Overall, I would say that Steve Jobs’ keynote yesterday was fairly unremarkable. Both in terms of surprises and of product announcements.
The streaming of the keynote was great, although since Apple restricted this streaming to Mac users, the audience was obviously a fraction of what it could have been.
The highlight is certainly the new Apple TV, which Apple managed to improve on all axes: form factor, price and functionalities. At $99, there is no doubt that it will be a success. But a huge success? I’m not so sure. Apple is trying to enter a market that’s already quite saturated. Owners of a Tivo, Playstation 3 or XBox will probably not see much point in buying an Apple TV. The Roku, while an innovator that needs to be saluted, is falling behind and there are also plenty of other “free” devices that people have in their home that are slowly gaining similar features (I’m referring to the “free” DVR’s that cable companies will be happy to give you along with your subscription). Of course, none of these will probably be able to rival the Apple TV in usability.
I think the main problem with Apple’s approach is that their efforts in this area are half hearted. The real prize to go after is DVR’s. More and more households have a DVR, in one form or another, and trying to convince such users to buy another device connected to their TV that cannot replace that DVR is going to be a tough sell.
An Apple DVR is certainly something I’d love to see.
The renewed emphasis on iPods came as a big surprise to me because I’ve been under the impression the the iPhone has entirely cannibalized the iPod market. Why would Apple spend so much time and money trying to freshen up a line of devices which is providing a steady, albeit probably declining, revenue?
I’m not sure. No matter how small you make the iPod, carrying an iPhone and an iPod will always be more impractical than carrying a phone alone. Add to the fact that the two devices have different capacities and that you need to sync them both with iTunes to update the content, I can’t really see anyone willing to endure this ordeal on a regular basis for more than one device.
I’m also unconvinced that all the changes made to the iPod line are really improvements. I think Apple is becoming a victim of its own “change is always for the best” motto (and they’ve been bitten by this several times over the years on the iPod line). Adding controls to an otherwise control-less iPod: a good idea. Adding a minuscule touch screen to a device that’s already borderline too small to be used? Not so much.
Steve Jobs’ quote from the keynote summarizes my thought perfectly:
It’s very easy to navigate… oops.
It’s interesting that Jobs felt the need to address the “numbers” issue.
Obviously, the many coverages that Android’s staggering growth has received in the media over the past few months has Apple worried, probably because Apple is used to receiving coverage for their own products, not competitors’. As a reminder, Google announced that they were activating 60,000 devices every day at Google I/O (in May), then a month later, that number had increased to 100,000 and these days, the numbers seem to be around 200,000. The last I heard, iPhone activations were in the 70,000 range.
Obviously, Jobs doesn’t like these numbers so he decided to bundle together all the iOS activations (that’s iPhones, iPods and iPod Touches combined) to reach the total number of 230,000. That’s very impressive, but we’re no longer talking about phones any more, so not very relevant. At any rate, it definitely allows Jobs to rightfully claim that they are “ahead of the competitors” in that area, but when you define the area as “numbers of operating systems that power a phone, a tablet or an MP3 player”, the number of players probably boils down to just Apple. Still, technically not a lie, so I say “well played”.
Jobs also questioned the validity of Google’s numbers, saying that these numbers include both upgrades and new activations. Google denied this claim, explaining that these numbers only contain new activations, and that the real numbers are actually higher since a lot of Android devices never check in with Google’s servers, so they can’t be counted.
Anyway, no matter how you slice it, most experts agree that the iPhone market share is on its way to being dwarfed by Android’s. By how much remains to be seen, but at this point, it’s pretty obvious that Apple will soon have to settle for being #3 and possibly #4, depending on whether they can stay ahead of Microsoft and RIM. I expanded on this in this article.
I actually just updated the post with this section because a few people asked me about it. I just find Ping embarrassing. I can’t believe Jobs wasted five minutes of his keynote time to demonstrate commenting and following. In the next few weeks, people will be clamoring for a tight integration with Facebook and Twitter, which Apple will ignore, and in a few months, Apple will either take Ping down or come up with something more convincing.
One number that was conspicuously absent from the keynote was the number of iPads sold.
This is surprising since the iPad is obviously a very solid product that is selling very, very well, and Apple is never shy about sharing such success stories. My guess is that the numbers of units sold mentioned in the media is higher than the actual numbers, so Jobs prefers to let these rumors spread. Fair enough.
As of today, there is still no credible competitor to the iPad (real or rumored), so Apple is bound to continue doing very well in this area for the time being, but we can be sure that this market is poised to become flooded with new devices very soon. Which is quite reminiscent of the situation with the iPhone and Android two years ago, and we all know how that turned out.