bumper sticker slogans.

Some of the more cantankerous iPod critics have finally given up their campaign to stop Apple from using integrated batteries, for example, foiling their hopes to send millions of AA batteries into landfills.

The lack of DRM on iTunes music has also thwarted the protests of those who claim that Apple’s FairPlay was unfairly tying users to the iPod and depriving them of the opportunity to buy a Microsoft PlaysForSure-DRM device or Sony ATRAC-DRM player.

Steve Jobs and the iTunes DRM Threat to Microsoft

Punctuated Equilibrium

These days, it’s become a little easier to guess Apple’s general direction. The company makes big changes here and there, and in between we get a lull of minor improvements. We’re in a comfortable valley of minor changes right now.

Back in the days of the classic iPods, things got a bit boring and it appeared that the only direction for the iPod line was to get ever larger hard drives. Then Apple jumped into Flash RAM devices, enabling features such as Nike+, which weren’t suitable for more fragile hard drives.

Then the iPhone busted out on the scene, followed by its phone-free alter ego in the iPod touch. After two cycles of iPhone/touch upgrades, it seems pretty obvious that the next iPod touch will be a phone-free version of the iPhone 3GS, with its same speedy processor and perhaps even more RAM.

Camera and Wireless

It’s also a given that the next touch and nano will get a camera, thanks to those Chinese case makers who leak Apple’s secrets like a colander. The iPod touch already has Skyhook’s WiFi triangulation for putting location coordinates on photos, but will Apple add this feature to the nano? The Eye-Fi SD Card shows it’s possible.

The addition of wireless across the board might result in new wireless sync features and wireless peripherals, although the nano’s tiny battery and the limited benefits of wireless data sync could argue against this possibility.

Last year, the full line all got mic and audio recording features as well as accelerometer support for ‘shake to shuffle.’ With a wireless chip, Apple could offer its new photo-savvy iPods the capacity to upload pictures to their home iPhoto, MobileMe account, or to Facebook or Flickr. And with the horsepower of the iPod touch, videos to YouTube.

This would amount to another wave of free advertising for Apple as everyone pushed their iPod photos to sharing sites. If the ubiquity of mobile phones are allowing an unprecedented growth in the number of crazy things getting captured on video or in pictures, imagine the possibility if everyone’s MP3 player could similarly capture and upload pics or videos.

More with Less

Global economies are inching toward recovery but consumers are still looking for savings, particularly here in the US where Apple sells nearly half of its gadgets. Expect Apple to drop prices significantly to maintain its iPod sales volumes and take away Microsoft’s price advantage on the Zune HD.

Apple is also likely to roll out new software features across its iPods that take advantage of existing features, including the accelerometer. Apple has introduced new elements of Nike+ gear at regular intervals, and now supports the system in software on the iPod touch. If it can find a way to enhance these features on the iPhone, adoption of Nike+ will grow all that much faster, particularly since a big chunk of iPod sales are being converted to iPhone sales.

Will the iPod classic survive? Apple is known for aggressively killing off its previous generations to make way for new things, but the company also doesn’t want to ceed away any sales it might if users who want a hard drive-based MP3 player can’t buy one from Apple anymore. Given that Microsoft has thrown in the towel on its hard drive Zune, there might be some prodigal sons ready to return to the iPod.

The Zune Vacuum

Remember when Zune Enthusiasts scoffed at the iPod touch as not being in the same market as the Zune, and therefore irrelevant to all discussion? These days, they have had to scramble to rewrite their script, with the last two years of Zune being locked away with Bob in the Microsoft Vault of Things We Do Not Speak Of, and the new Zune HD serving as a blatant copy of the iPod touch. Oh the irony.

Will Microsoft be able to sell an even more expensive device that has to do more than just play music? Because it wasn’t doing that so well, and Windows Mobile indicates that Microsoft can’t really churn out anything more sophisticated, even after being given a model of exactly how to do that with the iPhone. Nearly three years ago.

It’s almost as if Microsoft sees itself as the anti-Apple, living on the cube shaped planet of Htrae, and must deliver a clumsy, incompetent and grotesque runner up for everything Apple makes, simply out of compulsory enslavement to the Bizarro Code: “us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”

Why Can’t Microsoft Develop Software for Zune HD?
Letters from Microsoft: An Employee Tosses His Zune

iTunes X

The other side of the music announcement usually involves iTunes. With Snow Leopard now nearly catching up to the look and feel experiment of Apple’s media app (it still has the Aqua scroll bars), it may be time for iTunes to leap again into the experimental shakeup of future exploration on the UI front.

Of course, iTunes itself has some catching up to with Snow Leopard, too. For starters, its still a Carbon-based 32-bit app. Even the Finder is now 64-bit Cocoa. With some streamlined support for H.264/AAC media playback through QuickTime X, iTunes could use a bump. And why stop at version 9? Since Apple only paid brief lip service to iTunes 5, why not skip 9 altogether and jump right to iTunes X, just like the new QuickTime.

In terms of the iTunes Store, Apple is rumored to be lining up its new Cocktail of album-enrichment features. I’m assuming this will be essentially the self contained web apps I wrote about in January.

I’m looking forward to streaming cable channels on demand. Could Apple line up a deal to provide HTTP Live Streaming versions of HBO, Comedy Central, Al Jazeera, or BBC? Who wouldn’t pay monthly subscription fees to tap into the few channels they actually watch, and leave Comcast and its 500 channels of shopping and fluff? Watch from the iPhone, Apple TV, or your copy of iTunes.

There’s reportedly no update in the wings for Apple TV that will be sported out tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean Cocktail isn’t relevant to Apple TV users. And what about new iPhone/iPod touch apps that interact with Apple TV? If Apple popped out an original game or two that could be played in conjunction with Apple TV, third party developers would take off behind it. There’s real money in iPhone apps, and Apple should leverage that to build momentum for Apple TV.

What are you expecting?

Apple launches HTTP Live Streaming standard in iPhone 3.0
Inside Mac OS X Snow Leopard: QuickTime X

  • http://themacadvocate.com TheMacAdvocate

    The HTTP Streaming of premium cable content would be a coup for the Apple TV. I do think the hardware is in need of a boost, as anyone who has tried to run Hulu via Boxee can attest. Top of my request list would be some kind of timeshifting capability, but I see availability of a wider band content as more realistic – from both a revenue and infringement perspective.

  • truthseeker

    I can’t wait for the price drops!!! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this announcement and delayed my goodies purchase in anticipation! Good stuff priced accessibly – I’m a geek and life doesn’t get sweeter!

    Incidentally, Microsoft was not alone in launching a plethora of poorly performing, retarded media players. And Microsoft’s use of the junky Toshiba GigaBeat as a Zune was just hysterical! And scary too because the demographic that buys that sort of thing based on price and bells and whistles instead of useful features and high quality are clueless and not sophisticated. And they drive sales volume.

  • http://www.thewell.au.com IainW

    The Beatles. That is all….

  • bartfat

    Actually, Peter Oppenheimer has debunked that rumor that Apple TV will have cable box integration… but that still leaves plenty of room for Apple to do the opposite, because they have in the past. But I don’t think Apple will have a monthly subscription for the cable channels or TV shows (besides having a season pass), mainly because lots of content producers don’t see a bigger amount of money than is being made on cable. And that’s really what producing content these days are all about. Money. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but I seriously doubt that content producers will allow us to purchase TV shows with a subscription that costs less than cable and then AT&T to allow us to stream it on our iPhones.

    Sorry for being all pessimistic, but I don’t see the Sept. 9th event being much more than iPod refreshes, price drops, and iTunes announcement maybe. Anything more would be completely out of character for this event. Oh, and the cocktail announcement. Actually, what I would be really surprised about is the commission rate for the App Store lowered. I’m pretty sure at this point that Apple has had much more sales volume than it imagined, and therefore is actually pulling in a nice profit from the App Store, so it would be logical for them to lower the commission they take off apps so that competitors don’t have a chance of matching.

  • gus2000

    FYI, I never throw out batteries anymore, and they’re not supposed to be. It’s a pain to find a recycler to take them, but my company has recycle bins just for batteries, as do some retailers like Ikea.

    Still, I fully support the use of integrated batteries for no other reason than environmental. While many more disposable batteries get recycled nowadays, I’m willing to speculate that 99% of iPod/iPhone batteries avoid the landfill (and get replaced 100 times less often).

    I would like to see Apple announce a Tablet. I don’t see the need for one, and I’m dying to see how Apple could make me want one anyway.

  • peter.s

    my predictions are:
    Only the bundle of camera, GPS and magnotometer make real sense and together with support for augmented reality in version 3.1 iPhone OS will become the first platform for all “geo apps”.
    The itunes store will go SproutCore, so the interface will be much more responsive like a desktop app and you have much better and faster search and sort capabilities.
    AppleTV and and the new tablet device will share the same ARM architekture and the same display resolution 720p for apps and games. All iPhone OS devices can act as a remote or game controller.

  • MarkyMark

    Oh if only Apple manages to offer premium-channel streaming via iTunes! IMHO the evil and incompetent CableCos in general and Comcast in particular deserve to be shafted by Apple even more than Verizon and Microsoft. I suspect that the long-term Armageddon will be over rights to stream major sports events, and boy that will be a real clash of the titans.

  • http://wanderbook.com eddieclay

    Let’s see last year didn’t they introduced among other things “the funnest ipod ever” which was a platform and product category breakthrough and has the game industry worried. Yet, analysts yawned. They will do their best to yawn this year.

  • http://wanderbook.com eddieclay

    If the Beatles, then it will also included a new price restructure again because EMI will not sell out cheap with the new remasters. It would be a success though.

  • http://blog.techflaws.org Techflaws.org

    > What are you expecting?

    A software update to finally enable playlist switching by pressing NEXT two time on my friend’s 2nd gen Shuffle. Why is that so difficult? A sleep timer on my 3rd gen Shuffle would be nice too.

  • Raymond

    Porting iTunes to Cocoa raises an interesting problem. The Windows version of iTunes is based on the Carbon API ported to run on top of the Windows API. It would be hard to imagine Apple maintaining two code streams for iTunes, so I think Apple will need to port enough of Cocoa to Win32 as necessary.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @Raymond: daringfireball suggests Apple will use WebKit to do this, which makes sense. That gets Apple cross platform iTunes and 64-bit support on the Mac side too.

  • http://www.roughlydrafted.com danieleran

    @bartfat “Actually, Peter Oppenheimer has debunked that rumor that Apple TV will have cable box integration”

    What he said was that Apple TV wasn’t turning into a conventional cablebox tuner/decoder (which requires additional hardware, and is Microsoft’s approach).

    It very clearly is capable of delivering HTTP Live Streams however, which are like live/on-demand podcasts streamed back to back. There’s nothing keeping the cable broadcasters from streaming video to devices over the web as opposed to using sat uplinks to beam them to cable providers, who pad them with 80 channels of garbage and charge you $100 per month to put up with this.

    The only issue is trying to find an Internet Service Provider. And Apple already has a deal with AT&T that it could turn into something more valuable. That would replace, not copy, the cable companies.

    Think of it as the VoIP of cable TV.

  • truthseeker

    yes, Yes, YES!!! I was already excited now I’m really excited!!! Yes to castrating parasitic phone companies and their exorbitant long distance charges with VoIP. Now (hopefully) let’s take these bastard satellite and cable companies out with TVoIP!!! Replace! Go, go, go!!!

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    All the announcements were pretty cool, but what’s up with no camera on the Touch?? I’ve been waiting to get one specifically because of this (and also the price drop), and it seemed like such a forgone conclusion that I’m shocked they didn’t add one.

    I don’t get it. The Touch uses the same hardware as the iPhone, runs the same OS…you have all those camera-based apps in the App Store…wifi for uploading straight to Flickr/Facebook…a camera makes so much sense. But they gave it to the Nano instead, with its 8 GB of storage (much less after you copy your music, photos, etc. over), no third-party apps, and no wifi.

    The only thing I can think of is that they want to upsell people to the iPhone. But that’s so stupid, because anyone who would want a Touch over an iPhone (like myself) probably has a very specific reason why – they don’t want to pay for service, or switch carriers, etc. So intentionally leaving features off of the Touch doesn’t push me to an iPhone – it just makes it less likely I’ll buy a Touch.

    Everything else looks good though.

  • Dorotea

    No new iPod Touch for me. Wanted more in the iPod touch than it currently has. I have 1G 16gb iPod Touch. Moving to the 32gb for $299 doesn’t make sense. If it had new capabilities I’d do it. But I’ll keep my money – wimpy upgrade if you ask me.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    @Dorotea: yeah, I agree. Apparently the 8 GB model is unchanged in terms of hardware – they just dropped the price. The 32 and 64 GB models are upgraded to the same hardware as the iPhone 3GS (faster processor, etc.).

    I read an interview with Steve Jobs in the Times where they asked him specifically why the Touch doesn’t have a camera. He says it’s because they’re positioning it more as a portable game player and thus it’s more important to lower the cost (and barrier to entry to the App Store) than add new features.

    I guess that kind of makes sense for the 8 GB model (since $199 is apparently the “magic” price point), but could they not have added one for the 32 and 64 GB? I mean, come on, the Nano has a camera for $149…

  • tinytim09

    The ZuneHD is a blatant copy of the iPod Touch? Yep, they look almost exactly alike, have the same specs.. oh wait. Nope!

    I seriously don’t understand how anybody with an ounce of intelligence can call the ZuneHD a BLATANT copy.

  • gus2000

    @tinytim09

    You make a compelling argument. However, if you look at how the ZuneHD differs from its predecessor, you’ll find the bulk of the changes (touchscreen, soft keyboard, etc) are taken right from the Touch. And why not? It’s a wildly successful platform.

  • tinytim09

    I respectfully disagree gus2000. The ZuneHD still has the look of the classic Zunes and stayed true to the Zune line. The iPod Touch/iPhone definently threw touchscreens into the public line but soft keyboards have been around for way longer. When a device is only touhscreen of course it’s gonna have a soft keyboard.