Expectations and the Apple Event

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Apple has confirmed what's been rumored for weeks--a September 9th music event. Anyone who follows Apple and its musical ventures understands that September marks not only the beginning of autumn and the start of school, but the month when Apple releases new iPods in anticipation of the holiday season.

Part of the pleasure of these events is the guesswork that takes place once the invitation has been issued. And because I'm no less immune to this guesswork than the next guy, let's get to it.

The lads from Liverpool

It so happens that the event takes place on the very day that the Beatles release their remastered catalog. The Fab Four have been missing so long from the iTunes Store and those expecting a Beatles announcement from Apple have been disappointed so many times that a Beatles-in-iTunes prediction is something a cautious pundit doesn't want on his or her resumé. Yet, the alignment of the dates makes it difficult to resist.

Ah, but damn, the invitation sports this tagline: "It's only rock and roll, but we like it." A Rolling Stones reference, for heaven's sake! And the Stones' catalog is already available through iTunes. So what's the deal? Has Apple failed to acquire the Beatles' work yet again and so is throwing Glimmer Twins on stage to lay a little smack down on Paul and Ringo? Is this some hint of a British Invasion promotion that cobbles together enough sentient British survivors from the early 60s to cobble together a skiffle band?

Ah, but damn again, there are sound reasons other than the date for the Beatles catalog to come to iTunes. Those remastered Beatles albums will be available in stereo and mono box sets. Included in those box sets are expanded booklets with original and new liner notes, rare photos, and embedded documentaries about the making of each album.

Apple is rumored to be working on a Cocktail initiative with the record companies. This is a scheme where interactive booklets are bundled with album downloads from the iTunes Store. The record companies would really like to see some attention brought to the album format and if Cocktail can help with that, they're all over it. Could Apple launch this initiative in a more impressive way than pulling Paul and Ringo on stage and announcing, "Today, at the iTunes Store, you can download the same music, the same liner notes, the same lyrics, the same photos, and the same documentaries that are bundled in the Beatles' box set."?

But wait, maybe Ringo needs a really expensive pair of shoes. Wouldn't the boys want to first sell a jillion copies of the box sets at between $150 and $200 a pop before offering them for download? And then, once sales fall off, sell that same jillion again in some enhanced format from iTunes?

Decisions. Decisions. I give this one a strong yeah, yeah, yeah... maybe.

New iTunes

I think it's a reasonably good bet that we'll see iTunes 9 at this event and Cocktail will play a large part in it. If that happens, don't be surprised if Apple offers an "Upgrade to iTunes Plus" kind of service that lets you download artwork, lyrics, and other goodies for compatible tracks in your existing iTunes library. For an additional price, natch.

The traditional iPod refresh

iPod refreshments are always announced in September so this is a no brainer. Reports are that traditional iPod sales have dropped while iPod touch sales have climbed. To keep those traditional iPods afloat Apple needs to juice those models in some way.

Rumors are that the classic is good for one more go-around. By cutting the classic's maximum capacity from 160GB to 120GB, Apple has made it clear that it's not interested in selling the classic based solely on the amount of media it holds. And that makes sense. Music and media libraries are starting to reach into the hundreds of gigabytes and trying to make an iPod that holds a complete iTunes library is a losing proposition. Give it good enough capacity--and 120GB seems fine to me--and you've got that covered.

So what distinguishes a new iPod classic? The rumor mongers tell us it's all about an embedded camera. Really? On a device that doesn't have Wi-Fi for quickly sharing pictures and movies with the world this seems a little gimmicky, but if it will sell more iPods, what the hell.

The iPod nano is the big seller in the traditional iPod line. It's affordable, very capable, cute as can be, and holds enough media for most people. Apple tends to change the shape, color, and capacity of the nano each year and will likely do so again. Camera here too? If that's the year's theme, why not?

It will be interesting to see if the iPod shuffle merits more than a single slide or, instead, earn five minutes of glory due to a redesign. It all depends on how the current model has fared. If people have been buying the things despite the fact that some find the no-button design clumsy, it gets its slide or no mention at all. Relent on the current design and bring back buttons and Apple will need a little time to spin the shift.

The iPod touch refresh

A new iPod touch is another thing you can take to the bank. As I mentioned, the iPod touch is very popular and it's a good money maker for Apple not only because there are lots of people who want a phone-less iPhone, but these devices also have access to the online iTunes Store and App Store, both of which generate income for Apple.

The camera theme looms large here too. And, in this case, it makes perfect sense. The camera is one of the few non-phone iPhone features that Apple hasn't brought to the touch and one that's significant enough to kindle interest in an update touch, particularly given that you can move pictures from the touch over Wi-Fi.

Ah, but what about shooting video? That's an interesting proposition. To offer video you must also offer sound to go with that video, which means a microphone. If you were Apple, how would you handle that? Would you put the microphone on the back, beneath the lens, so that the mic could be used only to capture a video's audio track (and, thus, suffer countless complaints about hobble audio input)? Or, having introduced a microphone, do you then take the next step and make the iPod touch a VOIP handset, complete with microphone and speaker similar to those found on the iPhone? Or do you simply not offer video and find a politic way of saying "We're not going there. Buy an iPhone."?

And other

People tend to hope that these events will be all things to all people. In this case that includes an Apple tablet, a new Apple TV, and a refreshed iMac. If I may channel the anti-Beatles:

No, no, no.

This story, "Expectations and the Apple Event" was originally published by Macworld.

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