CARLSBAD, Calif.—Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs demonstrated a new version of iTunes here Sunday that adds a Podcast directory and one-click subscription.
Speaking at the D: All Things Digital conference, Jobs showed off the new version of iTunes, which will include a searchable directory of Podcasts. Apple plans to make it easy to find and subscribe to Podcasts via iTunes—it will take just a single click to subscribe to a Podcast once it has been located.
One of the more recent Internet fads, Podcasts combine the subscription capabilities of RSS with digital audio files to automate the process of downloading digital audio files from the Internet to desktop computers and digital audio players.
Version 4.9 of iTunes, due within 60 days, will include the Podcast directory and the subscription manager. Using RSS, iTunes will automatically connect to the Internet and download new audio files—and then transfer them to a connected iPod. Decrying the current state of Podcasting as “really hard to do so far,” Jobs said he plans on simplifying the identification and downloading of audio.
Apple also plans on adding an editorial filter to its Podcast directory. “Well highlight the ones that are really good,” Job claimed, to help the cream rise to the top. The new version of iTunes will work with industry-standard protocols, Jobs promised, which means users should be able to add any Podcast available via the Net—whether its included in iTunes or not. And initially all the Podcasts will be available for free, although Jobs left the door open for premium content down the road.
Podcast listeners will also be able to interact with downloaded audio streams, downloading artwork for music being played, and even buying the song from iTunes with just a click of the mouse.
Jobs cited more than 8,000 Podcasts, with new ones from Business Week, Forbes, Disney and Sirius, as proof that Podcasting has gone big time. But even while touting the new subscription-based audio features in iTunes 4.9, he downplayed any upcoming Apple foray into video aggregation. Jobs flatly denied the rumors that Apple is looking to buy TiVo, pointing to how the set-top box market limits innovation.
Jobs went on to downplay any Media Center-type device from Apple, saying, “Microsofts media center is a fun product, but has not sold high volumes even by our standards,” referring to Apples paltry 4 percent of the U.S. market.
In his wide ranging discussion with Wall Street Journal reporters Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Jobs also touched on selling to corporate America, iPod futures, the cell phone market, Pixar, the Spotlight feature in Apples new Tiger OS and his companys ongoing legal action against Web-based Apple blogs.
- On selling to corporate America, Jobs said: “Were not very good at going through orifices to reach the end user. Were not good with the 500 CIOs.”
- Jobs used the same excuse to justify why Apple would not be releasing its own cell phones. “Were not good with the 500, why would we be good with four,” he said, referring to the top four wireless phone vendors in the United States.
Why doesnt Apple start a virtual mobile phone company, asked Mossberg? “Its not clear of the endurance of these things,” replied Jobs, “but well leave the answers to the ashes of our future.” Jobs openly questioned the viability of music phones in general, contrasting iTunes $0.99 song cost with the $2 to $3 that cell phone providers would have to charge. “Hard to see that their customers are that stupid,” he said.
- On a video iPod, Jobs said, “Headphones are a miraculous thing.” But, he added, “theres no such thing as headphones for video.” Portable video wont be successful, he explained, until you can carry around a 50-inch video screen in your pocket. He went on to praise the PSP as a great game player, but “not great for music [because] it doesnt fit in your pocket.”
- Jobs at the conference also demonstrated the new Spotlight desktop search feature, contrasting it with Google and Yahoo desktop search. He predicted a future where most users end up using specific applications like iTunes to manage files, with Spotlight on top—and the end of folder-based hierarchies for all but uber-geeks. He went on to praise his companys working relationship with Microsoft, disclosing that “Spotlight will be built into the next version of Office.”
- Jobs seemed most animated when discussing Pixar, and the differences between technology and movies. When you buy a Dell, he explained, you probably arent going to buy an Apple. “But if there are three bad movies out there,” he went on, “you probably wont watch any of them. But if there are three good ones, you might watch them all.”
He also contrasted live-action movie making with Pixars approach: “Animation is so expensive, you cant afford to animate much more than 100 percent,” but live-action movies are made in the editing facility from hundreds of hours of tape. “We have a story crisis on every movie,” Jobs went on, “but we stop and fix it” unlike live action, where all the actors have dispersed and the sets have been destroyed.
At Pixar, they “edit the film before [they] make it,” he said. But technology is no panacea. Jobs quoted Pixar co-founder John Lassiter as saying, “No amount of technology can make a bad story into a good story.” And even though computers today are “10,000 times faster” than when Pixar made “Toy Story,” it still takes the same 3 hours to render a frame. “Its unbelievable what we can do [with the new technology], and the artists want to do it.”
What kind of computers does Pixar use to make its movies? “We use Macs, we use PCs running Linux,” Jobs admitted. “It pains me to write that purchase order to Dell.”
- On legal action, Jobs said, “The law is pretty clear,” explaining why his company is going after Apple bloggers, including Think Secret and others. The First Amendment applies “except if they break the law,” and publishing trade secrets is against the law. “We dont think satisfying the curiosity of our customers and our competitors is in the public good.”
Jobs went on to denigrate bloggers, saying that “anyone can be a journalist,” and praising the Journals editors and introspection as a differentiating factor. “We are in a gray area, and we are trying to help in our own small way.”
But even Jobs had his doubts about attacking the First Amendment. “The law is already there, but I worry about it [the repercussions of an Apple win] in todays environment.” Jobs expects that the case will probably end up in the Supreme Court.