Apple TV

Courtesy of Apple

By Randy Giusto- By now, most people following tech have absorbed Apple’s bevy of iPod and iTV announcements, and if you haven’t I won’t go into all the gory details. It’s interesting that they chose to preview iOS 4.2 when iOS 4.1 is just rolling out the gates. Microsoft and others would get skewered for this kind of versioneering strategy, but not Apple.

So iOS 4.2 will hit the devices in November. The OS will bring the family together, mainly the iPad into a unified OS boasting with additional multi-tasking features, supporting Air Play (a renamed Air Tunes) showing that Apple’s push across all platforms is more than just music. And finally wireless printing comes arrives!

New iPods

The iPod line up refresh is, from a design perspective, appealing, although I think the Nano is getting close to the realm of being too small to use, that is, if you’re now over 40. The Shuffle has become in effect a hi-tech fashion pin while the Nano is an eye appealing fashion badge. The iPod Touch is getting more digital camera and videophone-like and more iPhone-like sans the cellular part. And all this time Apple has not touched the iPod Classic. It still remains the only offering that can potentially carry your entire music and clip collection, if you are like me and have ripped hundreds of CDs in the past.

Ping Me

Talking to many people in the business in Manhattan this week, there was a lot of speculation on whether we need yet another social network out there. But I see Ping as a very intriguing platform for those of us who enjoy music and want to share our tastes with friends. iTunes clearly was lacking a social layer to it. It’s clear that Ping is about sharing recommendations and content. It’s not about amassing comments, or status and badges in the nihilistic ways that Facebook and Foursquare do.

Facebook has tried the music thing with it’s add ons built off of its APIs but I find that they run very slow, lack the intimacy of sharing with select contacts, and so I’ve stopped using them. A pity that Facebook has dissed Ping and there is no way to import your Facebook contacts into Ping like you can into Twitter and other social sites. I’m sure someone will figure out a work around, and the two firms apparently are still talking, so all is not lost, yet. But I fear that Facebook is becoming even more insular with the connections you personally make and the pages you “like” over time. While many apps link to Facebook, it’s a clearly a one way street.

Apple TV

The upgraded Apple TV’s appeal will depend upon what side of the fence you sit on, or if you’ve even taken the plunge yet in streaming video or any other content to your TV. There are pundits who call it the “death of cable” and those that dismiss it for it’s lack of content (only Fox and ABC for TV shows at this point). However, if you haven’t noticed, in the past year, households are now presented with a variety of options for next generation TV and movie viewing. Cable is clearly emphasizing TV Everywhere, which keeps them and subscribers in a walled garden delivering programing across multiple devices. This will be the service provider’s route to move content across three screens- Web, TV, and mobile in the hopes of keeping subscribers, especially as competition from telecom providers slows and some subscriber dissatisfaction remains.

But there are some households who truly want to cut the cord. It may be low single digits from a percentage perspective at the moment, but with more choices and content opportunities, rates could rise gradually like our monthly cable bills have. My brother-in-law who happens to live in the middle of Amish country in Northeast Ohio has just leapfrogged me as far as in-home entertainment technology with a DSL modem, a networked Samsung TV, a subscription to Netflix, and Dish Network. For his household, it’s all about VOD movies and syndicated TV episodes, time shifting to his family’s schedule, not a broadcaster’s or even an MSO’s. Like many American households, they watch less and less live TV except for news, weather, and sports. He’s still contemplating kicking out Dish because there still isn’t anything on to watch, despite all the channels, and he can’t get bundled services because they won’t string cable down the next mile to his neighborhood. So Netflix has become his VOD of choice.

With Apple’s announcements, Netflix, a company thought to be on its death bed several times over the years, comes out smelling like a rose again. Its stock price is now in the $130 range.

Pulling the Cable Plug?

While cable tries to acquire content (Comcast’s purchase of NBCU for example) to stave off defections, other content providers are seeking deals with platforms such as Apple and others as alternative distribution sources, especially for younger generations who won’t be watching in the same confines and walled gardens that their parents grew up in.

My recent visit to Comcast’s headquarters in Philadelphia confirmed that MSO’s view all this Apple, Hulu, Roku, and Boxee stuff as subscribers who are adolescents and are too price sensitive. But they clearly, like many companies, aren’t listening to their customers. If households in Northeast Ohio with middle age adults are shifting due to the lack of choice and aggravation over costs, then the cable and satellite operators have another thing coming to their doorsteps, albeit for now, it may represent a slowly rising tide. Bundles may rule the day today, but like music, a la carte is what typical American wants as far as video content, especially Gen Y’s and Millenials as they grow older. Cable and satellite vendors have become like telecom providers. There’s not much customer love these days.

Or Laying the Groundwork?

Looking forward, this is just ground work for Apple as far as platform unification and building living room presence. Ping begs for open APIs in the future in the hopes that app developers who may already develop for iPhone and IPad, could easily cover TV as well.

I’m not yet sold on Google TV or TV Anywhere, and chipsets vendors are placing their cards on just about everything these days, so “don’t believe the hype.” It’s still early days. Apple TV may not have all the content locked up; far from it, but it’s a very respectable platform while we wait for unproven offerings like the Boxee Box to ship.

Don’t underestimate the power of Steve Jobs and Apple either to recruit more networks and content providers to it’s platforms. Yes, Apple is a walled garden too, but easier one to use, and more importantly, is more fun, and has more buzz and has a large percentage of the US and a growing percentage of the world population hooked, or at least noticing, then most of what’s out in the market currently, or soon to be.

– Randy Giusto