So yesterday, I found myself sitting at gate H12 at Chicago O’Hare airport at noon Chicago time. As any technology-blog-reading person knew, September first, at 10am Pacific time, Steve Jobs would be hosting a special press event. So how did I spent my hour before boarding? Yup—refreshing Echofon for iPhone every two minutes to follow the live tweeting of the event. Pathetic? Perhaps…but hey, I got a blog entry out of it, so lets call it “research” rather than “obsessive behavior,” thankyouverymuch.
I’m not going to go through the whole press event, you can read all sorts of blogs and watch the Apple Event video itself (it was streamed live, and it’s available to stream or download from Apple). I’m just going to hit on my thoughts on a few items.
The rumor sites had more or less pegged an iPod Touch update that would bring the iPod Touch up to speed with the new iPhone 4. Of course Apple would update the iPod. As Jobs said, it’s the #1 portable game system in the world, outselling Sony and Nintendo’s portable game systems combined. The iPhone 4 has already blown the doors of mobile gaming with it’s amazing display, and there’s no way they’d leave that off their gaming champion. And as we all thought, the new iPod Touch gets that screen, Game Center (more on that below), and all the other goodies like cameras and FaceTime.
FaceTime on the iPod Touch is a bit different than on the iPhone. Beginning a FaceTime call on the iPhone 4 connects using AT&T’s 3G network initially, and then switches to WiFi. FaceTime on the iPod Touch only uses WiFi. This is quite awesome for people who use Voice over IP services as their voice phone. It means that if you have a Skype account, or perhaps a Google Voice account, you can use your iPod Touch as your contract-free phone. I’m a big believer in FaceTime, by the way. Michelle and I both use the iPhone 4, and it really felt great to not only chat with her, but to voice chat with her when I was sitting in a hotel in Boston and she was home. You may wonder what you’d ever want to do with FaceTime, but when you do find a use for it, it becomes something you’ll really be glad you have.
BTW, while the iPhone 4 camera is really excellent, the iPod Touch cameras are really just designed for video chatting. The resolution for still pictures is 960 x 720, which is less than even 1 megapixel. So while my iPhone 4 has become my still camera, your iPod touch cameras will be great for video chats, but you’ll want another camera.
Apple goes social
The Apple Event introduced not one, but two social networks. Game Center is a social network for gaming. It lets users set up accounts to play with or against their friends or random others. They can share scores, follow friends, and all the good stuff that networked games can do. I have some games that already have communities like this, such as Words with Friends (basically, online scrabble), but this one will be iOS-wide.
The other social network is Ping, which is part of iTunes 10. Steve Jobs called it “Facebook and Twitter meets iTunes” but I think that’s a bit broad. It does let you set up a profile page, do status updates, talk about favorite movies and movies, give and receive concert updates, and so on. So it’s pretty music-specific, but it does offer familiar features from other social networks.
FWIW, I think that Apple is competing in the social networking sphere in a smart way. Google has tried to one-up Facebook and Twitter with a number of services over time, and they’ve all either failed or fallen short. Those services are far too entrenched I think for anyone to really try to muscle them out of the way, even for a company as big as Google. Apple, however, seems to be following the path successfully taken by LinkedIn, which rather than trying to be another general audience social network, created a network focused around professional contacts, relations, employment, and so on. And today, some 80% of employers have said they’ve used LinkedIn when searching for employees. It doesn’t have the sort of user base that Facebook or Twitter does, but it doesn’t need to. It’s a useful network that has mindshare and will survive. I think that Game Center and Ping, by virtue of being limited, focused social networks rather than attempting to be “the one” network that supplants Facebook and Twitter, will also survive.
From the nano screen to the big (home) screen
Perhaps the most talked about introduction was the new Apple TV. Would Apple introduce a subscription service? 99¢ downloads? iOS Apps? As the picture at the top of this post shows, they introduced a new, sleek black box with no hard drive but the ability to rent movies and TV, a few studios (ABC and FOX) who do provide them at 99¢. And it had a beautiful app for a streaming service, but it’s not an Apple service, it’s Netflix. It does run a version of iOS, but it doesn’t support apps. It does, however, allow for direct connections to YouTube, MobileMe, Flickr, and iTunes on your computer. And the box, as widely reported, is only $99 (down from $299).
So is it worth getting? To me, perhaps the most disappointing thing is the lack of 1080p (Apple only supports the lower resolution of HD, 720p). I’ve never rented anything from the iTunes store, and don’t think I ever would. However, I do love Netflix instant streaming, so that might be a good reason to get it if it’s implementation is significantly better than what we have now. (I currently use Netflix on my PS3, but it needs a disc to run and we sometimes get choppy performance). Also, AirPlay might turn out to be a killer feature. But it certainly looks a lot more interesting now than it did before.
So overall, I think Apple released a bunch of cool new stuff. Not necessarily stuff that will change my life since I’ve already got an iPhone 4, but I’ve already set up a Ping profile here and I’ll be watching the Apple TV to see if it’s right for us. I’ll also be curious to see if Ping takes off. Time will tell…