So now (play-by-play coverage) the iPod touch starts at $199, but is otherwise unchanged aside from software; and the iPod nano starts at $149, and has a video camera, with in-iTunes YouTube posting functionality.
Sounds like their strategy at this point is to get everybody buying several iPods each.
This is kind of the antithesis of the Sloan/GM model. Not a linear quality-and-price ladder, but non-overlapping functionality that leads customers to buy multiple products for totally different applications. The old iPod ecosystem let a customer pick a price point and get an iPod with a certain set of features, generally a superset of the features of lower-priced models; now they're starting to really branch off in different directions, such that if you want touchscreen apps and wi-fi access and video-taking ability, well, you have to buy two devices, ultimately spending more money, even though the individual devices are themselves cheaper. Talk about an everybody-wins scenario, right?
UPDATE: Oh, and let's not forget the FM tuner, which is also a nano-only thing, and had to have been a last-minute decision once they realized they were decoupling the nano so firmly from the rest of the lineup (none of the shuffle's VoiceOver stuff on the higher-end models, if I understand correctly). They already had the software support, ever since the third-party tuners prompted them to create the radio remote add-on way back when; but now they've got a whole TiVo-esque pausing-and-tagging thing, presumably more as a means of protecting their own pride than anything else. I mean, they've survived without an FM tuner for eight years now, shrugging off criticism with a grin whenever any competitor showed up stamping its feet and demanding that customers pay attention to this indispensable-even-if-they-don't-realize-it feature. (I still fondly remember Microsoft's "Let a professional choose your next playlist!" exhortation.) For them to be putting in a tuner now would seem like an admission of wrongness if it was all they'd done. So they had to go all-out and make it something way more than "just a tuner", just so they could say, "Well, see, we had to do it right if we were going to do it at all."
You don't suppose maybe Apple's been stung by the Zune's out-of-the-blue embrace of HD Radio, do you?
UPDATE: LOL, LOL I say:
Welcome to iTunes 9! Here's a picture so you'll be sure to recognize it!
UPDATE: Nice new look to the iTunes Store, looking like a cross between the iPhone's iTunes interface and Google Earth; but it seems they might need to work on their CSS templates a little more:
UPDATE: My first impression of the radio tagging feature in the new FM Tuner was that it would leverage the TiVo functionality to record a chunk of the song and then compare it against known waveforms the way the awesome and uncanny Shazam does. Since it requires "radio stations that support iTunes Tagging", which I presume to mean RDS, I guess that's not the case, even though it requires you to sync back to iTunes in order to do anything with your tags. But if you have RDS, why is tagging useful?
UPDATE: I mentioned to Chris today that "it'd be hilarious if an iPod turned out to be a better Flip than the Flip, just like the iPhone turned out to be a better Palm than the Palm and a better game system than the PSP".
Do-everything devices used to be a crappy compromise, and single-purpose devices—"do one thing and do it well"—were the winners. Think the original iPod versus, say, the original Palms with music-playing applications. But I guess the secret lies not in doing a lot of things even if you have to do them crappily, but in doing a lot of things and doing them all better than a collection of single-purpose devices would. So in other words, not a secret at all; just beating the crap out of everybody's expectations.
NYT story on the recent evolution of the Mac ads and their Microsoft equivalents:
“You are not so embarrassed to take your PC out of the bag on a plane anymore,” said Mr. Reilly at the ad agency. “It’s actually kind of cool that you do. I know this is working.”
. . .
And yet Apple keeps responding. On Friday, it released its Snow Leopard operating system a month ahead of schedule, accompanied by a new round of “Get a Mac” ads. One involves a red-headed woman who is clearly intended to resemble Microsoft’s Lauren. PC introduces her to his suave friend, a top-of-the-line model played by Patrick Warburton, who was David Puddy on “Seinfeld.” She declines to buy a Windows machine when they can’t promise that she won’t have virus woes.
Microsoft, however, has found it enjoys mixing it up with Apple on the airwaves. In July, Mr. Ballmer told analysts that Crispin’s work had been “quite effective.” He promised that Microsoft would continue investing heavily in Windows marketing. “We didn’t do that three, four, five, six years ago,” he added.
For Mr. Siler, this is a welcome change. “I’ve never seen more pride at Microsoft,” he says. “You walk through the campus, and you see people’s laptops that have ‘I’m a PC’ stickers on them. I walk in the company store, and there are these huge banners that say, ‘I’m a PC’ and shirts and ties and mugs. I think I made a difference. My God, that’s so cool!”
Using a PC may or may not be "cool" now in the same way that using scavenged secondhand furniture or growing your own organic vegetables in a window box is cool. Yet I seem to recall reading that items perceived as luxurious didn't exactly go out of fashion during the Depression; they just became sought-after in different ways, treated as a different kind of aspiration. People still wanted Duesenbergs and diamonds; they just had to settle for seeing them on movie stars. It wasn't until WWII that thrift and Victory Gardens became virtuous.
"Lauren" is now appearing in HP ads, showing that the PC makers are doing their best to capitalize on what appears to be the momentum Microsoft has finally achieved. More power to 'em. They're traditionally heavy on the star power, that's for sure, what with a tradition of tapping people like Seinfeld and Tony Hawk to do their spots, and people like Whoopi Goldberg and Jesse James now similarly shilling for Google phones. It seems to be what's in these companies' DNA. And to the extent that it works, well, they'll probably see commensurate uptake.
It's funny, though, to read that Steve Ballmer, of all people, doesn't "get" marketing.
There were also cultural issues at Microsoft when it came to advertising. On Madison Avenue, they say that the more hands that touch an advertisement, the worse it becomes. Microsoft felt differently. “They thought the more people saw it and gave an opinion, the better it would be,” Mr. Musser said. “That’s how you develop software. It’s not how you develop great creative.”
If Microsoft's going to make any significant inroads against Apple's mindshare here, it'll be by playing up half-truths that force Mac people to cry out in indignity, the way PC people have been doing in response to the Apple ads' half-truths. Seems like you're paying a lot for the brand, one of the Laptop Hunters ads mumbles, seeding a misconception—aimed at the clueless—that the only way a Mac differs from a PC is the logo. Not like it's a whole different operating system or anything. Not like the whole computer from bottom to top is engineered according to a different model of all-inclusive computing than a PC is. It's an insidious little offhand statement, one that gets under the skin. It's so well aimed that I can't imagine it's accidental, which it likely would have been if Ballmer had been behind these ads (based on some of his recent statements about the iPhone and Mac, it seems like Ballmer genuinely believes there's nothing different about Apple products other than an overpriced brand).
It's barbs like that that will make the difference. The longer Apple harps on system crashes and BSODs, the more they'll be asking for it, and the more dirty pool we can expect Microsoft's ad agency to play. "You pay extra and you only get one mouse button," they'll sneer. "They don't even give you a choice of colors anymore." "Who wants a computer you can't play games on?"
(The Mac world had better be giving thanks daily for the Intel switch. Otherwise right now we'd be enduring a veritable maelstrom of speed-discrepancy-ridiculing PR, and with nothing to fend it off.)
It's a dangerous game they've been playing ever since blithely exploiting Ellen Feiss' self-admittedly apocryphal story of PC-borne homework death. Now the game's going to get dirty, and Apple had better be ready to dig in their ground. (Especially if, as it appears, there's a groundswell of animosity from the geek community to contend with at the same time.) If they're as smart as they've seemed, riding this wave for as long as they can get away with it, they'll do what it takes to keep a few moves ahead once again.
UPDATE: Mike Wilson in comments:
The notion of "enhanced usability" of one over the other never came up. I don't think the civilians really care about the OS. It either works or not. They can either get their functional apps or not. It comes down to performance and price. The aesthetic need can be served on either side of the line with cute vaios and such.
That's interesting to contemplate. The computer-literate population is by now the dominant demographic, and even the non-tech-savvy know the basics. What exactly do they experience when they switch from Windows to a Mac, or vice versa, never having used one or the other before? How long does it take to discover how to move around the filesystem, which apps do what, what the native gestures and icon placements and application launch behaviors are? The NYT story mentions a pre-Lauren Microsoft ad that suggests a 4-year-old can pick up the Windows world at a touch. Have we reached a level of general literacy that such an experience is true of a switch in either direction?
Is picking up a new laptop with a new OS the same kind of experience, to most users, as buying a new DVD player with a different set of controls, but ultimately the same basic vocabulary on the remote? Confusing, to be sure, but nothing you should have to buy a book to figure out, let alone let it factor into your purchasing decision any more than you'd buy a Philips DVD player just because that's who made your TV?
Okay, so like, for some unimportant reason I was sitting down at my machine to see if some enterprising YouTube user had posted the Beavis & Butt-head version of the "Black Hole Sun" video by Soundgarden (answer: apparently, no). But just as dejectedly I closed the browser window, I noticed a pending IM from Lance linking to this:
The site notes (rightly) that Beavis just doesn't sound right, largely thanks to the script (a "proper" chunk of Beavis dialogue hardly even has complete sentences, let alone multisyllabic words). But if this is to be believed...