At E3, the iPod’s long white shadow of success

At E3, the iPod’s long white shadow of success 1

Every May, the electronic entertainment industry holds a three-day trade show known as E3 – the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Although the specific products change, the flavor of the show is pretty much the same from year to year: it’s a full-frontal assault on the senses of sight and sound, spread out over three large convention halls at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Because of the media attention the show always receives, virtually every important new piece of game hardware or software is revealed in some way at E3. And this year was no different: all three of the world’s biggest game hardware companies debuted new consoles, along with the games they expect to be top sellers through the end of 2005.


But to the surprise of the show’s attendees, there was one conspicuous new influence at this year’s E3 – the iPod – and as with many of the product’s earlier successes, its presence was all the more impressive because it appeared to be unplanned. Contrary to rumors that surfaced back in February, Apple had no formal presence on the show floor; a handful of employees apparently attended, but nothing more. Yet a booth dedicated to the iPod or Apple products wasn’t necessary: despite or perhaps because of the show’s competing high-volume audiovisual presentations, iLounge editors saw numerous attendees wearing Apple’s signature white earbuds on and off the show floor, enjoying their own music as they walked from booth to booth. We even noticed some people toting lanyard-equipped iPod shuffles on their necks. It was an odd, though impressive set of iPod sightings given that the show practically screams for its participants’ undivided attention.

Shhhh: Microsoft Hearts Apple

And then there was Microsoft’s booth. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Microsoft was using Apple’s Power Mac G5 computers for next-generation Xbox development: iLounge’s Editor-in-Chief noted as much in an article for Xbox Nation magazine last year. But no one expected that come E3, Microsoft’s new “Xbox 360” console demonstrations would be lightly disguised fakes running off of Apple technology. The company’s booth included a collection of display kiosks with empty Xbox 360 shells in their glass windows, distracting viewers from the two G5 towers hidden inside.







To let gamers taste the power of Microsoft’s new console, each dual-processor Power Mac G5 included two nVidia GeForce FX 6800 Ultra cards. The revelation that Apple’s machines were propping up the new Xboxes caused chuckles amongst attendees and had at least one of the booth’s floor demonstrators defensively declining to assist in our photography efforts. “It’s the same computer that’s on [Apple’s] site,” he testily explained. “You can go there to get pictures of it.” His comments aside, photos of the Apple-powered Xbox 360 displays spread rapidly across the Internet by the end of the show’s first day.

That wasn’t Microsoft’s only appropriation of Apple designs at the show. Several days earlier, Microsoft Corporate Vice President J. Allard was an unlikely source of praise for the iPod, suggesting that it had influenced the design and coloration of the company’s new Xbox 360 game console, and pledging to follow Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ diversification of the iPod family. In subsequent comments, Microsoft Game Studios General Manager Shane Kim claimed that the Xbox 360 would interface with the iPod and other devices to download music and photographs to the new game console’s hard disk. Further substantiation of the feature’s implementation was not provided. Seeing Apple computers powering Microsoft’s key technology demonstrations was surprising, but hearing Microsoft executives repeatedly mention competing iPod products rather than its own unpopular Plays For Sure music players was a step shy of jaw-dropping.

For Future Consoles, Nintendo Apes the iPod and iTunes

Even more impressive was an unexpected iPod mention at Nintendo’s E3 press conference. The Japanese company has dominated the handheld gaming market for more than 15 years, yet recently has seen the buzz for its Game Boy line diminish with Sony’s release of the PlayStation Portable (PSP). Nintendo’s newest solution? Make a more iPod-like Game Boy.



In his surprise introduction of the Game Boy Micro, planned for a Fall 2005 release at an unspecified price point, Nintendo Executive Vice President Reggie Fils-Aime compared the new product to one of Apple’s most popular inventions. Game Boy Micro is “just a hair bigger and about 2/3 the weight of an iPod mini,” he told a packed audience of journalists, analysts and vendors. “No matter how tight your jeans, it will still fit in your pocket.” The metallic device uses the brightest screen ever found in a Nintendo portable, features interchangeable body shells with a wide assortment of colors and patterns, and is dramatically smaller than both Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s recently released DS handheld.



He noted that the device is capable of playing all of Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance games and thus “is not new technology,” but rather was an appeal to the “image-conscious consumer.” As with Microsoft’s iPod references, Fils-Aime’s comments were surprising: the company claims a handheld gaming market share of over 90%, but instead of following Sony’s lead in pushing the technology envelope, Nintendo chose to chase the iPod’s smaller, sleeker design cues to maintain its appeal.

That wasn’t Nintendo’s only iPod reference. In a meeting with iLounge, a Nintendo representative discussed the company’s plans for an iTunes-like game download service that will include the entire back catalog of titles released for the NES, Super NES, Nintendo 64, and possibly other consoles. Pricing and other details have not been decided, but it is believed that the company is currently exploring the release of not only all of its own titles, but those of previous Nintendo third-party game developers as well. These downloaded games will play on the company’s upcoming 2006 console Revolution, and be stored on the player’s choice of either internal flash RAM or SD cards. One prominent third-party game developer told iLounge that this was a “no brainer” good idea, offering a superior solution to pricing, manufacturing and warehousing “greatest hits” discs of classic games that have been selling briskly in recent months.

Same Place, Same Time, Next Year?

When iLounge picked up its media badges at the beginning of the show, one of the show’s personnel asked us, “iPod? Does that really qualify as electronic entertainment?” We almost laughed. Even today – with its four token built-in games – the answer is unquestionably yes. Regardless of whether Apple set up a booth at E3, its presence was felt in every one of the convention’s halls. The long white shadow of the iPod influenced the aesthetic designs of two brand new game consoles, say nothing of Sony’s earlier design of the PSP. And there’s no longer any doubt as to Apple’s substantial influence on everything from the Xbox 360’s hardware to the future of digital media downloading software.

Given all of this, we’re hoping that by this time next year, there will be a place at the show for iPod lovers to congregate. Add our names to the list of people hoping for an official Apple presence on the show floor – so long as it’s not at Kentia Hall. But if Apple doesn’t show up, we’ll survive. Surely even more people will be walking the show floor with white earbuds in place – and at a gaming convention, that sight alone is pretty impressive, as far as we’re concerned.

  1. “Nintendo cited the iPod by name in announcing the GBM”

    Jeremy, do you have the quote? Other than the name [gameboy micro], I’m having a difficult time seeing your comparison. The GBM is a game player, not an mp3 player… the design is more a rendition of the original nintendo controller than anything else. And, no white to be found, so… I guess I’d just like to understand the context of the quote you mentioned.

  2. Okay iPodLounge editors, the iPod is not the greatest thng on Earth since sliced bread.

    So Xbox360 is run off Apple PowerMac G5s? So what? Even MS knows that Apple’s are the premiere digital editing computers. Not to mention that they need 64-bit processing and dual CPUs. Dual Athlon 64’s aren’t quite affective yet, and as of right now, the only affordable solution is the PowerMac G5. As the technology comes along, they will probably leave the PowerMac. Also, they have no reason to tout the PowerMac G5’s power. Because what’s gonna be running the games in the end? Oh yeah, the actual Xbox360. The PowerMac G5 is a temporary solution utnil MS releases a new devkit that suits them.

    Okay, while the PowerMac G5 may have something to do with your “iPod influences everything that comes out” subject, the Game Boy Micro is REAALLLY stretching it. Making something small does not automatically make something iPod like. You know what? It was the Game Boy first that moved to much more portable with the Game Boy Pocket. So if anything, it was the iPod that copied off the Game Boy Pocket. The Nintendo rep simply used the iPod mini reference because everyone knows what an iPod mini looks like, so they have something to reference. They aren’t gonna say, “It’s as small as an iRiver H120”. No one knows what it is. Everyone knows what an iPod is. It’s a simple statement, not saying that hte Micro is going to be exactly like the iPod.

    And what’s the problem with Xbox interfacing with the iPod. It’s the only smart thing to do, business-wise and customer-wise. Why wouldn’t they want to let that 90% of people that have an iPod use it with an Xbox? Just because MS has a silly grudge with Apple? That’s just stupid.

    OK, so you saw people wearing iPod earbuds? Ummm…yay? I can walk down the street and see anybody wearing those That has nothing to do with their supposed huge influence on E3.

    Seriously, stop thinking that the iPod influences every damn thing that comes out. It’s a great piece of hardware, but I highly doubt Sony, Nintendo, and MS when they first made the console were like “okay, we need to make it like the iPod”

  3. Mscbuck: Though the editorial pretty much addresses all of your points adequately, my response:

    X360: “So Xbox360 is run off Apple PowerMac G5s? So what?” You’re joking, right? Microsoft using Apple’s computers instead of, say, Dell’s? I wonder why anyone might be surprised by that.

    “What’s the problem with Xbox interfacing with the iPod.”

    It’s not a problem – it’s just surprising, don’t you think?

    Game Boy Micro: Nintendo cited the iPod by name in announcing the GBM, just as Sony has been doing for the last year with the PSP.

    “Seriously, stop thinking that the iPod influences every damn thing that comes out.”

    We didn’t say that it did – but we named the specific products that have been.

  4. Mscbuck: For someone who seems so sick of hearing about “The Joy Of iPod” one has to wonder what you’e doing on a site devoted to the device. I personaly found Mocrosoft’s incorporation of Apple products in their E3 booth to be all together ironic and utterly amusing. Even more so in light of B. Gates recent effort to downplay the significance of the iPod “Fad”!

  5. Petro: Watch the recorded video of the Nintendo conference on GameSpot or IGN – the specific quotes are somewhere between the half way and 2/3 marks of the press event, and begins right after Reggie reaches into his jacket. Make of them what you will, but he wouldn’t have mentioned the iPod (and Nintendo wouldn’t be setting up an iTunes-like download service for the Revolution) if these offerings weren’t influences. For additional context on the company’s interest in the growth of both the iPod and iTunes, you would need to have attended the meeting I had with Nintendo, or read some of the other press accounts scattered across the web.

  6. Mscbuck: its just funny and ironic that ms, Nintendo and Sony along with others are now accepting that the ipod is not just a ‘Fad’ but a winning solution that states what apple is all about – simplicity, design and coolness.

  7. to tell the truth, i kind of agree with mscbuck(although i wont be so negative), apple was not the first company to downsize their products, companies have been downsizing thair products since the first calculators.

    also, i think the article was a bit to negative towards microsoft, i bet that more than half of the people visiting this site own microsoft computers and besides, since when did this site become a computer site? i thought it’s motto was “all things ipod”

  8. I can see where Jeremy is coming from with this piece.

    What I think that the points raised in his article illustrate, is the dramatic effect that the iPod has had on our culture – particularly that of portable electronics. Sure, we’ve been carrying round Gameboy’s and Walkman’s for decades but the march of technology and miniaturisation, the advent of the mobile telephone etc. has really reached its zenith in the phenomenon we see today with the iPod. I don’t think that anybody would argue that Apple is single-handedly responsilbe for all of this but that they were in the right place at the right time with a superlative bit of kit, whose influence on the world of consumer electronics is plain to see – never more so than at this years E3.

    As for the comments regarding the news that Microsoft is publicly demonstrating its latest gaming engines/software on Apple hardware: if anybody can’t see that this is a remarkable (if unsurprising) revelation, then I suggest that they have their spectacles cleaned! Most people accept that Apple has the edge in digital editing etc. but for Microsoft to admit this pubicly (albeit with a bit of careless stand-construction) is a real coup. I don’t think that pointing this out is “anti-Microsoft” but a point of public interest in a forum such as this.

  9. PowerMacs are the only commercially available consumer computer that will ever be used to develop the XBox 360.

    A 64-bit AMD or Intel-based PC would not suffice, as the XBox 360 will use PowerPC-based processors, which are fundamentally different than x86-based chips.

    Granted, yes… a custom development machine will likely be developed in the near future, with the proper 3×3.2GHz PowerPC chips, and the proper GPU.

  10. Hmm…Well, Apple compares the iPod shuffle with a pack of chewing gum. I guess that means Apple apes Trident. 😉

  11. There’s one more ironic thing nobody’s yet commented on. The IBM-built processing chip being used in the XBox 360 is a derivative of the IBM-built G5 processor. So in a sense, every Xbox 360 has a good bit of G5 in it. Now THAT’S irony…

  12. PSP is very expensive and quite frankly is huge!

    For the casual gamer, GBM will be perfect, just as the iPod mini is perfect for the casual listener. Affordable yet more stylish? Yes!!!

  13. “X360: “So Xbox360 is run off Apple PowerMac G5s? So what?” You’re joking, right? Microsoft using Apple’s computers instead of, say, Dell’s? I wonder why anyone might be surprised by that. ”

    Apple is the only computer that can adaquetly (sp, sorry) do what the MS engineers want the X360 to do. I don’t see Dell with any dual 64-bit processors around. Apple does with the PowerMac G5. My point was that it doesn’t matter that they are using PowerMac G5s, because it’s going to be the Xbox360 running the games when it comes out, not the G5. And the G5 will be left behind when a more powerful computer that is not mac comes out. It may be ironic, but it’s just irony, nothing else.

    No, the iPod interfacing with the X360 is not surprising. Like I said, MS may not want to do it, they may hate to do it. But they do it because it’s the smart thing to do, business wise and consumer wise.

    About the Micro. I think Petro summed it up pretty well. What I was saying was that they used the iPod in a sentence for size comparison. So what? It’s a simple statement. It’s not a “iPod influencd the creation of the Micro” thing.

    Why do I hang around iPod lounge? Because I have an iPod, and this site usually has some pretty good application updates, downloads, and news articles regarding Apple in general. As I look down the news listing right now, there are hardly any that just flat out praise the iPod. A lot of it is the new cases, new “plug-ins” for the Pod, and related stories. I will be the first one to recognize that the iPod is marketing genius, not to mention a magnificient piece of hardware. I just think that it isn’t influencing these products that were mentioned at E3, let alone most of electronics.

    Oh, and thanks Jermey for responding :). Didn’t expect the writer too.

  14. minty- just saying that the psp is sort-of big, but it does not have very much wasted space. it is defintely true that it is waaaay to spendy

  15. The X360 point has been addressed by everyone else here adequately – the amusement factor of everything from the hardware to the case design speaks for itself.

    Re: the Game Boy Micro… Nintendo’s specific comments (as quoted) were that the GBM is iPod mini-sized and intended to appeal to image-conscious consumers. Take a look at the press conference footage previously cited if you’d like to see the entire explanation as it was presented. Taken together, Reggie’s comments are different from a chewing gum/size comparison in that Nintendo is conceding that current GBA hardware isn’t doing enough to appeal to such consumers – a fact that wasn’t even an issue until the days of the iPod as tech device-and-stylish-accessory, and in the portable games space until Sony opted to incorporate iPod-esque design cues into the PSP. Sony has similarly acknowledged – with varying degrees of candor – that the iPod’s success led it on an enclosure design path to reach the same style-conscious audience. Their recent marketing efforts make this even more transparent.

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