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Just a Thought - Apple's New Cards: Aces and Kings?


- September 14th, 2006

So Apple showed its cards on Tuesday, and it wasn't a bad hand at all: A nice pair of aces with the new iPod nano and Shuffle, and a pair of kings with  the announcement of iTV and the newly refurbished iTunes Store -- no longer the iTunes Music Store, I guess it isn't just about the music anymore -- and iTunes.

The question is, will two pair be good enough to keep the other players at bay?

The new iPod nano is what many will say is the device Apple should have replaced the mini with. The rugged aluminum case of the mini is legendary, as opposed to the tough, but easily scratched case of the nano. The mini was a tank that played music, and people loved them, as the hot trade of minis on eBay will attest. It now seems only logical that Apple has realized its mistake and designed the new nano around the mini's form factor. Good move.

And colors! Pink is back, and many feminine iPod buyers are now very happy campers.

How about the shuffle? Is that a sweet little bit of digital wonderment or what? I couldn't care less that it doesn't have a screen; the thing is the size of a book of matches and about twice as heavy. It's a music badge. It's like a Hershey's kiss,  a bit of music wrapped in aluminum. At US$79, you can even afford to give them to people you don't like.

Then there's iTV: Someone at Apple has been burning the midnight oil. Whatever Apple winds up calling it, there's no doubt people will want it. Movies, music and photos directly from my computer in my den (actually, it a spare bedroom I share with my wife's needle-crafts) to my big-screen TV in my family room, wirelessly, anytime I want! Couch potatoes everywhere have switched cheeks in anticipation.

The iTunes Store looked good before, now it's just plain gorgeous, Things are easy to find, the store seems more responsive, and how can you not like the album cover review? Very nice indeed.

Along with the store, iTunes has been smartened up a bit as well. Again, the new views are welcomed and fun to use, and the album cover download, even for those that were ripped into iTunes, is a nice touch. However, the new album view does show, quite graphically,  that even with its prestigious catalogue of music, the iTunes Store does not have everything. So there's still room for growth, eh Apple?

That's just a minor nit. If you are looking for bigger problems with the new iTunes Store you'll only have to look at the new movie offerings. I have more movies in my DVD collection (to my shame). Yes, I know this is likely not Apple's fault, I'm sure Steve Jobs did and is doing his best to get other studios to sign up, which is likely harder to do now that Amazon is offering movies as well. In fact, Amazon seems to have all of the other major movies studios on its side, offering movies for downloading to Windows PCs only, and with some rather tight DRM restrictions, for $10 to $15.

Apple's offerings are competitive, but the selection is rather thin. Signing up some of the independent studios would have been a good move for Apple. I like movies from small independent shops versus the multi-mega-budget, blockbuster wannabes that the big studios push out. Small budget movies must rely on a good story, decent acting, and good directing to grab and hold our attention. A lot of well known actors also prefer small budget movies over the FX-ladened super-movies.

For instance, Elijah Wood, forever famous for playing Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings series, and who was likely offered any script he wanted, seems to prefer small movies that play at film festivals and coffee houses. Two of the three movies he did in 2005 were never widely released, but both films -- Green Street Hooligans and Everything is Illuminated -- were excellent movies and deserve the broader exposure iTunes Store can give.

That said, Steve Jobs did say that more movies are coming, and if you had to start with one studio, Disney would be a great choice.

The other disappointment was the iPod.

OK, so the new one can handle 80 gigs; whoop-di-do! It's the same form factor as the last generation's iPod. While I love that the little screen is brighter, it is still a little screen. Now that we can get movies on iPods it is silly to watch them on hobbit-sized video real estate. Apple knows this, and Jobs has said as much before. (Suddenly Microsoft's Zune doesn't look so bad!)

I could speculate all day long as to why Apple decided to hold on to the old iPod form a little while longer, but doing so would serve no purpose; it is what it is. Apple will still sell a bunch of them, which is what it's all about. And I've got a gut feeling that we'll be seeing a big-screen iPod within the next six months.

So, will this very strong two-pair Apple is holding be enough to take the pot in this round of high-stakes poker? I think so. If we look at what cards the other players have -Amazon with its DRM-ladened and non-iPod compatible Unbox is a pair of tens at best, and Microsoft's Zune is a lonely jack. - we can see that they really can't do much else than bluff.  

Apple will likely take this pot, but this is poker, and someone is bound to wind up with a better hand than Apple's at some point. When that happens it'll be interesting to see how Apple plays it. In the meantime, it's good to be the guy with the biggest stack of chips at the table. Very good indeed.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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