Apple's Sept. 1 event saw the debut of new iPods, a revamped Apple TV and a music-centric social service, pushing the company toward greater conflict with Microsoft, Facebook and Google.
Apple's Sept. 1 event in San Francisco saw the debut of new
iPods, a revamped Apple TV and several new services, including
a social network devoted to music. Those items are virtually guaranteed to give
Apple buzz heading into the holiday shopping season, but they could also bring
the company into more fierce competition with some of the biggest names in tech:
Facebook, Microsoft and Google.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs kicked off his presentation of the
revamped iPods by saying, "This year, we've gone wild." The iPod Shuffle, iPod
Nano and iPod Touch all underwent substantial hardware and software upgrades,
with the latter receiving an integrated HD video camera and FaceTime
video-conferencing application. Previous to the event, pundits
and analysts generally felt that Apple would refresh the iPod line
with Apple TV-predictions that by and large proved correct.
Next week, the company will introduce iOS 4.1, with a number
of bug fixes, followed by iOS 4.2 for iPad. The operating system updates will
include a Games Center and wireless printing, two
features guaranteed to clash with mobile offerings from Microsoft
spent some of his onstage time highlighting the Games Center's focus on
multiplayer, which makes the platform a contender against not only Nintendo and
Sony's portable game systems, but especially the upcoming Windows Phone 7's
Microsoft contends that Hub, which will heavily leverage the
Xbox brand, will
help the smartphone platform gain traction with consumers.
built-in user base, though, iPads and iPhones with robust gaming capability
represent a substantial threat to that initiative.
The iPad's wireless printing also presents something of a
challenge to Microsoft, which could have used a continued lack of that feature
as a competitive differentiator for its own Windows 7 tablets.
More generally, Apple's extensive refresh of its mobile
line, paired with continued strong sales for both the iPhone 4 and the iPad,
creates additional headwinds for Microsoft as it seeks to gain share in mobile
through its own smartphones and tablets. Jobs claimed some 120 million devices
running iOS, with 230,000 new iOS activations per day.
Jobs also unveiled a new version of iTunes, the company's
media application, with a social network "all about music" called Ping. That
service will leverage iTunes' 160 million registered users, allowing them to
share information about their favorite artists, songs and albums. While early
news reports seem to focus on Ping's potential effect on streaming-radio
services such as Last.fm, the network could also represent something of a
beachhead for a future push against Facebook, provided Apple buttresses out its
But much of Apple's presentation seemed devoted to giving
Google a minor case of indigestion-particularly the new Apple TV
, which fits into the
palm of a hand and includes an HDMI connector, Ethernet and WiFi. In
conjunction with the hardware, Apple will offer streaming rentals: $4.99 HD
movies, the same day they appear on DVD, and 99-cent TV shows. So far, Fox and
ABC have signed up to offer their content, although Jobs voiced hope that other
studios would follow suit.
"It's never been a huge hit," he
said, describing Apple TV. "Neither has any competitive product."
Tim Cook once famously referred to Apple TV as the company's "hobby" during a
Goldman Sachs technology conference in February
, a term that Jobs echoed
when introducing the new version of the device. But Google's May announcement
of Google TV-which will funnel search, video, Twitter and a number of Web
applications through a set-top box-may have driven Apple to take another look
at the segment.
Google TV will also reportedly leverage a version of the
Google Chrome Web browser and support both Google applications and Google ads;
navigation would come courtesy of a special remote control from Logitech or an
Android 2.1 or higher smartphone.
Jobs seemed determined to draw contrasts between not only Apple
TV and Google's offering, but other companies' attempts to sync multimedia
content between multiple screens within a home. "They don't want a computer on
their TV," he said. "This is a hard one for people in the computer industry to
understand." Features such as syncing between a television and secondary
devices, he continued, was "too complicated" for most users.
The notoriously pugilistic CEO appeared to take a backhand
swipe at YouTube and its millions of homemade clips. "They want Hollywood movies
and TV shows whenever they want them," went his description of consumers'
wants. "They don't want amateur hour."
Unlike the iOS devices-which already have a large
audience-Apple will likely need to push hard for Apple TV's wider adoption; and
that effort, more than anything produced by Google, may determine whether the
device prospers, dies or remains just a hobby.