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September 12, 2006

iCrisis?

At the weekend, The Observer wrote that the iPod was losing its cool, saying the device was “too common to be cutting edge”.

Well Steve Jobs has hit back in the only way that Apple can: lots of new iPods. And I mean lots.

iPod ShuffleFirst up is the new iPod Shuffle, with 1Gb of memory. It’s that little grey square on the right. Yeah, it’s a lot smaller.

The iPod Nano comes in various new flavours (and up to 8Gb) while the main iPod is 60% brighter and comes as a 30Gb or 80Gb beast.

The prices have all come down as well, which made me think they were making room for a super iPod with full widescreen at around £300-400. But it appears they’re not ready for that yet (although it’s rumoured to be in development).

They’re also got something called iTV (working title, which is useful or they might have some Brits heading for the lawyers), which is going to be a box linking your PC/Mac to your TV. It’s a nice idea, but is hardly cool. If it included a hard drive and worked as a PVR as well, that’d be more like it.

I’m not an iPod fan for the reasons that the Observer mentioned – they’re just too ubiquitous, too simple (no FM radio) and evil when it comes to Digital Rights Management and moving your MP3s from one player to another and back again. There’s a sense that iPods are just a loss-leader, there only to make you spend more money on iTunes, rather than giving you some stuff that you’ll never have to pay for later (like the radio). I went for a Creative Zen Micro instead, and am quite happy with the choice.

But are Apple really in trouble as the Observer says? I don’t think so. Sure, they’re finding it harder to innovate nowadays, and the only changes they’re really making to the hardware has been the size of the hard drive inside it. Sure, you can download movies with iTunes (but only if you’re in America), but that’s software, and software isn’t cool.

iPod NanosThe reason people get so weak at the knees about a possible iPhone or a widescreen iPod is that they’re just such cool products that it’s amazing Apple hasn’t made them already. But I don’t think teasing us for a few more months – or years – is going to hit Apple’s bottom line too much.

Apple’s marketing budget is truly enormous, and Creative have proven – for me at least – that you can have a superior product at a better price, and still not be able to flog it.

But, there’s a development around the corner which might just put the cat among the pigeons, and not surprisingly, it comes from the ‘other’ Silicon Valley mogul. Microsoft’s Zune is out soon, and is expected to do everything an iPod can (and perhaps more, such as serious gaming). With Bill Gates’ billions behind it – and considering the recent success of the Xbox 360 – there’s no knowing how much damage it might do to iPod’s fortunes.


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