Real Media Riffs - Wednesday, Jan 10, 2007

THE APPLE OF YOUR I -- Apple knows how to get ink. All it need do is adopt "Inc." No one we know has actually called it "Apple Computer" for some time, but Steve Job's announcement during Macworld on Tuesday of the official name change to Apple Inc. made headlines that seemed to overshadow the news taking place at the much bigger CES conference in Las Vegas. But it was the unveiling of Apple's new iPhone that really got the media world buzzing, despite the fact that it's been years in the making and long overdue.

To be sure, the iPhone is a killer product for Apple. In fact, it could well kill the iPod, making the ubiquitous handheld a small footnote in the history of digital media and proving two facts about the natural selection of media: 1) Platforms will continue to evolve; and 2) unlike Darwin's vision of obsolescence, consumer electronics manufacturers actually plan for it.

Consumers, apparently, do not. So if you've been holding out on getting in on the iPod craze, you'll soon be able to grab up all you want at tag sales, on eBay and in incredible close-out deals in the months to come.



According to the hype, the iPhone has it all, combining the iPod's features with mobile telephony and much, much more. In fact, it could be the closest thing to the kind of "media concierge" that the folks at OMD have been talking about for years. It's not only cell phone capable, but wi-fi enabled, allowing the gizmo to connect to download stuff either via dial-up or the Internet. And of course, it can also upload stuff to other synchronized devices, like Apple's new iTV system, a Bose audio system, and of course, an Apple computer. They still make them, you know. For now.

Apple has even managed to find a way back into the hand-held PDA market - the very same market that drove it whimpering away with what is arguably its greatest product failure ever: the Newton.

But the coolest thing about the iPhone is its design. It's one of Apple's trademarked I've-got-to-have-it gizmos, for sure. And the interface is brilliant in its simplicity, making the multitude of convoluted gadgetry coming out of CES look already obsolete by comparison.

In fact, Apple's and Microsoft's announcements were studies in contrast, and we think the simple reason is simplicity. The iPhone is plain simple. The minute you look at it, you get it. Say that about Microsoft's Vista. Or Synch, or any of the next-gen devices/operating systems the company doled out during Bill Gates' keynote Sunday night. We defy you.

Sure, Microsoft tried to make it seem simple - homey even. But watching Bill Gates putz around the kitchen of the future reminded us more of a post-modern Ralph Kramden's "Chef of the Future" trying to core an apple than a digital media titan trying to gore an Apple - Inc.

It was an incongruous image for sure: The world's richest man trying to roll out some focaccia dough on a Microsoft-powered, CAD-enabled kitchen counter. Gates may know how to make dough, but we doubt he knows how to knead it - even if he doesn't actually need it. No, it wasn't the futuristic stuff Gates presented that made Microsoft's world look obsolete in comparison with Apple's. That just looked dopey. It was the here-and-now announcements like Vista's applications. Watching Gates present Vista's new elegant, multimedia interface, our son peeked over our shoulder at the Webcast and said, "Gee, looks just like what Apple's been doing all along." From the mouths of babes. Or 14-year-olds.

Actually, the only thing that got this 14-year-old excited - or should we say salivating - was looking at all the Xbox Live titles Microsoft is about to dump on an unsuspecting gamer market. In fact, it is Xbox that may be Microsoft's real Trojan into the digital world. In fact, Gates pointed out that Xbox Live, the live Web-based multiplayer version of its gaming console, is now the biggest "social network on television." We had to think about that one for a moment. Yes, Xbox is played primarily while hooked up to TV sets, but the TVs are serving simply as monitors, and the real social networking happens via the Internet. Still, it was a vivid point that Xbox - and especially Xbox Live - is emerging as another new pathway into the digital media consumer. Which raises only one obvious question: When will Apple launch the iBox?

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