Why the iPod Touch Continues to Make Apple Money

♦ This post is one of the Best of 2015 ♦


Ah, the iPod Touch.  I remember how badly I wanted one in middle school, and how excited I was when I got one in 7th grade.  Back in those days, the iPod Touch was about the coolest gadget a kid could have.  Nowadays, though, it seems like every kid over 10 has an iPhone.  However, the iPod Touch continues to pay off in spades for Apple.  Why?  Indoctrination.

What does indoctrination have to do with the iPod Touch?  Easy.  Apple marketed the iPod Touch as something for kids, and parents bought it (literally).  Honestly, it was a good device for kids: it allowed them to do most things that an iPhone could do for around $200 flat.  Not super cheap up front, but there were no expensive monthly bills to deal with.  Kid friendly?  You bet.

After that, however, is when things got interesting: all those kids grew up.  They grew up and, like their parents, wanted smartphones.  And what kind of smartphones do you think these kids wanted?  iPhones of course!  Having already been indoctrinated into Apple’s ecosystem – the apps, iMessage, Game Center, and so on – they didn’t want to leave.  Apple continues to see these benefits to this day.  Most of my friends in high school and college used to have iPod Touches, but now they have iPhones.  The iPhone is well established as the gold standard; almost everyone agrees it’s simply the best you can get.  Sure, Android still has a substantial presence, but the iPhone remains in the lead.

What allowed Apple to completely take over this market?  I think it’s in part because of Apple’s previous dominance with the iPod in general.  And with the iTunes Store.  They had already set themselves up as the go-to for media players; it was only a natural jump to a touch screen.  More than anything though, Apple won this market because they tried.  It’s not like Android couldn’t have done anything about it.  Android phone manufacturers simply didn’t see the value in creating touch screen media players.  They did exist; I remember reading about a couple of them.  However, they never got off the ground the way the iPod Touch did, mostly because they were never pushed very hard.

Maybe Android didn’t see the long-term value in the market.  Actually, I don’t know for sure if Apple did either; maybe to them it was just a good product in the short-term.  But whatever the reason, Apple invested a lot into the iPod touch from around 2007-2012.  However, that has begun to change.

As I’ve said, I see fewer and fewer iPod Touches these days.  More and more I just see iPhones, being held in increasingly smaller hands.  And since we didn’t see an iPod revision last fall (which would have been on par with the previous two-year update cycle), it would seem that the iPod Touch has just about breathed its last.  But it had a good run.  In fact, it had a great run; one that put the next member of the relay team – the iPhone – a few extra strides further ahead of the competition.  ••

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What is Net Neutrality, Anyway?

“Net neutrality” is a buzzword these days.  To some people, though, it’s nothing more than that.  In our connected world, it’s important to know exactly what net neutrality is.  In my opinion, it’s also important to support it.

So what is net neutrality?  Simply put, net neutrality is the concept that all (legal) data on the internet is treated the same.  This was actually one of the core ideas of the internet when it was first started.  To the internet, data is data, all it does is pass it along.  It makes no different to the internet whether I’m watching YouTube or reading Six Colors, all it does it take data from those sites’ respective web servers and deliver it to my browser.  So basically, net neutrality has existed since the start of the internet.  Why would anyone want to change it?  The answer, as always, is money.

Let’s talk about some examples.  A few years back, Comcast customers were complaining that Netflix didn’t work well for them.  In response to this, Netflix paid Comcast a ton of money for Comcast to store Netflix content on Comcast’s servers.  This meant that Comcast customers ended up with a better Netflix experience.  So what’s the problem?  Netflix wasn’t happy with what they were getting from Comcast, so they paid more money and got better service.  Isn’t that just capitalism?  It is, but the problem is that it gives Comcast opportunities to extort money.  Suppose Comcast purposefully slowed down Amazon Instant Video on their network.  Now Comcast can go to Amazon and say, “Hey… you know… if you paid us some more money… maybe your content wouldn’t look so bad.”  This is technically capitalism, but then, so are monopolies.  Monopolies are illegal because someone who owns a monopoly is able to extort a lot of money from a lot of people.  In this scenario, Comcast can do the same.  People against further net neutrality legislation (like Comcast) say that current laws make it illegal to slow down someone on purpose; you can only pay more to get faster service.  This is true; Comcast can’t slow someone down if they don’t pay up.  All Comcast has to do, though, is not raise their baseline speed, and 10 years from now, it’ll be a joke.  This is why we need rules that outlaw any special treatment at all.

The other problem we have without net neutrality is a stifling of innovation.  For this example, we turn to T-Mobile.  T-Mobile recently launched a new feature where streaming music does not count against customers’ data usage.  (Full disclosure: I love this feature and use it all the time.  I’m a hypocrite, I know.)  T-Mobile included pretty much all major streaming services in this.  However, what if some new service pops up trying to make it big?  If they’re not included in T-Mobile’s deal, I probably won’t switch to them over Spotify.  This could be detrimental to anyone trying to launch a new streaming service.

So what needs to be done?  My understanding is that to really lock down net neutrality for good, Congress will have to reclassify internet service as a utility.  At that point, it will be subject the same regulation that electricity and water are.  When I first heard this idea, I laughed.  Internet service a utility?  A basic human right?  What a first world problem!  But then I started thinking: suppose you’re running a small business.  There’s really no way for you to run your business successfully without the internet, in the same way that there’s no way for you to run it without electricity.  I’m not convinced internet access is a basic human right, but I think utility fits it well for now.

So what’s being done about this?  A year ago, I would have said net neutrality was dead, since the legislation didn’t seem to be going anywhere (not that much legislation at all goes anywhere these days).  However, the FCC is now looking to potentially instate some new regulations that would reclassify the internet as a utility.  There’s also another proposition out there that wants to create some new regulations without actually reclassifying it.  This could potentially be a pivotal time for the history of the internet, and the next few weeks should be very interesting.  ••

Update 2/27/15: Yesterday, the FCC officially decided (in a 3-2 vote) to regulate the internet as a utility.  If you’re interesting in reading more check out this article from CNET.

What Comes After the Internet?

Last week I would have looked at that title and laughed.  Nothing comes after the internet, of course; the internet is the future.  Or is it?  Didn’t people say the same thing about TV, and radio?  I just finished reading From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet (which I highly recommend, by the way).  In the book, John Naughton (the author), while admitting that we can’t know for sure where the internet is going, tries to postulate where it’s going by looking at another enormous leap for technology: the printing press.  Turns out, there were doomsayers for the printing press too (they thought an avalanche of books would cheapen their quality), much the same way there are doomsayers for the internet today.  Looking back, we scoff at those who scoffed at the printing press.  Will future generations scoff at us for being afraid of the internet?  Or is the internet so special, so new, and so different that our fears are justified?

I can’t answer that question.  But I can answer the first part of it.  The internet is not different.  It’s just another medium, the same way printing, radio, and TV were before it.  This was the light bulb that hit me this week, the one that made me change my mind about this title.  I’d always thought that the internet would just continue to evolve, never ceasing, never being replaced.  However, the odds of that now seem rather low.  When television first came, it was thought to be the death of radio.  Radio didn’t die, but its heyday was over.  Ironically though, it seems television is also nearing a decline.  The internet is slowly (quickly?) taking over as our primary form of entertainment, but there’s no reason to believe it will last forever.  On the contrary, history indicates that almost everything will slowly become obsolete.

But what will replace the internet?  That’s the flip side of my epiphany: I haven’t the slightest idea.  This seems odd that we know change is so imminent, so sure, but we don’t even have a glimmer as to what it might look like.  I’m sure that, for now, the internet will keep improving (in much the same way television did).  However, at some point, something totally new is bound to come.

That’s what makes the future so exciting!  As I follow the tech world, every day I’m more and more aware of what an electrifying time we live in.  Everything is changing so fast, and we have no way of knowing where we’re going.  But maybe that’s the fun of it.  ••

Three iOS 8 Features I Want Right. This. Second.

Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference ended just over a week ago, and during the conference we saw some new stuff about iOS 8, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system.  Apple likes to be really secretive about new hardware, but it has to be a little more open about software because third-party app developers have to be in on the loop in order to ship iOS 8 software along with the actual OS.  Because of this, we saw a lot of stuff about iOS 8 during WWDC.  After I got the lowdown from the excellent TechHive.com, I’ve compiled a list of my top three picks.

1. Actionable Notifications
I’m guessing you’ve been here: You’re in Safari, reading some article online.  Suddenly, you get a text message, and a banner pops up at the top of the screen.  You read the text and decide to respond to it right then, so you tap the banner.  iOS then takes you out of Safari and into Messages; then after you reply, you have to switch back to Safari.  Most of us take this for granted: that’s just how iOS has always worked.  But with actionable notifications, you can swipe down on that notification and a keyboard pops up.  You haven’t switched apps, this is just an overlay over whatever you’re currently doing.  After typing your reply, the overlay disappears, and you’re right back to Safari.  Nifty, huh?  (I’m not sure if I described that very well, so here’s a picture from TechHive/MacWorld if you’re confused.)

2. Hands-Free Siri
Google has recently made a big deal of the “OK Google” line.  On certain Android phones, you just say those words and the Android virtual assistant pops up, no button pushing required.  As of iOS 8, the iPhone will have a similar feature.  As long as the phone is plugged in (as a battery life consideration), saying “Hey Siri” will activate, well, Siri.  I think this is a cool idea, especially if your phone is charging on the table across the room, and you want to have it, say, play some music.

3. Continuity
Continuity is a feature that will tie your iPhone, iPad, and Mac closer together than ever before.  There are lots of different parts of Continuity, but I’ll only mention a few here.  One feature is called Handoff, which allows you to, for example, push an email draft from your iPhone to your Mac.  This is great if you decide you’d rather use a real keyboard for that email.  Sure, you could have just emailed it to yourself, but that’s a pain.  Continuity will also allow you to accept phone calls and send SMS on your Mac or iPad, basically routing things through your iPhone.

As a bonus, I’ve got one more feature that isn’t official yet, but is rumored.  I really hope the iPad will be able to run two apps side by side, at the same time.  I don’t think Apple should even bother allowing this on the iPhone, it’s just too small.  But the iPad is a different story.  It would be really nice to be able to use Mail and Notes (or other combinations of apps) at the same time, instead of switching back and forth.  So, for all you Apple engineers out there who I’m sure are reading this, could you please get on that?  Thanks, I appreciate it.  ••