The pace of iPod innovation, slowed to a trickle? | iLounge Backstage

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The pace of iPod innovation, slowed to a trickle?

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2006
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The topic was on my mind for a few weeks, and reawakened after analyst Shaw Wu claimed today that new iPod designs have been further delayed: the energy level of the iPod world has been ebbing for a while, and my gut says that Apple really needs to do something about it - now.

Like several other iLounge editors, I can still recall closing out 2005 with the impression that Apple’s pace of innovation was set to accelerate dramatically in 2006. The company had released two new iPods near year’s end, and we were told that more - and better - was coming, and very soon. With that, we were expecting at least a repeat of the prior year: a replacement for the iPod shuffle in January, new nano and video capacity bumps around Spring, and all-new iPods by Fall. Hooray! And maybe - just maybe - Apple would make good on the late 2005 rumor that a widescreen iPod would be ready by April, 2006. Four new iPod designs for 2006? Our excitement level was at 500%.

Instead, this year has been slow. Dangerously slow. There have been no truly new iPods - unless you count the low-capacity 1GB iPod nano and snore-worthy third U2 iPod. Neither merited an event or scored a magazine cover. Instead, the biggest iPod story of the year was Apple’s much-maligned launch of the iPod Hi-Fi and iPod Leather Cases. If the analysts have been correct in their speculation that design or manufacturing delays are to blame for the lack of new iPod hardware, then Apple really needs a “plan B” approach going forward. When truly new hardware’s not available, at least release a bunch of color and capacity refreshes. It’s mid-2006 and there are no pink iPods, no red iPods, no silver iPods? No radical new special edition iPods? How could this be? Is Apple losing its sense of whimsy - the thing that made the original iMacs and iPod minis so buzzworthy?

Maybe the analysts are incorrect, and Apple’s just waiting to unleash another big “everything gets refreshed at the last minute” campaign, planned out far in advance. I have to doubt this would be the case; after a year that saw an almost brilliant staggering of Mac and music events, capturing international media attention on literally a routine basis, the company couldn’t possibly have wanted the energy level to die down so much for a prolonged period of time. Regardless of the reason, that’s what’s happening right now - for numerous and unfortunate reasons, accessory makers haven’t been able to fill Apple’s announcement gaps with exciting, innovative products like they did last year, and the result is that we’re seeing a slowdown in buzz the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.

Especially if it’s selling millions of iPods every month, and has great new toys just waiting in the wings, Apple might feel as if this sort of concern is unfounded. But we feel obligated to give voice to what we’re feeling ourselves and seeing on the streets. Outside of those Cupertino walls, the rest of the world’s becoming anxious - maybe a bit bored - and it feels to us like it’s time for the big man on campus to show up and do something about it. Readers, do you agree?

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Comments

1

Eh, I’m not worried about it. Give it a couple more months without any big releases, and then we can start panicking.

Posted by iJman on June 28, 2006 at 7:25 PM (PDT)

2

I am most definately bored with iPod. But as Apple surely has figured out, I still check the iLounge RSS feed a couple of times a day and visit the site at least once, as loads of people do. It is entirely possible that Apple has decided to let the tension mount, realizing that the longer they take a) the more units will sell when they release the next big things and b)the more highly developed the product can be when it is released. Hopefully we will receive a true iPod upgrade with the new version instead of the photo to color like upgrade that we saw with the 5g where we shown the future with video on a device that was not yet capable of real video.

In the end, I fear that the beginning is the case, Apple knows they can sell the crap out of what they have and it will only create more buzz and more interest and more sales the longer they wait to release the next big thing. As much as I love Apple, they are a company that is concerned with profit and while the buzz has died down, the money has not. And with all the inovation and marketing of the Macs, iPods are still what keeps them in the black, so why not suck it dry for every penny…

Posted by divigation on June 28, 2006 at 7:32 PM (PDT)

3

I think Apple needed to slow down a little. I think if you put out new products every couple of months you alienate people who just got the last great thing and now its been made obsolete. Also, i think it decreases the urgency of buying a new thing - Just wait a month and the next new thing will be out. Also with each inovation some of the past accesories beome out of date and that allienates the accesories producers and some consumers too. Lots of products are on a yearly update cycle and that model seems to work well. If the new apple products come out in late summer that will put them in a great position for holliday sales too. So chill out - you probably don’t have to wait very much longer.

Posted by lou on June 28, 2006 at 7:57 PM (PDT)

4

Yeah, where’s my iPod that overheats and “moo’s”? C’mon, Apple! Don’t leave me hangin’!

Posted by JoshCo Industries on June 28, 2006 at 8:28 PM (PDT)

5

Meh Ipod is just an overpriced MP3 player, cant say that it ever did anything that a mp3 player before couldnt do,

the only thing apple did differently was the marketing and conceptuals.

I say slap 3G on it and offer icast via that if they realy want to rock the market.

Posted by St3v3 on June 28, 2006 at 8:44 PM (PDT)

6

Well, what else can they do? They put video on it, which still astounds me (that they did it, and that people accept to watch 2” low-res videos in these days of HD). What else can they add to the iPod, unless they radically change the product? Games? More PDA features? I don’t see how they can make many more changes, since they’ve got the main types of content: music, photos and video. They could make a “tablet” that lets you read text (at least with more comfort than currently). But aside from that, they’ve hit the wall. All that’s left is to keep refining what they have; there’s no room for real innovation now.

Posted by Kirk McElhearn on June 29, 2006 at 12:44 AM (PDT)

7

It wouldn’t be too difficult to name four ways that Apple could improve each of the three current iPods - shuffle, nano, and 5G. Anyone could. The issue raised by this blog piece is whether those changes or others are needed at this point to invigorate the marketplace, or whether everyone’s satisfied, and Apple can safely keep coasting with the current models.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on June 29, 2006 at 6:24 AM (PDT)

8

I definitely agree that the pace of innovation has slowed down tremendously. With rumors of technical problems with the true video IPod and licensing problems with movie studio’s I think Apple underestimated how long it would take to “transition over” from music to movies. I think the next generation IPod’s will be amazing, but Apple better hurry up. The competition is releasing better products and eventually they might overtake the IPod. I would hate for the IPod to have a similar fate as the Macintosh in the 80’s.

Posted by Joe on June 29, 2006 at 7:26 AM (PDT)

9

It does seem to be a problem. Especially when you look at other players that cost the same or less and have radio and/or voice recording without a $$$ attachment, and/oror wider screen video and/or PDA features.

Look at the Cowon A2 or the Creative to see what has been done.

Posted by Sam on June 29, 2006 at 9:27 AM (PDT)

10

Well you would think they would have new models for the Fall and Holiday buying season.

So to introduce anything new now might get a ho-hum response from people thinking the real goodies are coming just before Xmas.  Plus by Xmas, they will seem old.

The timing of the Nano and 5G intros were just about perfect.  Early enough to keep sales going all the way through Xmas but not too late that they couldn’t pump them out enough for the Holiday demand.

For their sake and ours, you hope that analyst isn’t right when he talked about no new models until December.  That would be too late and there might not be enough—you could have shortages like the one year when nobody could get the Minis during the Holidays.

Posted by wco81 in West Coast on June 29, 2006 at 9:55 AM (PDT)

11

I actually agree.  I’m just waiting for the new iPod to come out before I upgrade from my nano, and I’m getting impatient.  It’s disappointing to hear the possibility of a longer delay.

Posted by Russer66 on June 29, 2006 at 9:26 PM (PDT)

12

My, my - how short our attention spans are! A product is only interesting for a few months and then more “newness” is required to maintain the buzz.

The iPod works well and sells well. The features of the device are only part of the story, as witnessed by the dismal sales of units from Creative, iRiver, etc. - these are all fine devices for playback, but rely upon sub-par software for use with a computer (WMP10, a truly uninspired and irritating chunk of code). iTunes and the ITMS must be counted as a huge part of Apple’s success and innovation.

This gives Apple 2 places to make a splash - in your pocket and on your desktop. The others just don’t have both pieces.

My main iPod is still a 15GB 3G unit with a replaced battery. I really don’t care about video (yawn) or games (really big yawn) on such a small device. It delivers music just perfectly so I don’t have to look at it, don’t have to fool with controls and don’t have to go through contortions to get material on and off the thing. Since music is my objective, any reason for a new unit must serve that objective and add value to it. Period.

FM radio? Have you ever heard a mobile unit outside of a car that wasn’t a random static generator?

Recording? Maybe, but only the device has proper mic inputs, level controls and decent compressors. Oops! It’s a Minidisc, with a whole lot more menus, options, controls and jacks.

Nope. The only thing I want is smaller size and more indestructibility - I think it’s called a “Nano” or something like that. Maybe later this summer…

Posted by BradPDX in Portland, OR USA on June 30, 2006 at 11:13 AM (PDT)

13

The thing I hate most is the people who complain about buying ipods a few days before a new ipod is released…

Posted by Macromedia on June 30, 2006 at 4:00 PM (PDT)

14

Apple have had a lot on their plates this year - all the Intel hardware so far, but also the Intel hardware not yet delivered (PowerMacs & Servers). Add to that 10.5 and the oppotunity to profit from the delays to Vista, but also to make sure that the first release of Leopard doesn’t have too many issues like Tiger did.

If iPod sales are ticking away nicley, but quietly, then why not slow it down for a ‘bit’. Leave it for a big “And just one more thing” event in Sept, with movies on board…!?

And I’m sure there are countless parents and spouses that dread the seemingly ‘constant’ excuse to upgrade to the latest and greatest anything that comes out of Cupertino.

Posted by yinyang on July 1, 2006 at 7:16 AM (PDT)

15

Stow the innovation for a while and decrease the greed level at Apple.  What other company makes ( an albeit good ) product…charges a premium price, and essentially comes without a warranty.  Oh, but you can buy one for another $90!  I love my ipods, but of the 7 I’ve purchased, four have failed within 12 months.  Less innovation, and more quality (in the product and its warranty)would be the best development for Apple to make.  In my opinion it is the only way they will be truly the best player available.

Posted by Angus on July 1, 2006 at 2:39 PM (PDT)

16

I’m seriously contemplating something other than an iPod for my next purchase.
If Apple’s going to get my money in the next year, he’re are a few things that may inspire me..
Video and a bigger screen for the Nano. There’s a bit more usable space on the front of tht thing, and hey, call me crazy but I really don’t mind watching twenty or so minutes of vid on a small screen.
Bluetooth.
Are you tired of cords? I’m tired of cords. Bring on the BT earbuds or bone conduction headphones. The future is now.
Touchscreen.
Yes. It IS time to reinvent the wheel. (and no whining about fingerprints. It works for PDA’s it’ll work for a freakin iPod).
Customizable UI.
I can customize the UI on my computer, why the f!@# can’t I customize the UI on my media player. Give me liberty or give me death. (sorry IPW only gets you so far).
Better games.
Am I the only one that finds it truely sad that my phone has better game than my iPod?
I don’t expect the next gen iPods to have all of these features, but any one or combination of a few would definitly help to stop my eye from wandering to other media players. It’s not going to be that many years before that new Vaio (and others) shrink down to about the size of the current 60 gig iPod, and from what I know…Windows XP runs iTunes just fine..

Posted by Miranda Kali on July 2, 2006 at 11:16 AM (PDT)

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