Over the last couple of weeks, Apple has hosted a couple of events
to announce their latest and greatest. Here's my rundown, just in case
you haven't heard/read/watched enough commentary on this.
Video iPods: They don't do anything for me, but I didn't
expect them to. I'd really been hoping that they would increase the
size of the hard drive. I'm disappointed that they dropped firewire
support. I'm concerned about the screens; will they scratch as easily
as iPod Nano screens reportedly do? I do agree that the slightly larger
screen looks nice, but I'm not [currently] interested in watching video
content on such a small screen. Maybe it's that I'm not interested in
any of the television shows that I could download. If they get The West Wing,
though, I'll pay my two bucks per week to get that. I don't own a
television, so I have to get my TWW fix elsewhere. I'd be happy to pay
for it so that I could watch it at home on my server.
Updated iMacs: The speed bumps aren't unexpected. I dislike
the idea of a built-in iSight because it doesn't seem like it's very
customisable. It's good for video chatting (as supported in iChat AV,
amongst other applications), but little else. But maybe that's all
people are using their webcams for, so maybe it's a good idea.
FrontRow: Now this is interesting. I have an inelegant
solution kludged together so that my server (running Gentoo Linux) is
my primary media playback device. I've been considering replacing my
server with a Mac Mini, and if this piece of software were available
for it, I switch in a heartbeat. It should be possible for folks to
completely replace their television with a computer and a nice monitor.
Apple seems to be dipping their toes into this area. As a start, this
isn't a bad idea -- it's a good way to get both a second television and
a reasonably powerful computer. I can see this being pretty popular
PhotoBooth: Cute little piece of functionality, but nothing
earth-shattering. It's a logical extension of having a built-in webcam.
I think that Apple should offer this as a free download for any iSight.
Updated PowerMacs: I think that this is the last gasp of the
G5 (at least, from Apple). There's a lot going on in this upgrade:
dual-core processors, vastly improved video cards, PCI Express. But why
should someone buy this if Apple is months away from moving to the
Updated PowerBooks: And this seems like the last gasp of the
G4. I've had the chance to see these, and they look nice. This is an
upgrade that I can justify buying pre-MacTel. I'm actually considering
one. I'd love to have the extra battery life. The brighter screen looks
much better. I've wondered for years why PBs don't have higher screen
resolution, so it's good to see that they've finally upgraded to that.
Now the PB can run a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display. At work, I almost
never touch my desktop; I haven't owned a real desktop at home in seven
or eight years. I'm seriously considering buying one of these, since my
personal PB is pretty old and in need of an upgrade.
Aperture: Apple says that it's not a competitor to Photoshop,
so I'm honestly not sure how this fits into the market -- especially
with a $499 price tag. Apple says that it's about workflow, whereas
Photoshop is about compositing. There's little known about this now, so
I really don't have that many thoughts about it. Adobe has to consider
this as a shot across their bow.
In summary ... If my current iPod died, I might buy one of the video
iPods. I might buy one anyway, since my old iPod only (only!) holds 20
GB, and I would like to be able to carry around more of my music
collection with me. The new PowerBooks are attractive, but I'm not sure
if I can justify the expense. My old PB is perfectly functional, I just
am seriously coveting a new machine.
We're now on the fifth generation of the standard iPod. (I consider the mini, nano, and shuffle to be separate entities.) The newest iPod also marks the third change (or is it fourth?) in form factor for the device. If you buy the latest iPod, it comes with an adaptor to snap onto it so that you can use it with some of the existing accessories that rely on the thickness of the device. This includes many of the speaker units that have a built-in iPod dock for you to slot your iPod into. However, as CNET is reporting, not all of the old accessories will work. The 3G and 4G iPods have a little connector near the headphone jack, but the 5G ones don't. Anything that relies on that little connector is suddenly obsolete, including many of the FM transmitters that allow you to play your iPod through your car stereo. Likewise, many of the cases that are currently on the market are built for the screen size and clickwheel size of the 3G and 4G iPods. Aside from the one-size-fits-all iPod sock, I didn't notice any cases in the Apple store that will fit the newest iPod.
How does this impact the consumer? Right now, consumers with 3G and 4G devices are okay, since the vast majority of iPod accessories work for their iPod. Someone who walks into a store to buy a 5G iPod is going to need careful guidance from the employees to ensure that they purchase accessories that work with their iPod. I wonder how many complaints that the employees are hearing because either (a) people are buying accessories that won't work, (b) people want to upgrade to the newest iPod but will also have to incur the additional expense of replacing their existing accessories, or (c) people are unhappy that the vast majority of accessories in stores only work with the old iPods. In three months, when there are more accessories for the 5G iPod, what happens to someone who walks into an Apple store looking for a case for their old 4G iPod? At what point do the accessory makers give up on trying to keep up with the latest iPod form factor?
I've already had to have this conversation (multiple times) with my mother. She knows that I have an iPod. What she doesn't know (or, more correctly, doesn't remember) is that it's a 2G iPod, which is now painfully out-of-date (in iPod terms, anyway). A couple of months before any given gift-giving occasion, she calls me and asks what I want. I always point her to my Amazon wishlist, but she doesn't like it. Then she starts saying how she's recently come across all of the cool new iPod accessories, and wouldn't I want one of these or these or these? I try not to sigh audibly as I explain to her that I have an old iPod, and none of these cool things in the store will work with it. 'But it's an iPod! How can it be different?' she always asks. And I never have a good answer for her.
I wonder how this change in form factor plays out for Apple. They're the current king of the hill in audio players, but that seems like it could be a fickle market. How important are accessories to iPod buyers? (But then, what other media player has any kind of accessories at all, let alone the plethora of accessories that are available to the iPod buyer?) Will consumers get cranky and go buy something else (another media player, or maybe an MP3 CD player) because they find the iPod accessories too confusing?
Various media outlets have hypothesied about the iPod killer. If such a beast is going to exist, this kind of release is the perfect time to do it. An iPod killer needs to have a nice form factor, an excellent UI, and a reasonable selection of accessories available immediately. As the existing competition has shown, having a good UI and a lower price point isn't compelling enough for many consumers to purchase one of the competitors.
I think that Apple is going to continue to be king of the hill in the media player market for the foreseeable future. But I do think that they need to ensure that they don't alienate their customers, both existing and future. If they get too complacent and take their market share for granted, they could make it easy for a new king to be crowned.
I'm a user research engineer in the Macintosh Business Unit of Microsoft. This is my seventh day on the job, so don't expect me to know anything interesting just yet.
I'm a relative newcomer to the Mac. I bought my first Mac (a Powerbook) three years ago. I switched because I could have both gorgeous UI and all of the power of Unix available whenever I want it. I haven't looked back. I'm very pleased that my personal interest in Mac and my professional interest in usability have come together in my new job.
The intent of this blog is mostly to maintain notes on what I read that's relevant to my job. This might include articles from academic journals, or books, or even comments on news, blogs, and rumour sites. My interests include all things Apple, usability and user research, scenarios and personas, office suites, and object-oriented programming.
(Oh, and in case you care ... the title of this blog is shamelessly 'borrowed' from the latest MacBU t-shirts.)
A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for the elevator in my
manager's building, with my shiny new PowerBook tucked under my arm.
Some guy walks up to me and says, 'you have to be pretty special to get
one of those around here'. I grinned and said that yes, I am pretty
special, but my PowerBook has nothing to do with it. I reminded him
that we make best-of-breed Mac software, and someone's gotta be lucky
enough to work on it.