The new iPods: Curiously unimpressive

“Show me another sales figure Steve.” Photo (cc) only alice.

Now I know how the dinosaurs felt when they saw small creatures running around with their new fur upgrades. There’s lots of excitement on the blogs about the new range, but I can’t see the point. To me yesterday’s iPod launch looks like a triumph of presentation of content.

For instance it started with Apple taking a step back with the iPod shuffles. The electronics are as before, but now you can buy it in a number of much more boring colours – and red. Either this is a cunning ploy by some marketing guy to push red Shuffles, or else it’s a deliberate downgrade so that next time around Steve Jobs can say how they’re improved the colours by reverting them back to the previous range,

The Nano was really overplayed. The step up from 2G to 4G at the cheap end and 4G to 8G at the higher end is welcome but hardly ground breaking after a couple of years, especially as there was already an 8G black nano. The design is ugly, but that might not be an issue – the big problem is video.

I may be biased here but the iTunes TV launch in the UK was a huge disappointment. There isn’t a single programme I would willingly watch for free in the shop. In fact you’d have to pay me, and a lot more than £2 per episode, to sit through Desperate Housewives or That 70’s Show. But let’s pretend that there was something worth watching. Apple’s been pushing Apple TV and the widescreen displays. They’ve cut the 17” iMac for a bigger display. Everywhere in the shops TVs are bigger and bigger. So why should I get excited about watching video on something the size of a postage stamp? I don’t doubt the display is a triumph of engineering, but it’s still pants compared to a proper monitor.

I can see why Apple’s excited, it’s another thing to push, but is video really going to make my music sound better? In fact I’m listening to Happy Mondays at the moment and I can’t imagine wanting to see Shaun Ryder’s face gurning at me. At the time of writing a refurbished 8G Nano is selling for £15 less than the price of a new 8G Nano. It seems that even Apple really think the Nano is about music rather than video.

Take away the video and the Nano upgrade is welcome isn’t hugely innovative after a couple of years. As for the design, if it’s going to be in your pocket it’s not a huge negative point. The Nano isn’t a disaster, but it’s not groundbreaking either. The iPod Classic is also a minor upgrade. After a couple of years as a consumer I’d expect the storage sizes to double.

The iPod Touch superficially looks impressive but it seems to me more to be a crippled iPhone demo which can be used as a Nano. The interface is impressive, as it was on the iPhone. I cannot get excited about a 3.5” wide screen though. It’s two postage stamps. The stingy storage capacity either 8G or 16G makes it directly comparable to a Nano. Presumably that’s why the 8G black nano wasn’t doubled to 16G as it would simply be too obvious. The other functions are mildly disappointing.

Wifi is a Good Thing, or at least would be for me if I lived anywhere with free wifi, especially combined with Safari. If there was Email and a contacts manager you’d have the basis of a really good PDA – but there isn’t. Looking at the presentation and thinking about what I would want to do with a mobile device made the iPhone look more impressive. In five years time when the iPhone can run iWorks and you can connect to the internet from anywhere at an affordable price the laptop will die. The iPhone and iPod Touch are prototypes of what will become truly exciting portable communication devices, and the only reason for buying a laptop rather than a desktop machine is portability. From this year on the Integrated Sciences courses, we’re equipping the students with their own wireless tablet PCs because we think portability is important. It’s possible in the not-too-distant future that we could switch – if syncing with desktop PCs is seamless. Sadly I’m not optimistic enough to think that in five years Leicester will have switched from Windows. Right now a tablet PC is viable for traveling to, from and around campus. An iPhone sized computer would be viable for the fieldwork trips too.

Right now though the major talking points of the iPod Touch aren’t hugely exciting. A wifi iTunes store? If you’re the sort of person who really CANNOT wait to get home and buy a track then you’re also probably the sort of person who needs more than 16Gs on their iPod. I can see why journalists whooped – it’s yet another selling channel and the presentation was really big on those. I’m not a shareholder so I find someone standing up and announcing “We’ve found even more ways to part consumers from their money” uninteresting at best. When I’m cutting a rug to phat bombastic beats what I’m really interested in is the music. I’m not interested in what other colours players come in nor if the technology has really been leveraged in the 4th quarter to create a massive boost in sales. Improved encoding for music tracks, that would be exciting, but a purple button to buy it? That could only appeal to the sort of person who wants to buy yet another copy of Sergeant Pepper.

However, there was a major shock announcement at the end when Steve Jobs announced that from October “…you’ll be able to buy great music and great coffee at Starbucks.” They then went on to try and bury the announcement in a series of slides about rolling out the wireless stores in New York and Seattle. It didn’t work. For anyone in the UK this was THE major announcement. It’s one of the things which could revolutionise my life. It’s the sort of thing that makes you think: “Is there nothing Steve Jobs cannot do?”

From October, Starbucks is going to start selling great coffee!


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