It's the start of a busy gadget season that usually kicks off with a frisson of excitement with a certain ‘fruit' company's music product refreshes. Last week, Apple sent out invitations that simply have a guitar with an Apple logo replacing the soundhole on it, inviting the media to a Stevenote this Wednesday, 1 September 2010.
The iPod has been pretty much a Cinderella device lately while its cousins the iPhone and iPad have been stealing all the attention and oxygen, so much so that prognosticators and analysts now view the iPod segment as a mature market that's on the decline for Apple, soon to be replaced by iPhones.
So, the consumer king is dead? I don't think so.
I think that the Wizards of the West Coast are about to lay the smack down and that not many people will see it coming.
The iPod is not an iPhone without a phone - it is an iPhone without the TELCO!
No strings attached
Now mix in Facetime, content-on-demand and other cloud-based services and it will actually be a phone for many people without the need for a monthly telco plan or a complicated telco relationship. After all, iTunes is already a wallet for many purchases, and you can bet that Apple has some innovation in near-field and real time transactioning coming as well.
Now which market segment can benefit from a highly convergent, non-monthly plan device that starts currently at R1600? Err, actually every family at each end of the spectrum.
Against the backdrop of everyone trying to ubiquitously introduce 3G into mobile devices. I have been carrying out an interesting experiment. Since 1 April, I have forced myself to use an iPad Wi-Fi rather than switch to a 3G model. When travelling and out and about, locally and abroad, I wanted to understand the Wi-Fi experience - since this is, at a certain consumer level, an essentially free experience.
Whether I was in San Francisco, Dubai, Mauritius or Johannesburg; the hotels, malls and public tourist and entertainment destinations all offered free Wi-Fi. There were times, generally at client offices or company visits, where we couldn't access the corporate Wi-Fi for policy reasons that I needed to fall back to a 3G hotspot. Earlier last week I watched approximately 3-4 hours of television-on-demand on my iPad using the ABC app over the hotel Telkom ADSL Wi-Fi... and it worked, just fine. There was a buffering moment or two every now or then, but it worked.
So I don't need a telco plan to call back home, I don't need a cable plan to watch video, and I don't need a portable game station; the iPod already does all of that and it's a more innovative gaming platform than any other device out there - and the new games coming on iOS4 and all the new capabilities of the iPhone 4 hardware are gonna drop jaws.
Perfect school project companion
Mix in iMovie and the device's video capabilities and you don't need to carry a basic media recorder or editor. It's the perfect school project companion... the hardware, software and eco-system come together to amplify a consumer's investment.
It could even be that the legendary US$100 iTV device (the new unicorn of the Apple universe now that the iPad has been outed) is actually just the new iPod with a TV dock. It certainly makes sense... And if you are worried that people may keep taking the iPod off the TV every time you want to watch something, just buy and dedicate one to the TV. (I thought about the control part, and I figure you just take over the connected iPod interface with your iPhone or iPod in your hand).
So there we have it. A cheap, cloud connected, convergent, companion device free of legacy business and media models...which already retails for US$200 unsubsidised.
But, if the telco doesn't exist which is going to subsidise the device into the market by driving down the price of entry...
Say goodbye to the old telco (yay), say hello to a new kind of telco (er...)
Apple already collects 30% of all of the revenue going through the eco-system - revenue which is going to explode in the years ahead as consumption hurdles are flattened by the iTunes eco-system of seamless hardware, software and transactioning.
So easy to use
Apple's consumer devices lubricate transactions by being so easy to use that consumers transact without thought and that is where Apple knows the opportunity lies. Right now, its constraints are more around how fast and how efficiently it can manufacture devices and meet demand - ie it is selling every unit it can make and has no need to cut prices.
As soon as it can scale the costs down, it's going to make sense for it to just dish out iPod units for a basic fee of US$50 or US$100 and depend on the lifetime attach rate of revenue from consumers buying movies, music, books, magazines etc from iTunes.
I think Apple is going to make the iPod even more intimate and resonant than it has been to date. The iPod is going to pivot from single spectrum resonance (ie music and content consumption) to a full spectrum lifestyle companion.
So with all this going for it, it seems that this week it'll definitely be the time to say hello to iPod, again! If I am correct, iPod is getting ready for its second act in the digital revolution and, I predict, to be first device in human history to come back with a resonance that will eclipse its initial revolutionary impact.
[30 Aug 2010 12:46]