The pace of iPod innovation, slowed to a trickle?
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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