Please, Apple, can I have less?
Last week’s Apple music event was, in a word, underwhelming.
The confetti has been swept up, Chris Martin has vanished off to ... well … wherever it is Chris Martin vanishes off to when he's not performing, and what we're left with is, to my appraisal, not all that satisfactory. To put some specifics to this, it seems that Apple's gone all out to remove elements of choice.
What do I mean by that? Well, let's look at what Apple announced and released in the last week.
There's the new iPod shuffle, with the exciting addition of buttons. I've never been shy in saying that I don't quite get the shuffle. Yes, it’s a nice enough bits of physical design, but if all you want is a small solid state music player without a display screen, you can do that — Mac-compatible and all — without paying the iPod shuffle's asking price. It's never seemed like much of a choice to me.
There's the new iPod nano. Ooh, look, it's got a shiny touchscreen interface and hints of iOS in the background. Pity that in order to accommodate that we've got to lose not only the camera but also the video playback capability in its entirety. I also note from Apple's specifications page that it requires OS X 10.5.8 or later, which seems like an interesting requirement for what is now only a music player. Can Tiger not handle all of its limited functionality? The next-generation nano is, on paper, a lesser player right now and, again, not that great a choice. Frankly, I suspect the current-generation video-capable nano might become something of a collector's item.
The cynic in me strongly suspects that the video capability of the nano had to die so that Steve could sell more iPod touch units. The new touches do look nice on first glimpse (I'm yet to hold one in real life), although the limitation on photo taking at a resolution of only 960x720 is, again, a limitation of choice that's surely more to do with making the iPhone 4 the "premium" item than it is making the iPod touch the best device it could be. Again, I feel like my choices are being limited.
Ah, I hear you cry, but I do have a choice if I don't like those players. There's the iPod classic. The player that's had no change. Nothing different. Frankly, I'm a little surprised it still exists, and I know I'm not alone in that view. The last couple of times I've been into an Apple Store I've been bowled over by the huge posters promoting everything that the iPods touch, nano and shuffle — not to mention the iPhone — can do. The amount of love given over the to classic? I've not seen a poster extolling its virtues for years.
Then there's the AppleTV. Again, I can't exactly say that I've ever been a fan, but the latest iteration of the concept is frankly lousy. Really, it is. I've reviewed an absolute bucketload of video streaming boxes over the last couple of years at the kinds of price points that Apple puts the new AppleTV out at. And they're all more feature-rich than the AppleTV is right now — especially for Australian consumers. Over at Lifehacker, Angus Kidman (no relation, aside from that whole "being my brother" thing) went into some detail as to why the AppleTV's particularly poor for Australian consumers.
It's not often I agree with Angus on matters of Apple technology. In fact, it's never, right up until now. But he's right: the lack of rental opportunities for Australian consumers, combined with download caps for everyone save iiNet customers (for as long as iTunes content remains unmetered), makes the AppleTV a shiny black box with a nice interface and no real choice behind it.
Then there's the software that it all hooks up to, iTunes 10. At long last, we get social networking in the form of Ping. But it's not social networking that might, say, take advantage of existing social networks such as Twitter by including them and expanding the conversation (and perhaps selling a few iTunes albums along the way). What the world arguably didn't need was yet another social network, and one that's locked behind iTunes 10 at that.
Apple's already proudly announced that it's hit a million Ping users in just two days. That sounds like an impressive number, but you don't have to dig very far, or think very hard, to work out that it's not quite that shiny. First, that's apparently a third of iTunes 10 users. So already, 66 percent of those who downloaded iTunes 10 either haven't noticed or couldn't be bothered. Second, there's the new-shiny-thing-curiosity-factor. I mean, I signed up for Ping, told it the least amount possible for my account details, and then I did nothing with it, because there was precious little to do that I wasn't already doing with Twitter.
Having just ducked into Ping for the second and what may well be the last time, I note that it suggests the following artists may be worthwhile for me to follow.
Have a quick guess how much 50 Cent, Daddy Yankee or for that matter Keith Urban there is in my iTunes library? If you guessed "absolutely none whatsoever", then give yourself a pat on the back. That's not to discourage anyone else's music taste, naturally; if they're your favourite artists in the whole wide world, then bully for you. They're just not mine, and the closest link I could come to any of them is that one of them's married to a relative.
As a sideline, iTunes 10's also cut out the ability to create custom ringtones at cost. I can't get too annoyed with that, as I'd never bothered with it to speak of, but it's still a feature removed and a choice lost.
It seems amazing to me that in a week when Apple's debuted four updated product lines and an upgrade to iTunes, I look at them and all I can see are deliberate choices made by Apple that remove choices from us as consumers of Apple's gear. I've put in requests with Apple for review samples, and it is possible that once they're sitting glistening and shiny in my hands I'll be overcome with gadget lust and want to have them. But it certainly doesn't feel like that's the choice I'll make.
What do you think? Is Apple making the right choices, or the wrong ones?
Discuss it with me at MacTheForum!