iPhone and Apple TV: Our Opinions, Post-Expo | iLounge Article

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iPhone and Apple TV: Our Opinions, Post-Expo

As you’re probably aware from all of our Macworld Expo and CES news coverage, iLounge’s editors have been plenty busy communicating just the facts behind Apple’s newest two gadgets: the potentially revolutionary iPhone, and the intriguing Apple TV. What we haven’t shared are our opinions on these devices - an internal discussion that started (quietly, mostly with dropped jaws) in the middle of Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ keynote, and continued virtually unabated until we took our separate planes home from the Expo. Our editors in attendance represented the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada - three of Apple’s biggest iPod territories - and a variety of different opinions about the iPod’s direction going into the keynote speech. Here’s the summary of our thoughts.

Apple TV: There are four important opinions we wanted to share on the media playback and storage device Apple TV, which is covered in more detail here.

(a) A Winning Execution: As Apple’s first true “living room device,” Apple TV appears to achieve its broad goal: bringing the simplicity and beauty of Apple user interfaces, and iTunes content, to any widescreen 480p or better television set. Thanks to the Apple Remote and second-generation Front Row software, Apple TV makes navigation of your movies, music, and photos extremely easy, and actually very visually attractive. Though the device wasn’t yet final, we were all impressed by the execution of what was on display.

(b) Pricing and Utility: Even though it now packs a 40GB hard drive, the price point still somehow feels wrong. AirPort Express’s $129 price would have been a little stretch for a device that only played streamed iTunes music, but it was made up for by the unit’s multi-functionality; Express can also help you achieve wireless printing, and/or set up a simple wireless network in your home. Many - perhaps most - Express users have at one time pulled the unit from their homes and used it for wireless access during travel; its size makes that possible, and attractive. By comparison, at $299, Apple TV exists for one purpose: to play iTunes content on your TV. It’s not likely to be carried around, and wouldn’t do much good outside your home. And you still have to buy the video cables yourself. All you get for the price is the unit, the remote, and a power cord. Plus, Apple says you’ll need an existing wireless network to use virtually all of its features.

 

(c) Video as the Non-Killer App: This point’s the biggest of the bunch. AirPort Express made sense because everyone with iTunes has music - it’s the lowest common denominator feature of the software. But video on iTunes has been far less popular. Apple’s sales of 50 million TV shows and 1.3 million movies are great by digital download standards, but drops in the bucket by comparison with the 2 billion songs sold through the iTunes Store - in fact, given how many people now use iTunes and own iPods, the video numbers should be much higher. Are people importing vast quantities of their own video content into iTunes? It’s unclear. If they haven’t been, there won’t be a lot to watch on Apple TV: like iPods, the device only supports the H.264 and MPEG-4 formats, and doesn’t have a DVD drive to play back movies. YouTube aside, plan to do a lot of file converting - or purchasing through Apple - if you want to keep your Apple TV occupied. Video content should and must be the biggest draw for a device like this, but free video podcasts aren’t likely to make such a purchase compelling.

(d) International Appeal: Related to point C, the iTunes Store still isn’t selling the majority of its video content outside of the United States. How will Apple TV fare in other territories - will people be willing to buy a $299 device just to stream music, photos, and self-converted videos to a home television set? Our U.K. editor has repeatedly pointed out that he uses his fifth-generation iPod almost exclusively for music; it’s clear that he’s not the device’s target customer. Who is?

We’re obviously going to wait for the final product before we make final determinations on Apple TV’s utility and viability, but our sense at the moment is that it’s a well-executed, niche product. One iLounge editor called it a “solution in search of a problem,” but on balance, we think that’s not a fair statement - many people want to watch video content from their computers on a TV set, particularly without needing to have the computer turned on at all times, and a device with the ability to cache and play back videos (and photos, and music) is a good idea. The problem would be what’s missing: once you buy Apple TV, you can’t play back all (or even most) of your video content through it - you still need a DVD player and/or a DVR, and then, a DVR that converts into MPEG-4 or H.264 format. Perhaps in Apple TV 2?

 

iPhone: In part because it was new, but in part because it was exactly the sort of device we were hoping to see from Apple, virtually all of our discussions focused on iPhone, which is covered in more detail here. Aside from all the facts behind the phone, which you’ll no doubt see discussed ad nauseum for the six months leading up to its release, we had these opinions to share.

(a) Is it Cool? This one seems obvious, but it needs to be said up front: the iPhone is seriously cool, and not just “original iPod cool,” which way back when was “wow, that looks really nice, but I can’t afford it.” Whether our editors were watching it on stage, seeing it in a glass display case, or holding it in hand, we agreed that iPhone is the sort of device that will outsell the original iPod by leaps and bounds, despite any issues it may have. During and immediately after the keynote, with Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field still in effect, we were ready to buy them on the spot. Days later, even as the Field was wearing off, most of us were still pretty much convinced that we’d be buying them.

(b) But… Who’s the Customer - a Cell Phone or Smartphone User? Even though we’re iPod fans, and for review reasons wind up with every model under the sun, iLounge’s editors try our hardest to retain a mainstream perspective on new Apple products. And iPhone walks the fine line of “mainstream” - like Apple TV, no matter how the sales pitch goes, it’s basically trying to create its own product category. It’s a smartphone-sized device that’s not made for the geekiest of smartphone users. It’s a super video iPod without the storage capacity to satisfy super video fanatics. And it’s an Internet device with graphic demands better suited to indoor Wi-Fi use than outdoor cell tower roaming. Four changes could have muted these concerns: swappable batteries and third-party apps for the smartphone crowd, a memory card slot or higher storage capacity for video users, and support for emerging 3G networks - with a Cingular pledge to implement them over the next six months. Since none of this has happened, we’re left to guess that the target customer here is an unsatisfied smartphone user who is seeking simplicity, and is willing to take a chance on Apple to deliver it. Apple’s probably going to exceed its 10 million unit target for iPhone, but in its current form, this surely isn’t going to dominate the yearly 1-billion-unit cell phone business like the iPod has dominated the MP3 market. Future versions are needed, and inevitable.

 

(c) Cingular/AT&T: Though one of our editors was from Canada and another was from the U.K., none of us were happy about the selection of Cingular/AT&T as the sole U.S. provider of network services for iPhone, or the hint that users in other countries would be similarly limited to the choice of only one provider, then locked to that provider for two-year contracts. We don’t like two-year contracts, especially when we’re dealing with a company (Apple) that releases cool new products every six or twelve months. How are iPhone users supposed to upgrade or handle repairs for their phones, and will the experience be frustrating? Pricing of the Cingular plans is also a very serious concern: if iPhone’s data plan costs more than the Sidekick 2’s $20 per month to operate, even iLounge’s editors may wind up passing on it, believe it or not.

 

(d) Future iPod Technologies: Readers have asked us whether we think that the iPhone’s new iPod-related technologies will in fact make their way into future iPods. We think that the answer is “definitely.” The next question is, “when?” After a lot of discussion, our best guess is “after the iPhone has shipped.” From Apple’s most likely perspective, fewer iPod users will be willing to pay a premium for the most enticing new iPod-related feature - the wider, higher-resolution screen - if there’s a 6G iPod with the same screen already on the market. Though we disagree, primarily because there are going to be literally millions of people who don’t want and aren’t going to be willing to pay for the phone and Internet features, we understand the other perspective. Having let its cat out of the bag so early, giving competitors plenty of time to conjure up their own products, our hope is that Apple already realizes the shackles that six months of waiting and the two-year, single-carrier contract will put on the iPhone - quite possibly the entire iPod family - and acts much sooner to release the iPod family followups we’ve been waiting for.

Those are our thoughts on Apple TV and iPhone. Do you agree? Disagree? As always, we welcome your comments and insights below.

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Comments

1

The iPhone seems to me to almost be an Apple UMPC. Apple’s choice of Cingular seems to be a huge sticking point, and if the iPhone doesn’t sell well because of it, I hope Apple doesn’t abandon this incredibly cool concept. An idea: take out the phone, maybe sacrifice some of the svelte form factor to accomodate a bigger or additional battery (10-12 hour battery life, anyone?), add some additional apps and market this as an ultrapersonal PC.

It’s not like I don’t like the iPhone but if its sales figures are going to be any kind of disappointment, that idea could be better than just abandoning the product line.

Posted by JoshSpazJosh on January 17, 2007 at 4:24 PM (CST)

2

I just hope that the iPhone doesn’t become the next Newton—a spectacular product, ahead of its time, killed by poor management.

The sticking point for me isn’t two year contracts, or cingular.  It’s the price.  Can I justify the hefty price tag on top of my iPod?  The iPhone won’t replace my ‘pod, but it will replace my free crappy phone.  That just seems to be an awful lot of coin for a phone, cool or not.

Posted by Doctor Geek on January 17, 2007 at 4:48 PM (CST)

3

Despite being quite the coolest looking thing I have seen in a long time, I have a couple of problems with the iPhone.

Chiefly, I am worried about the cost of running it. Here, in the UK, carriers charge up to £1.50 per Mb of data. A Blackberry has a 6Mb per month data allowance. It seems to me that the iPhone is going to be very heavy on data usage which is likely to become expensive.

My other gripe is the storage which is great for a phone but isn’t nearly enough to replace my iPod. This begs the question, if I’m not going to be able to get rid of the iPod, what is the point to all the extra storage on the phone?

Posted by Archie Henderson on January 17, 2007 at 5:24 PM (CST)

4

I can easily see this becoming another Newton *if* they don’t open it up a bit to accept 3rd-party applications, more storage space, etc. 

For the record, I owned a Newton.  I’ve been on the cutting/bleeding edge of gadgets for a long time—the Newton didn’t cure me of it.

Yes, it’s very cool.  There’s no questioning that.  It also has to be MORE THAN COOL, and without (pick one) 3rd party apps, 3G, smudge-free screen, easy data entry, replaceable battery, expansion ports, or something else… this is just cool.  It isn’t universally useful/appealing.

I think a lot of people will prefer useful over cool.  That’s why Treo 650’s sold well—it sure wasn’t for the snazzy operating system!

Posted by TylerCF13 on January 17, 2007 at 5:31 PM (CST)

5

I could deal with the 2 yr contract, because if I’m paying 499 I better be able to use it that long. I’m 17 and to be honest I wouldn’t use the internet part that much, probably just the iPod and cell phone. But honestly the reason I won’t buy one is the storage… I would like to buy movies but I couldn’t hold (much) video and my music w/ the 4 or 8 gb. Bring out a 30gb version and it’s mine… I dont’ need the iPhone to be as thin as the Q, but I need the storage.

Posted by Andrew H on January 17, 2007 at 5:54 PM (CST)

6

what exactly does iTV do that a $20 VGA adapter wouldn’t?

Posted by pbbtht on January 17, 2007 at 7:17 PM (CST)

7

“Apple’s first true “living room device”” would be the iPod itself. Mine is now the source of all recorded music on our stereo, and has been for three years.

Posted by FloydC on January 17, 2007 at 10:02 PM (CST)

8

I’m still holding out for a “One More Thing” event that would hopefully release a good video iPod before the iPhone as recognition that mainstream users will want to but won’t buy an iPhone because it is way too expensive.

Posted by JuanoTejano on January 17, 2007 at 10:46 PM (CST)

9

Well i was also a bit disappointed in Apple’s choices. Cingular and two years? does apple think its also best for the company to shorten the contract length so its new line of iPhone models could have a chance? hmm… or is it saying it’ll be around a two year interval between phones? probably the former. the apple tv is. ok… i agree about the target audience. not many people are buying movies because of its limits. DVDs could be bought for $10 andhave rights for back ups… and they could be imported to iTunes as well with better MPEG resolution… also DVDs have the many extras and could be viewed in a DVD Player.. which may be the reason of the introduction of the Apple TV… but that brings us to the 6G iPods. its been over a year since apple has completely revamped its current video iPod.  A 6G iPod has been wanted since March last year. An iPod that is actually meant for a harmony of music and videos in one compact slim and portable device with easy functions and has a dock connector so that it is acceptable with the many accessories sold all around the world.  an ipod that actually has enough viewing space for tv shows and movies while still retaining its beautiful sought after UI and its magic with simple music playback. I WANT A NEW iPod.. i myself have been waiting… my iPod is a 3G 20 gig and i am tempted to buy the product red nano but am amazed at how close the price ranges are… 4 gig.. $200? 8 gig $250? while the 30 gig video is also $250? man. i love the nano because of its aluminum encasing and extra ccompact size while the video is tempting with its feautres and dramatically enhanced capacity compared to the nano. so i have to be patient and wait for the 6G full sized ipod.. i have just waited so long… ahh! haha when wil it come?!

Posted by aaron.mark in Los Angeles, CA on January 17, 2007 at 11:59 PM (CST)

10

Even though Apple has decided to lock into one carrier, I think it was one of those things where if they didn’t do this, the customer would ultimately suffer because of it.
I’ve read so many horror stories about providers locking out a phone’s features so they can force customers to use their own data services. I just can’t picture Apple going to the great extents they did to make the iPhone so user-friendly, only to turn around and allow a carrier like Verizon to cripple the iPhone’s wi-fi or bluetooth features the way it has with other phones.
I certainly hope Apple makes a large-capacity, iPod-only version, otherwise, a lot of people are going to miss out on what is obviously an outstanding UI.

Posted by fondy44 on January 18, 2007 at 12:28 AM (CST)

11

A lot of interesting points on here. I think the overriding concern is one I share as well. The iPhone isn’t going to allow me to leave my iPod at home. I love the iPhone and definitely plan on getting one come June, but I’m really looking forward to the next generation iPod (6g). I’ll probably buy both. I understand that to keep it efficient and small, flash drives were necessary, but until someone makes an 80gb flash drive I’ll still be carrying around my full size iPod. I bought a 1g nano right away and it’s a really cool product, but it sits on top of my desk a LOT. It’s not that I need to go for weeks without listening to the same song. The point is that with my entire music collection in my pocket I never have to worry about being caught somewhere and “needing” to hear a particular song that simply happens NOT to be on my iPod. It’s sort of reassuring.

Posted by urbanslaughter on January 18, 2007 at 1:53 PM (CST)

12

Strip phone from iPhone and add an HDD with less stripped OS X.  You get Mac Nano! 

I see no technical barrier to do so.  It should keep WiHi and Bluetooth.  Safari is more practical with WiHi than phone anyway.

Posted by megchan on January 18, 2007 at 3:09 PM (CST)

13

I would like an iPhone mini with just the iPod and cell phone functionality.  Increase the storage, remove internet connectivity.  The internet browsing and email is a nice feature on WiFi, but I’m wary of paying for data services with a phone such as this.

The iTV is not quite an Airport Express with video added.  I was hoping for a wireless router built-in, and the ability to connect a networkable hard drive for video storage.  To achieve this goal, I would need to purchase the iTV and the new Airport Extreme base station (at almost $500!).

iPhone and iTV are both interesting products, but their mix of features just missed by a little bit for me.  The iPhone has a bit too much and the iTV too little.

Posted by dwielt on January 19, 2007 at 7:54 AM (CST)

14

If we buy one of Apple TV, does that mean we can download movies anywhere (such as FreeMovieNow or EZMovies) on the iMac, and then watch them on our widescreen tv?

I’ve never downloaded movies before either, so that’s a mystery for us too.

Or, do we have to purchase movies and tv shows from the iTunes store in order to watch them on the tv with the Apple TV dealie?

Posted by candycaw on January 23, 2007 at 4:34 AM (CST)

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