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iPod Ho-Hum? Or are bigger things to come?

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2006
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As should be especially apparent today, Apple’s “Special Event” strategy has advantages: the ever-expanding ranks of Apple fans sit on the edge of their seats for roughly a week, and company-related buzz reaches a fever pitch. If something cool is coming - sometimes even if not - Apple’s web site is instantly inundated with orders, and the world talks for the better part of a day about whatever was and wasn’t announced.

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By Apple standards, today’s iPod announcements were a bit less than breathtaking. True, it would have been basically impossible to live up to the myriad rumors surrounding the Special Event - you know, the “iFlix Movie Service”, an “Apple media center,” a widescreened “true video iPod,” some “new special edition iPod,” a “Mac Tablet/iPad”, an iPod phone, and the late-breaking claim that Apple was going to release a game console. But everyone had their fingers crossed that at least one of these new things would make an appearance. Obviously, they didn’t.

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What we did get was iPod Hi-Fi - a significant new piece of speaker equipment that appears to be a better performer than Bose’s popular SoundDock, at a premium $349 price - plus some new $99 Apple-branded Italian leather cases for nano and 5G. (What, nothing for the iPod shuffle? Okay, we’re not that surprised.) No doubt Apple will be leveraging its significant retail presence to give these new accessories the sales boost they’ll need; whether they’ll come to outsell existing products will be very, very interesting to watch.

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The more interesting announcements were computer-related. As widely expected, Apple’s Mac minis went over to Intel processors today, in the process jumping from $499-$699 to $599-799 in base pricing. You now get your choice of a Core Solo or Core Duo processor in those machines, along with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as standard features. Better yet, Apple now includes Front Row (and an Apple Remote) with every Mac mini, and any iTunes-equipped PC or Mac can now share audio and video content wirelessly with any Mac that’s running Front Row, including the mini.

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This may be a bigger deal than most people realize. Rather than trumpeting this new feature (“Front Row with Bonjour”) as the beginning of a wireless media initiative, Apple almost underplayed the fact that it’s just created the first easy way to spool video content from your iTunes Music Library to a distant television set. Connect a Mac mini to your TV and home stereo system, turn wireless sharing on, and all of the content in your iTunes library is available to be watched on the TV.

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Why not play this up more? Maybe Apple wants to avoid comparisons with Microsoft’s Media Centers, which haven’t exactly taken off. Perhaps there are other, more important elements of its media strategy, yet to be unveiled. Or perhaps the price tag is to blame. Now that the Mac mini starts at $599, you’ll need to cough up at least that much to watch your computer’s video on a TV, versus $129 to listen to its audio on a stereo connected wirelessly with AirPort Express. That’s the reason most Apple watchers have been expecting an updated video-ready AirPort Express 2 for months; by comparison with that technology, which is certainly feasible, Front Row with Bonjour appears to be a baby step in the right direction.

What do you guys and gals think: what’s the next announcement you hope Apple will make? A new iPod? New accessories? A home media center experience? A tablet? Something else? How did you feel about today’s news? We’re looking forward to your comments.

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Comments

1

so much for the “affordable” mac. Wifi and Bluetooth are so commoditized it shouldn’t have added much to the price of a machine.

Now the mini is back to being twice the price of a Dell desktop. I know, apples/oranges, blah blah. Nonetheless. the mac mini just got closer to “too expensive” without much improvement in spec other than Intel inside.

And the event itself was a waste of everyone’s time

Posted by John on February 28, 2006 at 5:24 PM (PDT)

2

Well, people have been ######## a lot about the announcements, but honestly this is exactly what I was expecting. Apple did not gather a handful of press members to their campus for a “few fun new products” in order to reveal anything terribly exciting. I guess Apple can’t hold a media event without people getting rabid over it, no matter how they present it. I think the new stuff (except the way over-priced leather case) is pretty neat and are good editions. I toyed with the idea of plasma TVs running OS X and Front Row, but I didn’t really expect anything more than I got.

Posted by Zac on February 28, 2006 at 5:27 PM (PDT)

3

Sorry guys but good as Apple may be ‘Media Centre not really taken off’ is a little bit of head in sand. There seemed to be a fair bit of it at CES and Sony are using it in there latest VAIO all in one HI-FI/DVD/PVR unit. OK it is not everywhere and not on everyone’s lips, but I have been using the 2004 version and streaming audio and video around my house for the last 2 yeras with no problems. Media Centre is very good and Front Row is yet to prove itself. I have an Ipod and love it to bits, but I also have a Zen Nano Plus and that is equally as good with extra features built in (Radio and recorder at no extra cost)and even has a battery you can replace. Now that is appealing. Why on earth do people not just accept that companies make good stuff and bad stuff, no one has a monopoly on either. Whilst on the subject hardly a portable solution that speaker unit unless you are in the middle of a body building programme. Oh sorry no it must be absolutely spiffing and sound like angels singing if those apple people made it.

Posted by Puzzled on February 28, 2006 at 5:35 PM (PDT)

4

And honestly, the Mac mini never competed well with Budget Dells. Even at $499 it still had 512MB of RAM, Graphics Card (R.I.P.), DVD-ROM/CD-RW, DVI out, and firewire. All things you rarely find in a stripped down Dell which could price for as low as $349. Apple will never make a stripped-down budget computer, it is not in their nature. With a significantly more powerful (and expensive) processor, a larger/faster hard drive, Wifi, BlueTooth, additional RAM-slot (thank god), addition USB ports, and Gigabit-Ethernet, the mini is good buy at $599, even with the curiously absent GPU.

If you are looking for a stripped down, dirt cheap, and pretty much useless (in my opinion) computer, a Mac has never been the computer you want, even before the Mini’s got bumped to $599.

Posted by Zac on February 28, 2006 at 5:35 PM (PDT)

5

Like others have said, this was to be just fun new products, not a revolution.

However, I was kind of hoping for a bit more.  Overpriced leather cases were kind of overplayed.

It does kind of seem like a step in a certain direction - media capabilities.  I wonder if Apple is waiting for a finalized cable card to go to the full DVR.  That way they can more seemlessly integrate it in the initial offering, probably some kind of updated mac mini or iMac.  Given that they just updated both of these, I wonder if the updates might make their appearance for the holiday season, though I would think that they would flesh out their intel line of computers first.

So I’m thinking that during the summer there might be a video enabled airport express, possibly at the April 1st anniversary.

I’m thinking that a full dvr mac mini or imac won’t be out until at least January of next year at the MacWorld or something.

I’m thinking that a full video ipod or another iteration of the ipod won’t be out until the customary release in the lead up to the holiday season.

As for the April 1st thing, movies with Disney, Airport Express with video, consumer version of the MacBook.  Possibly an Apple phone?

Summer dev conference: the rest of the MacBook Pro line once the chip supply concerns have waned and the mac mini, iMac, and consumer MacBook have been out for a little while.

Posted by underwhelmed but waiting on February 28, 2006 at 5:52 PM (PDT)

6

I think this announcement was just to get the product cycle back on track after the supply issues discussed around MWSF 06.  These releases today would have fitted in well with the keynote in Jan but as they weren’t available, Apple needed to clear the decks before the next planned major release date (I suspect 30th birthday) - so an interim event was in order to get the delayed products out there! Sure the rumor mill got overly excited - but it would have been a quiet week otherwise!

Posted by Matthew on February 28, 2006 at 6:23 PM (PDT)

7

“This may be a bigger deal than most people realize. Rather than trumpeting this new feature (“Front Row with Bonjour”) as the beginning of a wireless media initiative, Apple almost underplayed the fact that it’s just created the first easy way to spool video content from your iTunes Music Library to a distant television set. Connect a Mac mini to your TV and home stereo system, turn wireless sharing on, and all of the content in your iTunes library is available to be watched on the TV.” I think this says it all. the boom box is hot. It’s Minimalism at it’s greatest. it makes setting up your home entertainment system as easy as one, two, three .  all you need is an ipod, tv (monitor), and a mac many ... you might not even need a vcr, or dvd player .. come on people see the light keep it simple.

Posted by Jeremy Joyner on February 28, 2006 at 6:51 PM (PDT)

8

Media Center hasn’t taken off? What was the purpose of that jab? Apple didn’t play it up more because of the content. So you can stream media. Stream it to where? Audio to your cruddy TV speakers? Tiny 320x240 movies to your 50” HDTV? They didn’t play it up because it has nothing to offer yet.

I think that Apr 1 though things will change and we’ll get video worth streaming. But i’ll be streaming it to my wifi video ipod.

Posted by April 1 on March 1, 2006 at 12:58 AM (PDT)

9

Puzzled, I played with one of those VAIO desktops back in 2001. They certainly haven’t become any more desirable/successful since then. (although granted, that was when they still put NetMD drives in them too)

My feeling was that this was very much getting some products out the door that they originally were aiming for Macworld, but were pushed back too far. It certainly was never presented as big as some of Apple’s previous media events. The Mac mini is nice, and the front row update is most welcome. The iPod hi-fi is nearly there, but not quite. What could have pushed it over the edge would be a full av out like the universal dock, and have it present a front row like interface on the screen. Surely with some 3rd party docks now that offer similar functionality it’s obviously possible, and would have really set it apart from other speaker docks like the Bose one.

Posted by Nathan A on March 1, 2006 at 3:49 AM (PDT)

10

Still no Inhell PowerMac.

The Mac Mini might succeed as a media center hub where all other computer-based attempts have floundered in the past, but I’d feel far better about its chances if Apple had supplied a better onboard graphics chipset than the Intel GMA 950. Both nVidia and ATI have superior alternatives; why settle for a chipset that in the past has tested performance-wise behind those from Intel’s competition?

Posted by flatline response on March 1, 2006 at 4:46 AM (PDT)

11

Yall just don’t get it

Posted by Jeremy Joyner on March 1, 2006 at 7:18 AM (PDT)

12

I get it.  Along with being in the business of selling devices, Apple has said it intends to be one of the 10 biggest Internet companies in the world.  And how will it do that?  By selling content that can be used in the home, in the car, or on the go.  And by making it possible to access all the content you own from anywhere, anytime. 

As technology becomes available to make it possible, the quality of the content will increase, and the capabilities of the devices to enjoy the content will increase, while getting smaller and smaller.  Those devices include iPods, speakers, displays, Macs, Mac servers, phones, and network accessories to connect it all together.

Posted by mark on March 2, 2006 at 9:14 PM (PDT)

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