Apple Reprograms TV
After announcing new versions of iPods, iTunes and iOS, Apple CEO Steve Jobs turned to his company's so-called hobby Wednesday and shared a major update to Apple TV. The new unit will feature revamped hardware that streams rentals over the Web or content over a home network, rather than storing it locally. He also announced new rental options for iTunes.
Apple on Wednesday made a host of announcements focused around music and entertainment.
These included a revamped version of its Apple TV device, iTunes 10, a refreshed iPod family and new versions of its iOS mobile operating system.
Overall, the announcements came as relatively little surprise, as most major points conformed with speculation and rumors that had arisen on the Web over the past few weeks. Although Apple CEO Steve Jobs drew cheers from the audience repeatedly as he made the announcements on stage, Cupertino may still face a long struggle ahead in order to become a major player in the movie distribution business.
iBoob Tube Revelations
After he detailed updates to his company's longstanding line of iPods, Jobs showed off a major revamp to another Apple product: Apple TV.
The new unit is one-quarter the size of its predecessor and comes in black. It has a built-in power supply and HDMI, USB, optical audio and Ethernet ports. It also has WiFi. It comes with a new Apple remote. It shows HD movies when those are available.
Apple is offering the new Apple TV unit at US$99. It will be available in about four weeks, Jobs said.
The Apple CEO was uncharacteristically low-key when he discussed Apple TV, describing it as "one more hobby." Introduced in 2007, Apple TV sold well enough to stay in Apple's lineup but was seldom considered a hit product compared to other Apple gadgets like iPhones and iPods. However, no competing product in this category had managed to become a standout hit either, Jobs asserted.
Still, Apple TV users love them, Jobs said. They want Hollywood movies and TV shows the moment the desire arises; they want everything in HD; they don't want amateur hour; they want to pay less for content.
In a slap at Google TV, Jobs said Apple TV users don't want a computer on their TV. "They have computers; they go to the TV for entertainment," he said. "This is a hard one for people in the computer industry to understand, but it's really easy for consumers to understand."
Further, consumers don't want to manage storage, and they don't want to sync their devices, he asserted. "Most don't even know what that means," Jobs said.
Going to the iFlicks
Apple TV will no longer store content but will instead stream rentals directly from iTunes or stream content saved on other devices on the user's home network.
iTunes will also expand its rental options. People complained that the $2.99 per-episode price that iTunes charged for high-definition TV shows was too high, Jobs said. Apple has secured deals with ABC and Fox to rent TV shows to users at the rate of 99 cents per show, which will play without commercials. NBC and CBS are not currently partnering on the offer, but they'll jump on board soon, Jobs predicted.
In addition, users who want to see first-run HD movies can rent them for $4.99.
Apple TV users can also stream Netflix content and watch anything available on YouTube, including HD videos. In addition, they can view or watch photos and video from MobileMe and Flickr.
The Apple TV interface for movies includes the "Rotten Tomatoes" show rating.
Users can stream content from an iOS device to an Apple TV as part of AirPlay. For example, they can begin watching a movie on an iPad, then tap the device and stream the movie to Apple TV instead and get it instantly on the TV screen.
The plethora of announcements from Apple on Wednesday was "underwhelming," Andrew Eisner, director of content at Retrevo, told MacNewsWorld.
"I think iPods are in decline because more people are listening to music on their smartphones, although the iPod touch is probably a more attractive option than other iPods," Eisner said. He was not particularly impressed with the Apple TV because "you can easily build this capability into your TV set as a Blu-ray player."
Further, Eisner expected to see a better user interface and apps running on Apple TV.
What about Jobs' statement that people don't want a computer on their TV?
"When Jobs says things like that, he's often making an excuse or biding time while his R&D group finds ways to do things better or more cost-effectively," Eisner remarked. "I still think it's a battle for the living room and for the TV operating system," he added.
Behind the iTimes?
"Here's the problem Apple's trying to solve: How to get TVs connected to the Web," Yankee analyst Dmitriy Molchanov said. "Today you have these digital media adapters like Boxee and Roku; in the future, most of these TVs will have a WiFi or a connectivity chip on the TV itself, and when that happens, the TV will run its own software like Google TV."
Apple has "missed the boat," Molchanov told MacNewsWorld.
"Apple TV is a bridge technology, and there's always been a lot of hype around Apple's bridge technologies, and they've never taken off because they're too complicated for most consumers," Molchanov pointed out. "It's targeted to tech-heads -- tech-savvy, Apple-savvy consumers who are probably going to sit around and wait until they can buy a TV with connectivity."
Both Molchanov and Retrevo's Eisner think Google TV has the advantage over Apple because it offers apps on a TV set.
iHumming Along to the iBeat
The new iPods announced Wednesday have several new features, and Jobs extolled their capabilities for games.
Jobs also announced iTunes 10 on Wednesday. It will focus on what Jobs calls "discovery" -- letting people learn what their friends are listening to and what their favorite artists are up to, Jobs said.
The iTunes service has 160 million accounts with credit cards in 23 countries, Jobs disclosed. Its subscribers have downloaded more than 11.7 billion songs, over 450 million TV episodes, 100 million movies and 35 million books from the site, Jobs said.
Those huge numbers make the highly profitable iTunes service ripe for further monetization.
The Joy of Ping
That monetization may follow on the heels of Ping, a new service Jobs announced Wednesday. Ping is, more or less, a iTunes social networking service for music that apparently goes far beyond MySpace's capabilities.
Ping lets users follow their friends and favorite artists and discover music they are talking about, listening to or downloading. It also shows all recent activity from users' friends or artists they follow.
Apparently taking a page from the lessons Facebook has learned as it's grown its own social network, Ping has privacy settings that let users set how much information they want to make public. Users can set it so they have to approve each follower; or let everyone follow them.
Ping runs on users' computers, on iPhones and iPod touches. It is available to all 160 million iTunes users in 23 countries.
More iNews from Cupertino
Jobs also announced iOS 4.1, the latest version of its mobile device operating system, for the iPhone and iPod touch. This will be available next week. It fixes various bugs in its predecessor.
New features in iOS 4.1 include High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos, the ability to upload high-definition video over WiFi, a new printing capability and Game Center.
The HDR photos feature takes three bracketing shots of any subject in short order. One will be over-exposed, another under-exposed, and the third will have normal exposure. It will then combine the three to create an HDR photo.
Game Center is a multiplayer games feature. Jobs said a new game will come out later this year from publisher Epic, which includes "Gears of War" among its titles.
Further, Jobs pre-announced iOS 4.2, which will be available in November for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.