September 12 Apple Event: Impressions

I’ve just finished watching the “webcast”: of the recent Apple press event announcing the company’s new media offerings.

Where Steve Jobs’ WWDC keynote, with a fizzling Leopard preview, was extremely disappointing, this latest showing is extremely solid. Not jaw-dropping, but pleasing. What we see here are timely incremental upgrades to product lines or functionality that we’ve already got in today’s products.

The Highlight
For me, the big surprise today was the announcement that you can now buy games for 5th-gen iPods from the iTunes music store. They’re mostly puzzlers, including Bejewelled, Tetris, and Zuma, but you’ve also got Pac Man and some other action-oriented titles there.

With Apple’s massive share of the digital music player market, this could be big. Apple now basically has a handheld gaming machine, and I expect that the iPod’s gaming capabilities will only get better with time. Apple has an opportunity here, too, to branch out into distributing games to the desktop, if it can figure out a way to integrate install and streaming processes for larger games into its iTunes software. This is something that could blow Steam, Gametap, and XBox Live Arcade out of the water, if Apple can do it right. A cross-platform game development library and distribution system could make Apple PCs more attractive for gamers, while diminishing the importance of Microsoft’s DirectX even on the Windows platform. Exciting stuff. Time will tell whether Apple can actualise the potential of today’s understated addition to the iTunes store.

The hard-disk based iPod models now have 60% brighter screens, lower price points, and the 60GB model’s been replaced with an 80GB one. All 5th-generation iPods (that’s all iPods with video) can now play some fairly decent-looking games. New iPod models have some search features. New iPod Nanos are higher-capacity, aluminium-cased, and come in bright colours (if you want). The iPod Shuffle is now little more than a tie-clip, which looks like a good thing. Good stuff, and since Apple only just recently gave me a new (but not a new-new) iPod with video, to replace my broken iPod Photo, I’m sure I’ll be positively blown away when, in the distant future, I decide to upgrade again.

iTunes 7 is out, and where the move from 5 to 6 brought very little improvement, this feels much more significant. There’s a new download manager for incoming podcasts and so on, long awaited album-cover views, the ability to manage your iPod settings from a nice interface within the player window, and Apple’s bought and integrated 3d-accelerated cover-browser “Coverflow”: It’s kind of a shame, actually, because I never really liked Coverflow. It’s flashy, but not terribly useful. An album cover viewer is far more useful for navigation if you just lay the covers out flat, as “Amarok”: does (“screenshot”:

Apple will also be selling feature films through iTunes. Not a big surprise. Though it’s terrible that we have to be saddled with DRM if studios are going to release digital distribution rights to stores like iTunes, Apple’s doing a great thing by improving people’s ease of access to large archives of music, television, and film. So, the film archive’s not very big yet, but it will be.

Apple’s got a networked media player designed for hooking up to televisions in the works, to come out in Q1 2007. It uses the Front Row interface, and costs way too much (US$299). Nice, but I won’t be getting one at that price.

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.