Apple: Purveyor of Remote Controls for Our Lives

Last week Apple marched on announcing price reductions across the iPod line and various new features.  The highlight was the addition of a camera and FM radio to the iPod Nano.  They high-lighted the importance of the iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone) as a gaming platform.  The technocrati responded with a collective yawn — since there wasn’t anything sensational announced.

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To me it seemed like a well executed release of incremental products as part of a clear long-term strategy: Apple wants to the the dominant supplier of the remote controls for our lives.

Mobile devices allow us to interact with the virtual world while simultaneously interacting in the real world.  In fact, with the coming explosion of Augmented Reality applications – the line between the real world and the virtual one is becoming increasingly blurred.  Mobile devices allow us to consume media, produce media and communicate with people.

In Apple’s case, the original iPod focused on the consumption side of the equation – allowing us to consume first music, then videos.  The ability to further consume media has been expanded to include games and the internet.  What’s more, many applications are creating brand new categories of things for us to consume – like specialized maps and services such as navigation.

Of course, the iPhone also supports the creation of media and communication in many different ways.  Some of these – such as voice and text – are traditional mobile features – while others are again enabled by the App eco-system – think Facebook and Skype.

The iPhone is the all-singing, all-dancing remote for our lives, followed closely by the iPod touch.  But these devices are expensive — so Apple has to provide less capable devices at other price points – at least for the time being.  The thing about technology is that it’s only a matter of time before iPhone capabilities become available at truly mainstream prices.

So, the significance of the new iPod Nano is simply that Apple has expanded this mass market device into one that is now capable of capturing and sharing media as well as consuming it.  In some ways, this can be seen as a pragmatic interim step.  One which extends Apple’s reach as the purveyor of remote controls while holding firm on a well understood price point.

I sometimes wonder why Apple doesn’t introduce more of an ‘entry-level’ iPhone.  I think perhaps the answer is that they don’t have to — they simply have to wait for the economics of silicon to get there instead.  When the time comes, people will gladly ditch their cell phones for a shiny new remote control for their lives.  In the mean time, they can satisfy themselves with Apple’s partial remotes.

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