Apple Event Announcements: A Very Mixed Bag

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

With the caveat that this is a “first draft” and that my opinions may change over time, here are my reactions to the products announced at the Apple September 1 Event. [Spoiler alert: Although I found several worthy gems among the announcements, my overall reaction was negative.]

iPod shuffle: I have never liked the iPod shuffle. The inability to scroll the device’s content was a deal-breaker for me. VoiceOver is not a sufficient alternative. When Apple went even further, and eliminated buttons from last year’s shuffle, the device became dead to me. Giving the new shuffle a click wheel is a return to sanity (especially welcome considering what Apple did to the new nano). But it still has no screen and no scrolling. I remain unenthusiastic. At just $49, however, the price is attractive.

iPod nano: I’m not sure what to make of the new iPod nano. I see no automatic virtue to making the nano smaller and smaller. As far as I’m concerned, the new nano is now too small. I’ll reserve final judgement until I actually get to play with one, but it looks too tiny for my clunky fingers to easily navigate the touchscreen.

More to the point, I prefer a nano with a click wheel. To me, this is what most distinguished the nano from an iPod touch. The wheel lets you easily pause or skip songs while the device is in your pocket; you don’t need to actually see the screen. I know there are iPhone apps like FluxTunes that allow for “sight-free music control,” but you still need to launch these apps and make sure they are active; the click-wheel does it better. And now it’s gone.

The new nano also lost the video camera from last year’s model. This is no great loss from my perspective. I never saw the camera as a selling point, despite how it was touted in Apple’s marketing. I guess Apple came around to my way of thinking. It also appears that iPod games are gone.

As for the new user interface, it has a touchscreen, like the iOS, but otherwise seems not be an iOS variation. You certainly can’t run separate apps. I suspect it will not be given an iOS moniker and will remain outside the iOS family of devices.

iPod touch: The new iPod touch pretty much delivers what was predicted by the rumors. And nothing more. But that’s okay. The new features are definitely noteworthy. The biggest ones are the cameras: a front facing camera (which will work with FaceTime) and a rear-facing camera (for HD video but not still photos). [Correction: The rear camera can apparently take (inferior) still photos, as reported by iLounge.] The rear camera, I suppose, can be viewed as the alternative for those who miss the video camera in last year’s nano. Together with a Retina Display, the iPod touch is a more compelling choice than ever — even if the price is still a bit steep.

Apple TV: The new Apple TV is yet another mixed bag.

The smaller size is attractive and the $99 price is almost certain to spark an increase in sales. I was especially pleased to see how you can use the new AirPlay feature to stream music and video directly from an iOS device to the Apple TV (although I assume this will work only with selected content, such as from iPod and Video apps). Having Netflix access is another big plus.

On the other hand, although not a surprise, my biggest disappointment is the lack of internal storage. Despite what Steve said about Apple TV users not caring about — nor even wanting — this storage, it’s not true for me. The number one use of my Apple TV is to store and play my Mac content (music, movies, and photos).

Yes, I can stream content via iTunes from a Mac to the new Apple TV (which I can also do with my current model). But I much prefer having the content right on the device. With local storage, I don’t have to worry about network connection hassles or whether iTunes is currently open on my Mac or anything else. My content is just there; immediately and reliably. This is a big loss, and possibly a deal-breaker for me.

I had hoped to see Apple introduce some cloud-based service where you could store purchased content. This would not eliminate the need for a network connection, but would at least eliminate the need to have iTunes running on your Mac. It might have also allowed you to purchase content directly from an Apple TV (for storage in your personal cloud space) rather than be restricted to renting. But this was not to be (unless you count MobileMe streaming).

The new 99¢ rental fee for TV shows is definite plus — especially for watching selected episodes of a series. I believe it’s cheaper than any other commercial-free rental option. As a bonus, you now have 48 hours after starting to watch a show to finish it, rather than the former 24 hours. Still, if you plan to rent an entire season of a show, it could wind up costing you almost as much buying the series on DVD.

I’m not sure where all of this leaves my old Apple TV. Will I still be able to purchase movies from it? Will it support the new 99¢ TV rentals? Or what exactly? [I haven’t even launched my Apple TV today to see what’s up; I’ll check it out later.]

iTunes 10: The major new feature in iTunes 10 is Ping — a “social network for music.” I don’t know. I see some advantages to it, especially in terms of following artists. But I don’t need another social network to worry about. I already have my hands full with Facebook and Twitter. And iTunes certainly doesn’t need yet another entirely new feature to add to what is already a bloated application.

The revised AirPlay (formerly AirTunes) offers more promise. I especially welcome that “AirPlay now works without AirPort Express, using speakers, receivers and stereo systems from companies including Bowers & Wilkins, JBL, Denon and iHome, so you can enjoy your entire iTunes music library wirelessly from any room in the house with no extra gear required.”

iOS 4.1 and 4.2: As promised by Steve at the last event, iOS 4.1, due out next week, should fix an assortment of bugs: most notably the proximity sensor bug and the slowness on the iPhone 3G.

However, the new iOS also includes an unexpected and previously unannounced feature: High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos. If it works as advertised, it will automatically do what you would otherwise need multiple different exposures of the same scene plus skill in Photoshop to accomplish. Very cool. This will give my iPhone 4 yet another edge over my point-and-shoot Canon.

Game Center makes its formal debut in iOS 4.1. I’m sure this is welcome news for some. It means almost nothing to me, as I do no network game playing.

Unfortunately, iOS 4.1 will not yet work with the iPad. We’ll have to wait for iOS 4.2 for that — due in November. When it does arrive, iOS 4.2 will add what may well prove to be the most significant announcement of today’s event: wireless printing via a Print Center app. This had been #1 on my iOS wish list. Steve was vague about how it would work — other than saying it will. We’ll have to wait and see. Assuming it delivers on its promise, it instantly makes the iPad a more compelling productivity device.

What didn’t happen. I don’t judge an Apple event based on what rumors were or were not fulfilled. It’s unfair to expect Apple to live up to every pie-in-the-sky dream that some blogger thinks might be true. However, there is one rumor that I will mention — because I had recently written about it.

I had hoped (almost expected) to see the new Apple TV running a version of iOS. I speculated that this would be the first move in an eventual transition to some iOS (and possibly touchscreen) option in all Apple hardware, even Macs. This transition may still be down the road (in that regard, it’s worth noting that the new Apple TV uses the same A4 chip found in the iPhone). However, it did not happen today. I was clearly wrong in my prediction here. The Apple TV interface remains about the same.

We also didn’t hear any word about what will happen on September 30, when the iPhone 4 Case Program ends.

The iPod Classic remains in the Apple Store, but was not updated in any way.

Bottom line. The new line-up of products offer some attractive new features. They will garner the usual positive attention and I expect Apple sales to continue their ascent. However, my overriding reaction to today’s announcements was negative. Not because the new good features weren’t good enough. And not because Apple did not deliver on some rumor. But because too much of what was new (an iPod nano without a wheel; an Apple TV without storage; iTunes with more bloat) was more of a minus than a plus — at least for me.

There’s always next time. The good news is, in Apple’s world, the next time is never very far away.

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24 Comments Leave Your Own

Tiger

Apparently Wall Street liked the announcements enough. Apple’s stock jumped $7.19 today.

In fact, I think you actually downplayed some considerable changes. AirPlay for one opens up to external vendors products, a criticism that was heavily lobbed against Apple when AirTunes debuted.

The iPod Nano looks to be an incredible device. Smaller yes, and consider the engineering that went into it. Multitouch on a device that size? Anybody else have anything comparable?

Steve’s already outlived half of his critics who said he’d never live 2 years. And it’s obvious he’s in charge.

How about the streaming itself? Using complete open protocols on standard HTTP lines. Yes, it required Safari and a certain level of hardware…for the demonstration. You don’t see Ferrari at the Mall giving away test drives all the time now do you? It’s strategic planning. It creates buzz.

But your bottom line is right. In Apple’s world, the next time is never very far away. Again, can the same be said of any of their competitors?

Ross Edwards

Ted, I’m with you on the AppleTV and I think they’ve changed it into a different device entirely.  It is now the same as a Roku or a cheap Bluray box, except it does less!  I can see the push for simplicity but the reality is that the AppleTV you and I both liked and wanted was what the new Mac Mini became.  In fact, if they have included a blu ray drive into the new Mac Mini, it would have been THE media server box, despite its high price.

The iPod shuffle continues to be worthless to people who like to set up a playlist in order, press play, and listen to it during a workout.  Pity.  A $14.95 MP3 player can do it, but Apple’s “brilliant design” won’t.  That’s besides things like listening to live performance albums, which tend to sound ridiculous if you don’t listen to them in order from beginning to end.  “Ba-da-blang!  THANK YOU SPRINGFIELD GOOD NIGHT!  (crowd cheers) (track break) (crowd cheers) HI, HOW YOU ALL DOING TONIGHT!  For our second song we’d like to play something new…”

I don’t mind the Nano changes that much as the new device does 99.5% of what I actually do with my old Nano.  Gee, I don’t get to watch tiny movies.  Oh well.  If they can make that thing into a watch like Jobs was saying, that could be a very hot seller.  Seriously.

mhikl

Ted. You know how to take the wind out of sails. (NPI)

But have to agree with much of what you said. I cling to my old clip shuffle which I use for listening to books and radio documentaries while driving. Quick and dirty is why I love it. (Saves iPtouch battery and charge.) And no back snaps with a touch? (Will not be updating,)

And I was disappointed with mini Apple TV. Do I rush out and try to grab a first version?

Clarity is a virtue, usually unsung.

Ted Landau

Gee, I don?t get to watch tiny movies.? Oh well.?

Yikes. I hadn’t even noticed that. The iPad nano is really an entirely different animal from the old model. No movies, no games, no video camera, no click wheel. It appears that, for people who want more than music playback, Apple wants you to migrate to the touch.

The new nano is now almost like a shuffle with a touchscreen instead of a wheel.

vasic

Ross,

iPod shuffle supports playlists, including Genius playlists. In fact, playlist support was there in last year’s version of it.

Ted Landau

Talking on a podcast, I came up with a positive about Apple TV that I did not consider in the column here:

If you have a minimal TV setup (e.g. no cable, no Blu-ray), the Apple TV can be a cheap and easy way to add the option to rent movies, TV shows etc. How big a market this is, remains to be seen.

xmattingly

The iPad nano is really an entirely different animal from the old model. No movies, no games, no video camera, no click wheel.

I was wondering if they were going to include all those features that crept into last year’s model. If I were in the market for one, the loss of video recording would definitely not break the deal. Though… the loss of the click wheel could be, if the multi-touch control does not work as well.

I will give a favorable opinion for the Shuffle - minimally useful compared to the others, but it definitely suits a purpose. I have one that I use at the gym, since I’d rather not sweat all over my iPod Touch and risk harming it.

iVoid

They might not call it iOS, but I’m sure chunks of iOS is in the Apple TV with the Apple TV interface riding on top. With it running on the A4, it would be stupid to make an OS from scratch for the Apple TV (especially since they reworked Mac OS X for the original ATV, so this is just the same).


As for your ‘transition’ of iOS to Macs someday… that would be the end of Macintosh for me. IOS is not a desktop operating system and won’t be as long as apple cripples it so much.

Ted Landau

They might not call it iOS, but I?m sure chunks of iOS is in the Apple TV

Given that Mac OS X lies underneath everything, even iOS, this has to be true in some sense. I was thinking more about a user interface that looked closer to the iPad.

As for your ?transition? of iOS to Macs someday? that would be the end of Macintosh for me. IOS is not a desktop operating system and won?t be as long as apple cripples it so much.

As I have written elsewhere, I am not suggesting that iOS would replace Mac OS X ? but that it would be an alternative in certain situations (especially for Front Row).

geoduck

I’m much happier with what was released.
The Nano is good enough for my wife to (finally) replace her ancient iPod. The screen, the radio, solid state. It’s light and tiny and rugged enough for her to use it in the garden without worrying about dropping it (as she does with our current iPods).
The iPod Touch is so good that while I had been looking at getting an iPhone4, now I may go with one of these and the cheapest, bottom end, month by month phone I can buy. In the long run it may be cheaper.

OTOH Ping is irrelevant. I agree that I don’t need ANOTHER social network to follow. Also the AppleTV is irrelevant to me. Eventually I may decide how it fits in my environment, but for now not.

vasic

OS X is the common underpinning for Mac OS X, iOS, as well as AppleTV OS. The three are very distinct beasts, each of them having a (rather) thin layer of UI on top of common UNIX core, carefully crafted for a very specific purpose. That means that, unless a specific SDK is released for the AppleTV flavour of this OS X, there won’t be any apps for it, neither from the iOS flavour, nor from the Mac OS flavour.

As for the iOS succeeding Mac OS, I am absolutely convinced of its certainty. There may be one more cat in the works (10.7), but I would be surprised if 10.8 ever appears. Apple has finally figured out how to built the best possible UI for a computing device, and that is iOS. It won’t be more than a couple of years before iOS grows a bit more muscle (and features), and becomes the default (and eventually, only) OS on the Mac. Every Mac display will be multi-touch, the ergonomics of Mac will be fundamentally changed, and people will wonder how on earth they got ANYTHING done using the awkward, slow, imprecise and unintuitive device called computer mouse.

vasic

As for Ping, it may be irrelevant for us over 50 years old, but I’m convinced it will become colossal and indispensable for sub-30 crowd. The way it is designed is intuitive and simple, in true Apple fashion, and it provides precisely the level of social element that collecting and enjoying music has been missing so far.

Maria

I mostly agree with you but would like to add a few things:

- The Shuffle (with click wheel; thank heaven it’s back) is a pretty handy device for listening to music while doing sports. I use mine (older generation that looks a lot like the new one) for walking. Fill it with songs you like, clip it on, and listen. For this purpose, I don’t think you need scrolling. Skip and replay are enough. IMHO, anyway.

- Just because Steve says something about what users want doesn’t mean it’s the truth. For years, Steve has been trying to sell his (Apple’s) agenda as being what people want. Steve lies about what most people really want. I started seeing this years ago. Surely you have, too.

- I think $4.99 for a streaming video RENTAL (for Pete’s sake!) is obscene. Even PPV on Dish network is cheaper than that. So are the video rental machines in supermarkets. And Netflix. Seriously, are we supposed to be impressed?

- I’m definitely not excited about Ping. ANOTHER social network? Jeez. Will it go the way of eWorld? (Yes, I’m old enough to remember that fiasco.) Too little, too late?

The only thing about this special event that interested me is iOS 4.2—and that won’t be seen until November.

Hey, Apple! Do you still make COMPUTERS?

Zarko

Vasic,

The iOS on the iPhone and iPad have a long way to go before they could replace the big “cats,” and I don’t think it will happen.  While I agree that multi-touch and other hallmarks of the iOS will creep onto macs, I can’t imagine Apple trying to sell a computer with out a visible file system or the ability to display multiple running windows from different applications on the screen simultaneously (for examples).  Apple’s restrictions on the iOS are sensible for a device running a low-performance processor and a small screen, but they would be needless on a full-blown computer.  For this reason, regardless of how much iOS cross-pollinates with Mac OSX, the two will still have distinct identities.

vpndev

No MacBook Air update !! Boo !!

Maybe next week smile

Dean Lewis

A lot of what Steve says is stuff I want. The new Apple TV actually is something I would pick up to replace my Airport Express killed long ago by a lightning strike. It’ll make the perfect companion to the iPad in the living room. Passing around the iPad to everyone in the room is cool the first couple f times you do it, and then it just takes too much time. Now I can push the stuff to my big screen TV and audio system, Q.E.D. Possible before with other devices? Yes. But now integrated and all working together with less hassle (if it remains as simple to set up as the iPad and other consumer devices from Apple).

Ping has possibilities. Will it draw people from the likes of Last.FM and its plug-in? There is something to be said for only having to deal with one program (iTunes) and not two or three and then several websites on top of that. Writing it off as just another social network smacks of a bit of ignorance: social networking of many sorts continues to be the second largest activity behind email. Social gaming is huge and still hasn’t reached its peak. Just because you might not think it’s useful, doesn’t mean many others will. I think there will be a lot more others than you’s—and me, since I probably won’t use it much, if at all. The question will be how big Ping is and if it can grow in features and usefulness to those who like it.

The rental prices are fine and more than competitive with brick-and-mortar stores. (I work part-time at one.) Not everyone has access to Dish network, and not everyone’s PPV is cheaper than $4.99. (Mine ranges from $1.99 to $4.99.) 99 cent episodes of shows is cheaper than my cable system offers episodes that aren’t in the freebie area.

The only thing I agree on is that the return of the clickwheel to the Shuffle is good, and the move to just a touchscreen on the nano is possibly bad. I still say “possibly” because I’m not the audience for a Nano. I’m not even the audience for an iPod Touch or iPhone—the screens are too small for my stubby, square fingers to poke and for my aging eyes to read. Hooray for the young folks who can; use it while you got it. smile

nytesky

Much of this article highlights the generational differences in what is expected of new technology.

Lee Dronick

No MacBook Air update !! Boo !!

Maybe a few months. These announcements help keep the media talking about Apple. Can’t do it too often nor too far in between.

Ted Landau

Much of this article highlights the generational differences in what is expected of new technology.

You certainly have a point. And I recognized this as I wrote the article ? especially as regards my attitude towards Game Center and Ping. That’s why I tried to temper such statements with qualifiers such as “I?m sure this is welcome news for some.”

Beyond that, there is only so much I can do. I wouldn’t necessarily expect an article by an 18-year-old blogger to especially consider the viewpoint of someone over 50. The reverse is true as well. Take any one’s opinions with whatever grains of salt you believe are needed.

KitsuneStudios

Honestly, why would you want to want AppleTV to have iOS? The user interface is completely incompatible; No touchscreen, no motion sensors.  How would you control games designed for the iPad/iPhone on your TV?

Personally, I think the new AppleTV is a great idea. I could buy the system, and rent two shows a day, and it would still be cheaper than HDTV cable access in my area. The difficulty in getting to a good movie rental place in this town fills a niche as well.

My only problem is that in Canada, the unit costs $20 more, but lacks Netflix access due to international licensing issues. Hopefully, Apple can find a Canadian vendor to fill that particular void.

Alphaman

To me, the biggest failing of the whole announcement was the limitations of both the input and output of the Apple TV to 720p.  Seriously?  This is not 1999.  In this century, people have pocket sized cameras that shoot 1080p—how are they going to display their home movies?  Who buys a 1080p HDTV so they can display 40% of the pixels?

720p is, (oh, what was that phrase….) “a bag of hurt”.

geoduck

Giving the new shuffle a click wheel is a return to sanity

I also take it as a tacit admission that the last Shuffle was a step too far. They went too small and putting the controls on the cable was a mistake. Honestly, was a fraction of an oz really that important? I do agree though without a screen…Meh. True it’s $49 US, but for $149 US you get the Nano: better controls, 4 times the storage, and a radio. Unless you’re really tapped for cash or using it in a really severe environment, it seems like a no brainer.

Lee Dronick

I also take it as a tacit admission that the last Shuffle was a step too far. They went too small and putting the controls on the cable was a mistake. Honestly, was a fraction of an oz really that important?

I have one and overall I like it. It has its advantages and of course disadvantages with its size and weight being both. It is easy to misplace and as I mentioned in a previous post I ran my first one through the laundry. I have worn it as a tie clip.

I do like the inline controls on the cable. When the iPod is in a case or pocket it is easy to adjust volume or jump to the next track. What I don’t like are the Apple Earbuds which don’t fit me well. Voice over is okay on the relative small capacity Shuffle, but I wouldn’t want to have to use it exclusively on a larger capacity iPod.

All of that being said if I had to buy another iPod I probably would get a Nano. I bought my Shuffle to replace a 3r generation iPod Nano, I really liked that model’s form factor. The 4th generation Nano had some sharp edges that I didn’t like.

pdwatson2

Ted Landau said on September 1st, 2010 at 6:51 PM:
Talking on a podcast, I came up with a positive about Apple TV that I did not consider in the column here:

If you have a minimal TV setup (e.g. no cable, no Blu-ray), the Apple TV can be a cheap and easy way to add the option to rent movies, TV shows etc. How big a market this is, remains to be seen.

Could be a deal in my house, if true and easy.  A $99 way to watch Netflix streamed movies on the big screen?  Good idea.  It would allow us to ditch cable entirely, since we don’t use it to watch anything but PPV movies.  That would save us hundreds every year.  (!)  This is the first time I’ve been tempted by Apple TV.

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