Where is Apple Going?

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Date: Friday, October 6th, 2006, 12:00
Category: Opinion

As a computer company, the path seems pretty straightforward. Apple has transitioned to Intel processors and Leopard will take running Windows on a Mac out of beta. Market share is rising, price points are great for most machines and performance is where it needs to be. Also, the product line looks great.
Portables
MacBooks are probably the biggest hit Apple has had since the original iMac. The MacBook Pro is due for a new Core 2 Duo processor and should be through with initial teething problems by then. The iMac and mini are great consumer machines and the Mac Pro has moved to Intel along with the Xserves. What’s not to like?
iPods in Transition
The second generation iPod nano is by far the best music player Apple has ever produced. It’s smaller than the original nano, but with the superior industrial design of the iPod mini. There is something so appealing about this design. It’s cleaner than the split stainless and plastic casing of the original iPods with a durable anodized finish. The iPod shuffle also benefits from this aluminization.
I broke with Jason when he panned the original iPod shuffle. I liked the concept and thought the product was neat and clean. The new Shuffle with integral clip and aluminum finish is gorgeous. Maybe O’Grady was right about the original. Suffice it to say, that the second-generation shuffle is near perfect now.
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(Contributed by Bob Snow)


As a computer company, the path seems pretty straightforward. Apple has transitioned to Intel processors and Leopard will take running Windows on a Mac out of beta. Market share is rising, price points are great for most machines and performance is where it needs to be. Also, the product line looks great.
Portables
MacBooks are probably the biggest hit Apple has had since the original iMac. The MacBook Pro is due for a new Core 2 Duo processor and should be through with initial teething problems by then. The iMac and mini are great consumer machines and the Mac Pro has moved to Intel along with the Xserves. What’s not to like?
iPods in Transition
The second generation iPod nano is by far the best music player Apple has ever produced. It’s smaller than the original nano, but with the superior industrial design of the iPod mini. There is something so appealing about this design. It’s cleaner than the split stainless and plastic casing of the original iPods with a durable anodized finish. The iPod shuffle also benefits from this aluminization.
I broke with Jason when he panned the original iPod shuffle. I liked the concept and thought the product was neat and clean. The new Shuffle with integral clip and aluminum finish is gorgeous. Maybe O’Grady was right about the original. Suffice it to say, that the second-generation shuffle is near perfect now. (Apple should bundle a shuffle free with every Mac to drive sales at the iTunes Store. – Jason)
So what about the original iPod? I think the handwriting is on the wall for the iPod’s industrial design. Look for it to get an aluminum enclosure, it’s time. They have refined the look, feel and proportion of the iPod for six generations with the only mis-step occurring in the generation three box. As a music player, the full size iPod is due for a restyle. Keep in mind that the full size iPod is a relic with only one thing going for it over the nano, storage. It is a dinosaur in that it uses a mechanical drive, but technology has not yet dealt it a death blow. Solid state memory is still too expensive to displace it.
I could see iPods transitioning into two discreet branches. The high capacity full size music player and the video player. With the size requirements of video, it will be quite a while before the hard drive inside becomes history. And there are rumors about an iPod with the entire face used as a screen. For video, this is the way to go. The current screen is too small and in my opinion the full face as a screen is still too small. A full-face iPod wont work as a music player though.
The tactile buttons on the click wheel make the iPod workable by feel. This is why I think there should be a split. iPod MIDI in aluminum and iPod video with the split case and plastic screen as the entire front. I would only buy the former.
What about movies?
The September iTunes movie announcements were very preliminary and included only Disney products. A future set top box. Near DVD content. Minor changes to the iMac and Mac mini. Steve is just dipping his toe in the water to check the temperature. Expect more.
I think Steve is right about music. People want to own it outright and that makes sense. People buy CDs and play them over and over. They buy what they know they like or think they are going to like and own some rights to the music. Not so with movies. People watch movies once for the most part. Sure they buy the ones they really like, but the movie rental business is real and serves a need.
Computers will supplant this business and the only question is whether or not Apple participates. If I were Steve, I would peel some greenbacks from my big wad of cash and buy Netflix, if only for the name and customer list. The traditional movie rental business isn’t going away anytime soon.
Gaming
Apple should also team up with a game maker, maybe Nintendo and make sure that Apple products are very good game consoles. Apple also needs to work very hard to get HD content. There is chaos right now with no clear winner between BluRay and High Definition DVDs and if compression and the bandwidth were there, a big opportunity presents itself for Apple to leapfrog physical media.
iPhone
An iPhone needs to happen. The phone companies are going after music with a pretty poor model. They look at it like charging real money for stupid ring tones. They don’t like the current iTunes phones because people do not purchase music over their network. The main reason Apple needs a phone is to set the direction for the future of portable digital music. I think the design of mobile phones is a lot like MP3 players when Apple designed the first iPod.
Most of today’s phones are terrible. Add a poor quality camera and a confusing MP3 player and they just get worse. Apple can do a phone right. Trust me. Phones killed the PDA market and they may eventually kill the portable music player market and the recreational camera market too.
When (not if) Apple releases a phone, it has to have a great music player built in. It doesn’t matter to consumers how they get the music, just that it be easy and straightforward. Playing the music is what is important. It needs to be a “near iPod” experience. If Apple cannot do a very good camera, they should just leave it out. What will make or break an Apple branded phone is the quality of the experience. It has to be the best phone out there. Most people do not use the Bluetooth functionality they paid for. In fact they struggle to use about 10% of a phone’s features. Apple needs to make a phone that people can use to do more things, more easily.
Remote control
One more thing. Apple needs to get better at remotes. Maybe even make a universal remote. If you want to control digital media in the home, the remote control is the thing that people are touching most of the time. Make it a real Apple product and not an afterthought.
(Contributed by Bob Snow)

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