Apple’s major releases today

There’s an Apple event today, and as expected all the major tech blogs have been flooded with coverage from the iPod-only event. I skimmed through the coverage on Techcrunch, Engadget, VentureBeat, Silicon Alley Insider, TUAW etc. The gist of the announcements are these:

Hardware side:

  • New iPod Touches. Pretty expensive at $399 for the 64GB ones. Besides the memory bump, the CPU has also been upgraded to the one used in the iPhone 3GS, which should make this a serious gaming / networking device (Apple made comparisons with the PSP and NDS). The letdown, at least from the tech press perspective, is that the new iTouch doesn’t have a camera. Rumors are flying this is because of a engineering issue, not because of a conscious design choice.
  • New Nanos, with a video camera and FM radio (besides other new features), making this a general purpose portable entertainment device. This is probably the biggest hardware release of the day.
  • New Shuffles. More colors, cheaper.
  • New iPod Classics. Improved storage, same price. This is really more of an afterthought.

Software side:

  • iPhone / Touch OS 3.1. I’ve done my upgrading already. Wondering if it breaks tethering on AT&T, as rumored.
  • iTunes 9, with some new features. Perhaps the most important one for iPhone users is the ability to manage / organize apps on iTunes instead of on the phone (so less dragging apps across screens)

For the details on any of those bullets, just head over to any major tech blog or Apple’s own webpage.

Some thoughts:

The iPod lineup is certainly diversifying and evolving from just music to all entertainment. Apple has been marketing the gaming abilities of the Touch; now the Nano seems to be aiming at Flip’s niche. But really, at this point, the gamers / amateur video directors who will switch to the Apple camp from PSP / NDS and Flip respectively are the casual players. The iPhone and iTouch are great for games, but for a different breed of games – the gaming experience is drastically different (just think of the Wii vs. the Xbox 360 / PS3). It almost feels like that Apple has too many opportunities to explore right now, and needs to make some conscious choices about what to pursue and what not to pursue.

Take gaming as an example. Positioning itself as a serious player in the space is very different compared to a hardware maker which also supports some games. If Apple is actively and seriously considering this space, it needs to be courting developers, and possibly peripheral makers (or consider some hardware functionality add-ons itself, like an external game-pad) – as opposed to just acting as the gate-keeper for apps.

And for the new Nano, if it does turn out to be a major competitor to the Flip, and Apple does care about taking a stake in that niche market, then Apple will have to make customizations and modifications of future models that put much more focus on the video-making aspects of the device.

I guess what I’ve been trying to say, and perhaps repeating myself here, is that I’m a firm believer that any device should have a focused purpose (despite the convergence trend). It’s fine for the PS3 / Xbox 360 to be able to support Netflix, web-browsing etc., but at the end of the day, the device’s main purpose is to play games. In the case of Apple, the iPod line-up is now converging with several other markets (portable gaming / video-making). Apple can either continue its current path of including these extra functionality as additional value propositions, or really start diversifying and entering these separate categories. This is a big strategic choice, and it’s perfectly fine to remain focused on music as the core proposition. Personally I think it would be a challenge to be competing in so many different markets where Apple has little experience. Regardless, it would be very interesting to observe how this develops.

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