g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon Valley-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry and political bile.

btman at grotto11 dot com

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Saturday, September 8, 2007
11:50 - And a squirt of espresso
http://events.apple.com.edgesuite.net/s83522y/event/index.html?internal=g4h5jl83a

(top)
Watching the Stevenote, I noticed that Steve pointed out several times by way of introducing the wi-fi capabilities of the iPod touch that "other companies" had tried the same thing and "failed"—he used the word "failed" four or five times, almost gratuitously. But he never used the word "Zune".

But he also said that he thought he knew why the other companies doing wi-fi music-player devices had failed, and how Apple could succeed in their place. He didn't say it in so many words, but the answer would appear to be ubiquity. Microsoft's proposal was that the Zune's networking capabilities were sufficiently compelling even if limited to nothing but squirting songs to other Zune users. Unfortunately, this was a chicken-and-egg problem; squirting would have been a neat feature if Zunes were as ubiquitous as iPods, or indeed if it were released first on iPods. But Apple realized (perhaps spontaneously, perhaps by sitting back, rubbing their chins, and letting Microsoft do their market research for them in a reversal of the usual "Microsoft R&D South" joke) that a far better proposition would be to piggyback on the ubiquity of something else: the Internet itself. Because that is what people using iPods are really interested in, not simply other iPod users around them. What they all really care about is the content, not the "social".

So making the iPod touch into a Web-tablet like the iPhone is the backbone of the device's value-add, because it taps into the resource that people really want. But that's not enough, otherwise people could just whip out their laptops instead. No—Apple realized that part of the Zune's model was valuable: the part that's focused on music and music sharing. But it's not the "social"... to coin a phrase, it's the music, stupid. Hence the wi-fi iTunes Store.

If you like some song you're hearing on the radio, you can just look it up and buy it right then and there, all by yourself. That's way better than having to hook up with someone else in the gym or the coffee shop, isn't it? In the Zune model, you can't just listen at will and anonymously to other people's broadcasting music libraries—you have to make actual human contact with the person you're squirting songs back and forth with; so if there were a central music store to get the tracks from, it's functionally the same as if you got the song directly from the other person. You still have to talk to him, find out the name of the song, and so on. You might as well just grab it from iTunes. And then you don't have to worry about it disappearing in three days, either, or having to buy the song once you got it synced back onto your PC, or juggling "points", or any of that folderol. About the only downside is that you can't squirt songs back and forth in the middle of the Australian Outback where there is no wi-fi base station; but if that were your use case, you could just borrow the other guy's headphones for long enough to listen to that crucial song while you wait for help to arrive.

Besides, this way you can also get music that doesn't come from other people's hot tips—just your own exploration and previewing. Some people don't want to be social in order to get more music. Sure, it's great if you've got the moves; but part of owning an iPod is that you don't have to interact with other people in order to enjoy your music collection. The "social" isn't a prerequisite. It can come later. Especially if you're cool enough to have an iPod touch.

Maybe that's the asshole model; maybe not. But Apple knows it sells better than requiring people to become schmoozers. Especially phony ones who just want other people's music.

But the real stroke of genius here is the Starbucks connection. What better way to tap into hipster culture than by giving iPod owners an incentive to go to Starbucks, just for the thrill of what amounts to copying songs straight from the PA system to your iPod? What could warm the cockles of the collective hearts of a Starbucks manager, a Starbucks full of iPod-using patrons, an Apple finance guy, and a music label honcho like hearing some cool song come on the speakers and seeing a dozen coffee-sippers whip out their iPods and start tapping away to download it? Hell, I don't even like coffee, and I feel like I might want to go to a Starbucks just to see this feature in action. This is the "social" that Microsoft misfired on: one where you can take part or not, depending on your taste in music. It's the commenters-on-a-blog model, where you can choose to participate or not, and you don't have to talk to anyone else if you don't want to; rather than the Zune model, where you have to make personal contact and ask each other for favors (and try to avoid using the word "squirt", especially in a gym context). This is why people like using the Web: they can do it anonymously, at-will, and with impunity. Starbucks will become the closest thing in the physical world to the Web if this takes off. One hell of a smart move for Starbucks.

Starbucks has ubiquity; the Internet has ubiquity; and the iPod has ubiquity. That's the winning combination for making a wi-fi feature compelling. But whereas the Zune had to have other Zunes around in order for the feature to work at all, the iPod's ubiquity is the least important part of this recipe; one iPod touch user in a Starbucks, or even just in his house, can browse and buy to his heart's content. But doing it in a room full of other iPod users, all of whom are enjoying the same community experience, and all of whom can choose to make eye contact and bob their heads and grin at each other, or not, at their discretion—that's the very definition of a positive user experience, and it's the part that will give Apple the most visible recognition out of all three pieces of the puzzle.

There is one thing that occurs to me about the iPod touch, though: Apple will now have to publicize a "Report my iPod touch lost or stolen" hotline. Because now leaving one of these babies in your stall at Bennigan's or having it jacked out of your car means someone out there has a direct line to the iTunes Store, with a preapproved conduit for draining your bank account one dollar, one tap, one slick little animation at a time.

Back to Top

7 comments

1. Ken Hahn - 13:43 Sat 9/8/2007 ( email )

If you don't like coffee, Starbucks is your place. Drink some juice, water or eat some pastry. Avoid the sludge they call coffee at all costs.

2. Mark Aanerud - 16:01 Sat 9/8/2007 ( email | web )

The Starbucks idea is pretty innovative. Their implementation (buy stuff you listen to on the PA system) isn't what I would've expected with a Starbucks partnership, but if it works well, more power to them.

They sure are making it easier and easier to screw up a lot of money, though.

3. cq - 17:06 Sat 9/8/2007

Starbucks sells liquified Heath bars. "Coffee" may be too generous a term.

A friend once pointed out, Starbucks is a mini restaurant that happens to sell the "coffee" that they brew, while Peet's is a coffee-supplier who happens to offer to brew you a cup of the beans they are selling. Two very different approaches to selling coffee, two very different clientèles, which is why they can coexist (sometimes poetically right next to each other) without poaching each others' customers.

As for the worry of losing money if you lose your iPod, your credit card number is not retrievable through your iPod or the iTMS, so no risk of CC loss. I am quite sure that storing your iTMS password is optional (I don't store site passwords for any website with a credit card system even if I never buy there, even on my desktop, and I encourage all of you to do the same). Even if it were, it's linked to your account, so wherever the bad boy went he could be tracked by IP address every time he came within range of a Starbucks. LoJack for iPods! Apple could even call it a feature if they set up a law enforcement clearing-house. Believe it or not, there are some police departments so terminally bored for lack of real crime that going after iPod thieves is viable... the Campbell police, so radar- and LIDAR-happy that you get a tan just driving through town, come to mind.

And is there such a thing as a credit card without online purchase protection these days?

In any event, those songs the bad guy buys are on YOUR account, which means you can see (and re-download) what he bought. Who knows, maybe you'll discover some new band you never had heard of before...

4. Dave - 13:49 Mon 9/10/2007 ( email | web )

How I described it originally: “Starbucks is a coffee bar that also happens to sell bags of coffee beans, while Peet’s is a coffee-beans store that also happens to sell cups of coffee.”

One emphasizes convenience the way a restaurant does, the other emphasizes do-it-yourself the way a grocery store does.

No quibbling about whether Starbucks sells coffee—that’s one of those purists’ arguments. I’m not a purist. All I care about is whether my taste buds like it.

Oh, right, the topic. Frankly, I thought the keynote burned a heck of a lot more powder over this Starbucks partnership than I thought it warranted. Maybe I’m missing something, but I really can’t see this being a big deal; I felt it was the least of the announcements. Yeah, iTunes over Wi-Fi is the natural next step and is a big deal, but . . . Starbucks? Frankly, most of the music I’ve heard in Starbucks is only a step removed from Muzak. (Who remembers Muzak?)

5. Damien - 15:16 Tue 9/11/2007 ( email )

I don't think Starbucks is as big of a deal because of the long lag factor. Only a couple big cities will be on within the next 18 months. Sure it is cool in NYC and SF, but it just seems like a long rollout to me. Won't free wifi be largely available in 2009? I guess we can't assume so, but considering my little suburban townhouse has about 6 networks available (3 for free), it seems quite likely. Especially in NYC and SF.

Damien

6. evariste - 14:51 Thu 9/13/2007 ( email | web )

Re: your hotline idea, Gruber notes this from the iPod Touch Features Guide:
Before you can use any of the iPod touch features, you must use iTunes to set up and register iPod touch, and to create an iTunes Store account (if you don’t already have one).

7. evariste - 21:06 Thu 9/13/2007 ( email | web )

Looks like another answer to the bank account drainage problem is that iPod Touch will only remember your iTunes Store password for 15 minutes at a time.
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