“It took McDonalds 8 years to sell a billion burgers”
– Steve Jobs on the success of iTunes
It’s hard to say exactly what the folks at Apple were thinking when they promoted today’s special event as the announcement of some “fun” new products. For weeks I’ve been convinced that Apple was on the verge of announcing an extension to the current line of iPod socks. Cashmere, perhaps.
For any other computer company todays announcements would be minor at best. Hardly worthy of a special event drawing international media attention, not to mention dozens of live bloggers dutifully typing every word Steve Jobs uttered (has any executive ever had a larger pool of personal stenographers?).
Imagine, if you will, the kind of excitement that would surround Dell Computer’s announcement of the following products:
- A new edition of a personal computer with an updated processor
- A seemingly minor update to an existing and somewhat obscure software package
- An add-on speaker system for a portable audio player
- A leather carrying case for a portable audio player
Dell would be lucky to get John Dvorak’s attention with that sort of announcement.
Apple, of course, is not a normal PC company. And today’s product announcements have deeper implications than might seem apparent on initial glance. In fact, I’d argue, that today’s product announcement marked the most tangible evidence yet of what Apple’s digital convergence strategy will be.
While any one of Apple’s new products might seem to be little more than an incremental improvement over previous offerings, taken as a whole – combined with Job’s comments throughout the event – it’s clear that Apple is serious about becoming a major force in home entertainment.
Let’s take a closer look at Apple’s new products and examine what their true significance might be.
Two New Mac Minis with Intel processors
Apple’s migration to the Intel processor seems to be accelerating. With today’s announcement half of the Mac product line is now available on the Intel platform. However, the Intel migration isn’t all that significant. True, Intel provides the Mac product line with a much needed performance boost, but the real news today had nothing to do with faster computers. Today was all about Apple pushing more extensive digital media convergence.
While reporters might dwell on the new Mini’s system specs and price points, I believe the biggest revelation today was that Apple will be including an Apple Remote as standard equipment with every Mini sold. It was no coincidence that Jobs repeatedly mentioned that you could easily plug the Mini into your television.
Previously the Mini was marketed as a cheap escape for unhappy Windows users. Just plug in your own keyboard, monitor, and mouse. The new Mini will be marketed as a digital hub that will pull together all aspects of your digital lifestyle (music, photos, movies, television). No keyboard, monitor, or mouse needed. Just plug the thing into your TV and go.
The built-in wireless means that you’ll have access to media anywhere on your home network and the built-in gigabit ethernet anticipates the need for higher bandwidth applications to come.
If only there were a software application to drive all of this convergence . . .
Front Row update with Bonjour Support
Front Row slipped onto the scene earlier this year when the Intel iMacs were announced. At the time the application provided a tantalizing hint of what was to come. The software also made the new iMac’s seem like a plausible (though expensive) replacement for the TV.
Today’s announcement regarding Bonjour (nÃƒÂ©e Rendezvous) integration with Front Row is an essential piece of Apple’s digital convergence strategy. Bonjour will allow the Mac Mini attached to your TV to play content stored on any computer on your home network.
While some expected Apple to announce that they would be adding full length feature films to iTunes – today’s announcement is actually more significant, as it provides a way for consumers to actually watch iTunes content on their television. When the iTunes feature film announcement finally comes it will be all the more compelling with an end-to-end viewing solution already in place.
Today’s Front Row announcement does for video programming what iTunes did for audio programming. It simplifies the use of digital programming for the average consumer. Downloadable television shows are no longer exclusively for early adopters.
The iPod HiFi is curious for a couple of reasons. First, it seems more like the kind of accessory that Apple would leave to a third party. Second, when it’s not plugged into the wall it runs on D cell batteries. I never imagined that I’d be writing about an Apple product and D cell batteries in the same article.
Curiousness aside, the iPod speaker system does seem to be a well engineered solution to a very real problem — letting a room full of people hear the music on your iPod.
The audio specs given at todays event indicate that this truly is a “hifi” device and not just a cheap boombox alternative. The unit has the look of something Bose might produce.
While it’s true that the Apple HiFi isn’t a revolutionary innovation, it’s compelling (and cheap) enough that it might sway those who aren’t yet iPod owners to buy an iPod just so they get one of these. The iPod HiFi will be yet another tool that leads consumers to iPod lock-in, which in turn will lead to iTunes lock-in, which in turn will drive sales of Minis and other related technologies. It’s brilliant, in an evil sort of way.
Leather iPod Case
Clearly, this was the sleeper product announcement of the day. There’s no telling what Jobs had in mind with this one. We may yet find out that the case actually includes some kind of wireless connector that allows users to download music without connecting to a computer. Or maybe it’s just a really nice leather case as Steve Jobs says it is. Not every Apple product needs to be part of some grand strategy.
Next up – Microsoft’s major product announcement scheduled for Thursday. They’re trying their best to make it as Apple-like as possible.