November 20, 2005

Can we all calm down a little?

I just read an article in Time Magazine's "What's Next?" issue. Steve Jobs is on the cover of this magazine holding the new iPod with video capabilities. Article after article in magazine after magazine praises this guy for being so tuned in to what the next big thing is and being a genius. Is he a genius? He might be, but few of these articles have any sort of balance to them. Thankfully, this Time article is one of the more evenhanded. It actually mentions the difference between Microsoft and Apple, and explains why Microsoft has soundly thrashed its competitor thanks to agreeing to license its software, rather than hold total control of it all. Most articles leave this tidbit out while gushing about "design" or "synergy" in the Apple headquarters.

Don't get me wrong, Apple has made (or at least sold) some outstanding products. The OS X operating system is slick, if not always intuitive for Windows users. The iPod is everything it's cracked up to be, though it is worth noting that Apple just designed the outside. The guts were designed elsewhere, and Apple doesn't manufacture the thing. Worth noting, however, is the fact that the design is largely what let it dominate the portable music market. I own an iPod mini and would recommend it to anyone.

Where the article goes astray is in its praise for the new video iPod, assuming that it will be the next big thing. Even Jobs himself admits that there is zero market for video that will play on this thing. Who wants to watch video on a 2.5" screen? Not many people, I would guess. Jobs hopes I'm wrong, and that's the way he works. Apple doesn't do much market research; it's mostly hunches from the top, and if you don't like it, work somewhere else. This results in a lot of misses, with the hits described above. Among the misses are the iTunes enabled Motorola Rokr, which, from what I can tell, doesn't work very well and doesn't hold enough songs, and the iPod photo, which proved that people don't buy 6 megapixel cameras so they can squint at the iPod to see them. This is why I think the iPod video is not going to sell very well. It was hard enough to look at such small still pictures, making them move won't solve anything. People want bigger screens. This is why people buy 60 inch televisions and I paid a little extra to get a 19 inch monitor. Laptop manufacturers seem to be racing to make giant laptops with huge, true to life, LCD screens. Part of my skepticism is what I'm christening the "Why test." This is the Why Test: Why would I want to own one of these? For the standard iPod, it's obvious - carry most of your music collection with you at all times. It gets a little dicier for the Rokr, the iPod photo, and the video iPod, which breeds skepticism.

Jobs has proven to have a deft touch in many cases, but I hope the next fawning magazine article about Apple's great corporate culture or the genius of its CEO remembers the iPod photo and the Rokr...and perhaps, the latest video iPod.

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