2 Sep 2010

Yesterday's Apple Announcement

Yesterday Apple held their annual iTunes and iPod event. While it wasn’t on a par with their recent iPad or iPhone launches - despite some neat new iPod products - there were some new developments announced which weave social networking into iTunes. These will fundamentally change the platform as much as the iPhone app stores launch did in 2008, as well as being an eagerly anticipated update to AppleTV.

Branded “Ping”, it gives the 160 million iTunes users a way to follow their friends’ listening and purchasing habits, create bespoke ‘circle of friend’ charts, comment on and ‘like’ iTunes content, and keep up to date with favourite artists; basically a mix of Facebook and Twitter, and a big step for Apple. It remains to be seen how tightly they will moderate these social aspects, as they keep a close control over everything else on iTunes, but it’ll certainly make for a much more engaging piece of software.

An iOS 4.1 software update also finally brings the much-anticipated Game Center. Previewed in the spring, it is a social gaming platform for all iPod touch and iPhone devices, whose audience base is now, according to Apple, bigger than Nintendo DS and PlayStation PSPs combined. Game Center allows users to track their gaming progress against global leaderboards, and challenge friends and other gamers to a round of Angry Birds or Field Runners. A mini Xbox Live in your pocket that is set to tempt people sat on the fence away from the upcoming Windows Phone 7, which touts similar features.

The last update followed an admission from Steve Jobs: Apple TV was a product they originally “got wrong” despite being loved by the few who bought it. Not only has the device been redesigned, it is now tiny - nicknamed the Hockey Puck - and has no storage, relying on streaming direct from the iTunes cloud, an iPad or from a PC. Apple have partnered with the likes of Netflix, Fox and ABC to offer $0.99 HD TV show rentals and $4.99 HD film rentals. It will be interesting to see what content we can download in the UK when it arrives. Rental TV shows are not on the cards at present, but are likely to follow based on the current iTunes library; there are of course over 7,000 films available already, which will be available for rental from £2.49. More importantly, will it have more success than the original? Many consumers and commentators are likely to be more interested in this reboot over the original while others look forward to a reaction from Google, who recently announced GoogleTV. Time will tell how both of them develop and compete in this market, which will no doubt lead to better products for consumers.

So, an interesting event, with most of the new products said to be available in the next month; the update to iTunes should be rolled out over the next few days, at which point we can all start getting acquainted with a far more sociable iTunes.