Apples Are Not The Only Fruit
OK. I know every website, newspaper and blog in the world has already commented on Apple's announcements yesterday, but I just had to get a few things off my chest.
First of all, I want to know why everyone practically has orgasms about new Apple launches. I mean CES has been taking place in Las Vegas this week, and everyone and their mum has been launching some new hardware device. But this gets the cover of The Times, a full page in The Guardian and countless TV and web reports.
It seems that in an increasingly secular world, the new Messiah for some is Steve Jobs (when really they should be worshipping Jonathan Ive CBE). Maybe he should trade his black T-shirt for long flowing white robes.
From a rational point of view, it seems that a hi-tech company has announced two new products: a mobile phone, and a television set-top box. But the phone looks really cool and comes from the people who brought you the iPod. And the set-top box links up with your home network.
Lets look at the phone first, since that's what everyone else is doing. It's cool. It's desirable. It's got some very neat features. It won't be out in Europe until at least October. And then it may not be on your network. Cue fights between UK networks to get dibs on it, since not inconsiderable numbers of Apple devotees would undoubtedly switch networks to get one.
So what's wrong with that? Well, a few things. I've got a Windows Smartphone. It's one with a stylus, but without a keyboard, and it's, well, OK...ish. It does some stuff brilliantly, and that's why I have it. It syncs perfectly with both my work and home computers which means when I recently lost my phone, I could get up and running with all my contacts and calendar information restored immediately. It too has a big screen, and a largish surface area.
Whilst my phone is undoubtedly thicker that the iPhone, it does share one characteristic, and that's that most of the top surface area is a screen. And screens need protecting and get dirty.
If you buy an iPod - particuarly something like a Nano - you almost certainly need to protect it with some type of case or "skin". This is all the more so with a device that is effectively glass on one side. You're not going to be able to put it with your keys in your pocket or wherever. Suddenly not so slim.
If I hold my screen up to the light, it's covered in fingerprints and marks. I'm always polishing the screen with my shirt tail. This is a phone that I'm supposed to use a stylus with rather than my fingers don't forget. The iPhone is going to get mucky.
I suppose that I'm disappointed that for a phone that's the size of a regular iPod, the disk size is only the same spec as a larger capacity Nano. Regular iPod users aren't going to be able to fully replace their devices with this phone. And while a widescreen is lovely (and something iPod should already have had), that memory's sure going to get eaten up if you download many films. Speaking of which, has anyone yet seen any of these on the UK iTunes store? More of this is a minute.
Nokia and Sony Ericsson's Walkman latest music phones already come with 4GB. They're bound to be 8GB too by the end of the year.
Finally, the iPhone is big. Really big. But it'll sell plenty.
Onto Apple TV. From a broader point of view, this is a device that I want to buy. It could be the link between my PC and my TV that I've been looking for. I'm still hoping to find a way to get TV back to my, that doesn't involve unscrewing my PVR's front cover and removing the hard drive, but at the moment, I'm making full use of a Divx/Xvid enabled DVD player to watch downloaded television.
Apple TV links iTunes on my home network with my TV to let me see video, as well as music and photos played back on the set. Sadly, it's next to useless for me for a couple of reasons.
First of all, it's broadly HD-only. In fact the PAL version only really requires a widescreen set, but with only HDMI and component outs, it's not enough for those of us clinging onto perfectly good TVs that don't have better connectivity; a scart socket for example. HDTV doesn't have the penetration here that it does in the States. I'd have specced the device differently for the UK, but that's not something Apple gets into as far as I can tell.
Worse than that is the media you play through it. Looking at the specs, it's clearly aimed at either video content you've authored yourself - perhaps in Final Cut Pro or Premiere - or more likely, downloaded via iTunes. For us in the UK, that's not really enough. iTunes has minimal video content available, with either a selection of music videos or a handful of Pixar shorts to watch. I'm not sure how video that was encoded to be played back on an iPod is going to look on a 40" HD plasma anyway.
So I'm still looking for some kind of device to play back my music, movies and photos on my TV via my network. Actually, I suspect that it already exists, and that I should have picked up one of those Xboxes that were on sale for £49 at Argos the other week.
A fascinating piece on the Communities Dominate Brands blog, explaining the real complications Apple face in becoming a major player in mobile phones. In particular, the diverse European market where there are upwards of 100 different operators that need to be dealt with, each of whom has their own requirements. The Orange logo and Vodafone Live buttons are both mentioned. Well worth a read, and be sure to read the comments and the author's responses to those comments. Yes, I know it runs to something like 12,000 words as it stands - perhaps a fifth of a 240 page novel. But it's worth it!