Unless you've spent the last day devoid of Internet access and studiously avoiding all news stations, papers and tech-related chatter, you've heard about Apple's new iPod releases. Yesterday's event was the first time Apple has ever unveiled new editions of the shuffle, nano and touch in one sitting. This marks a very significant evolution in the Cupertino-based company's strategy. The question is...to what end?
Apple is beset on all sides by Johnny-come-lately competition that aims to unseat them from their throne at the top of the portable device heap. Android has become the largest smartphone platform in the U.S., and a slew of non Apple tablets are due to challenge the iPad's dominance very soon. While the timbre of Steve's speech last night was confident and brash, almost every announcement came as a response to some external threat.
1. The whole event opened with Steve's proud assertion that 230,000 iOS devices are being activated every day. He added, "We think we're ahead of everybody." While this may technically be true, it belies the fact that Android is rapidly catching up with iOS and, in fact, is well on the road to eclipsing it.
2. Apple's new OS 4.1 update is geared towards expanding on the iPhone's strongpoints. Namely, their excellent camera and media delivery systems. GameCenter is geared at further improving the status of the iPhone/iPod touch as a handheld gaming device.
iOS 4.2, on the other hand is a preemptive strike against Android tablets. It focuses specifically on making the iPad a better device for content creation and multitasking. AirTunes allows you to work while streaming Pandora, while wireless printing has obvious benefits for the corporate/home office set.
As comfortable as Jobs pretends to be about iOS dominance, it is clear by his actions that he sees a major threat emanating from Android.
3. This brings us to Apple's new iPod line. Three new devices in one night represents a full frontal assault, an attempt to fight off Android's encroaching dominance by re-asserting their status as the category-leading brand. We've got the new iPod shuffle, cheap & small and easier to control than ever. $49 makes it an easy choice over competing, non-Apple products that may only be cheaper by ten or twenty bucks.
Then there's the new nano; a touchscreen shuffle-sized media player that works as note-taking next-gen smartwatch as well as an music box. It too is priced competitively, and provides a nice bridge between the shuffle and the glorious new touch. Jobs made it clear that one of the touch's prime purposes will be for gaming, something no Android device has yet managed to do well.
All of these exciting developments must be viewed in light of the fact that iPod sales have been in a slump lately. Sales are down 17% year-over-year. These new releases are a show of strength from Apple, but they're also the first signs of a very real fear. Apple needs to stem their losses now and start pushing back against Android, or they risk going down the same road they rolled down in the early nineties.