Why Apple Is Wrestling With Relevance

We have had almost a day to digest Apple’s new products and get a clearer view through the Steve Jobs smokescreen and feel solid ground again as we are leaving Apple’s distortion field.

I have to admit that I was a bit confused by Apple’s announcements and that I am still not quite sure about the strategy that is behind many of those new products. Virtually every new product, with the exception of the new iOS 4.1 and 4.2, carries the subtle message of Apple stating that they have no idea what to invent next, but they try to do something new anyway.

Ping (seriously, Ping? I mean, Ping? Is that the best name they could come up with?) is already hailed as the most serious threat to Facebook yet, but I personally believe that its focus is too narrow to entice people to adopt another social network when they are already wasting too much time on Facebook and Twitter) is a music-version of Facebook and it seems as if a more Mobile Me-like, data-centric approach with some communication features would have been the better idea. But that’s just me and I may be wrong. I have learned to never underestimate the power and loyalty of Apple users. 

What really bothered me about Apple’s announcements was the new iPod line. Do we ever get tired of new iPods? Do they ever get boring? Do we know by now that Apple likes to switch between square and rectangle shapes, add colors here and there and remove and add a clickwheel? How does that help to keep the iPod relevant?

Let’s forget the Touch for a moment.

The Shuffle changes from a rectangle to a square and gets the clickwheel back, because people missed it, Jobs said. Alright. It looks like something we have seen before, but I guess if Apple says it is new, then it is new. But why, if people like the clickwheel, would you remove it from the Nano? 

I get it. Everything needs a touchscreen these days, so the Nano needs one, too. Even if this thing is way too small to be used comfortably via a touchscreen. I hear from many sides that it looks cool, but how user friendly is it? Imagine this: There is now a clip on the Nano - but how do you use this clip, when the iPod Nano is attached somewhere to your clothing and you can’t really navigate the content without having to look at the screen? In the past, a physical click wheel allowed users to guess the controls, adjust the volume, or jump a song forward or back. How do you do that with a touchscreen? If an iPod needs a clip, then it is the Shuffle and the old iPod Nano, not the new Nano.

Then there is the price. Visually, the iPod Nano is not a high-end MP3 player, but it has a premium price. $150 for 8 GB and $180 for the 16 GB version. Jobs pitched the idea that the Nano is a small iPod Touch and it even looks like it is running iOS (which it really isn’t). But there is more to the Touch than a touchscreen. There is only a $50 difference between the 8 GB Touch with much more capability than a 16 GB Nano (seriously, would you ever use all 16 GB with a Nano anyway?). At $150 the Nano is expensive, at $180 it is nonsense. Quite likely the most useless iPod ever.

To keep the Nano relevant, Apple needs to move the device into different market segments, probably down market and price it at $99. And please bring back the clickwheel. And turn the Shuffle into a marketing gift for its sales people to hand out to iAd customers. 

Conceivably, the iPod you really want is the Touch.. It now does FaceTime, HD videos, has enough storage and the Retina display. It plays games, it accesses the App Store and looks much more like the typical Apple product. Apple’s message here is: Forget the Nano, buy the Touch. Perhaps the Nano is just a placebo. Who knows.

The Apple TV (ATV) is another such product where I believe that someone must have sabotaged Apple. A black $99 hockey puck to rent TV shows? There is so much wrong with this idea that you have to wonder if this was really Apple that has come up with it.

Someone who has the money to rent extra TV shows, probably already has a decent TV, a cable box, a surround sound system, speakers and one or two game consoles. Do you really want to add another box below your TV, even if it is just the size of a hockey puck? Especially if your game console already accesses video content? And how likely are you to spend $99 on a device that comes with the promise that comes with the only promise that you will spend more money in TV show and movie rental fees every month? $99 for a device that basically enables you to access iTunes, Netflix , Mobile Me, YouTube and Flickr. They must be kidding. 

How about giving that device away for free and subsidizing it through the content providers that are included? I understand, 99 cent per TV show is a big deal for ABC and Fox. But aren’t we paying for their cable networks anyway right now and the ATV is just a secondary revenue source on top of what we have paid for already with our cable TV subscription? In any case, I believe that the ATV should end up in an Apple-branded TV or ATV should become a software layer in connected TVs. I doubt that many TV manufacturers would resist the opportunity to work with Apple and Apple would have an opportunity to get iTunes on exponentially more TVs than it can sell ATVs.

It appears that Apple has missed a huge opportunity yesterday – an opportunity to pull away from its rivals. Instead, it may have poisoned the future of Nano, killed the Classic, and tried too hard to become Facebook. Most importantly, it missed the chance to turn its ATV into a mini game console by integrating iOS into it. Let's not forget the fact that after four years of learning, The ATV still can't playback 1080p.

If there was ever a chance to challenge Apple in its core markets, it is now. It almost seems as if Apple has most of its resources now dedicated to the iPhone and iPad and everything else suffers.

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    Top Comments
  • bamslang
    With more and more people becoming more computer savy, I think that people will start to notice that Apple just takes an existing technology and puts a clean, white case on it. The only thing their computers have going for them is that they had a low market share. Apple fans are going to be crying empty pockets to the Mac Store if Apple gains any real market share in the computer world. Their security is much easier to break and must more susceptible to attacks, they just were never focused on since no real business was ever done on them. Once the first big virus spreads over Macs, good luck trying to get rid of it with Apple’s awesome antivirus… oh wait.

    As for their other products, the iPods are at the end of their product life cycle with regards to innovation. There isn’t much more you can do with them to actually add value. Look at the this gens nanos (or last I guess now)… I have one and I hate it compared to the previous version. Who at Apple thought it would be smart to take off the controls and put them on the headphones? Want to use better headphones? Too bad I guess, here have these easily breakable white ones and hand over some money if they mess up.

    The iPad is nothing more than a toy. Once someone launches a real tablet with a real OS, you can say goodbye to its market share.

    The one thing that Apple is actually GOOD at is marketing. Unfortunately for them, good marketing only goes a long way if you don’t have the products to back it up.
  • zak_mckraken
    As much as you are painfully right Mr. Gruener, those products (maybe with the exception of ATV) will still sell like crazy.

    Little girl : It's the new Malibu Stacy! She is better than ever!
    Lisa : She still embodies all the awful stereotypes she did before!
    Smithers : But she's got a new hat!
  • Stifle
    All I can say is, people will still buy it. Apparently that is what Apple is banking on these days.
  • Other Comments
  • jon bon wonton
    Why it's not a big deal that ABC is on the Apple TV:
    Think of who owns ABC, then think of who sits on the board of directors of that company.
  • jomofro39
    I was going to say because Apple is probably attracted to Relevance, even though I had little idea who that was at the time.
    "A lot of dudes Greco-Roman wrestle to settle their differences!"-Apple
    "But why so much oil?"-Relevance
  • Accidental
    Never bought an Apple product, never will..