Apple Stirs Muddy Waters with iPod touch Emphasis

There was one thing from Wednesday's media event I just didn't get. I mean, I've chewed it over with people that were there and people that weren't. I've thought about it and thought about it, and it just bugs me: What the hell was up with the 15 minute iPod touch recap during an event that's usually used to introduce new products to the media?

Don't get me wrong, it was a fine recap. Phil Schiller gave a great presentation, as far as presentations go. It's just that when we're treated to that sort of look back at most Apple keynotes/media event, they usually culminate with Apple changing the rules or seriously upping the ante in whatever category was on hand -- at the very least, the company tries to convince us it has.

Not so this time. We were treated to a four-bullet point presentation on everything we already knew about the iPod, with point #3 - games - dominating the segment. At the end of all the whole thing, we were shown iPod touches with more memory and faster processors. That's it. I didn't see the point of spending all that time rehashing what I think of as common knowledge, at least amongst the tech press.

Some people I talked it over with suggested it was a filler presentation due to something else originally planned falling through. I don't think that's the case for a couple of reasons: The FOUR game developers on hand spent time developing their presentations, and they were not last minute affairs. The same goes for Mr. Schiller - he put in (and had) a lot of time for his part of the show.

The other thing was that the overall event was one hour and twenty minutes long. Had it been an hour including this iPod touch recap, one could make the argument that it was a filler episode, but I don't think Apple would take it over an hour unless they wanted to.

So no, it was planned, and it went off as it was intended. So why? Just to show off the games, maybe? I'll admit that with all the emphasis on the iPod touch as a gaming platform that I was expecting some kind of really cool gaming initiative...or something. But there wasn't any real announcement, other than the game developers showing off new games, and they could have done so just as well with the emphasis being on iPhones, instead of iPod touches.

As it is, the gaming stuff just built us up (sort of, kind of) without offering the release of something new.

My compadre here at TMO, John Martellaro, wrote on Wednesday that he thinks the lack of major changes to the iPod touch -- its restrained evolution to use his excellent choice of words -- means that its days are numbered, and that it's going to morph into a low end of the iTablet family. (his name - I've been calling it the iPod super touch).

I don't buy that, either, despite John's excellent reasoning. Indeed, if there was something relating to Apple's long-rumored tablet device in this iPod touch presentation it was the opposite: The iPod touch is here to stay as a handheld computing and gaming platform.

Apple's tablet device is going to be aimed at the same space netbooks currently target, and that's a much different market than the iPod touch addresses. There is plenty of room for both the iPod touch and whatever Apple is going to spring on us next year.

Today, though, we get a new piece of the puzzle - Apple's new iPod touch - Games + Apps page we covered a little earlier in the day. Judging by this page, it would appear that Apple is wanting to pitch the iPod touch as a platform in its own right, and I'll be honest when I say, "What the huh?"

This page emphasizes many of the same things Mr. Schiller talked about during his presentation. The iPod touch is a great gaming device, you can social network with it, and you can run all these bitchin' apps. That's all fine and dandy, but at the end of the day, the iPod touch is an iPhone without a phone. It runs a (admittedly large) subset of iPhone apps, and it can't do anything the iPhone can't do.

Everything Mr. Schiller and his game developers showed are things that are really intended for the iPhone. All the apps, all the gaming fun, all the social networking - these are iPhone things that the touch can also do. Why try to suddenly pitch the touch as being something separate when it's not? Why risk dividing perceptions?

I understand the desire to pitch the iPhone touch as a gaming platform, and I can certainly understand making sure the iPod touch is right alongside the iPhone in ongoing market messages, but having a page seemingly dedicated to only this device doesn't make sense to me.

Coming back to the media event, the company did a surprisingly bad job of making any sort of point. Through all of the hooplah, Apple merely seemed to place the pictures in front of its audience without actually telling anyone what it was they were being shown.

That's not like Apple. The company tends to tell us the conclusion we should reach and then back it up in their own special way, not simply list a bunch of in-the-past facts and leave it up to everyone to draw the right conclusion. That's what we got on Wednesday, though, and the new iPod touch - Games + Apps doesn't do much to clarify anything.

From my armchair pundit viewpoint, Apple would be better served emphasizing the iPod touch as a gaming device that can run the same apps as the iPhone. This is markedly different from trying to position it separately with the almost certainly-unintended side effect of suggesting there is a separate category of apps for the device.

At the media event, Apple should have delivered that same message clearly and directly. Something like, "We've seen the iPod touch take off and sell more than 20 million units, and we've seen that users are embracing it as a gaming device. As a company, we've embraced that in turn, and will be working to deliver that message to an ever-broader market that might otherwise have been interested in standalone devices such as the Nintendo DS or the PlayStation Portable."

One last thing: The media event was a success, and I am super excited about iTunes LP, iTunes 9, Genius Recommendations for apps, and the ability to arrange my iPhone apps in iTunes. I imagine the 64GB iPhone touch will also do well in the market place, and the new iPod nano is TEH SUPAR SEXY!!!1!

Overall, though, I think Apple doesn't yet know exactly what to do with the iPod touch yet, though I imagine this won't remain so for too long.