Shuffling through a bad economy

Apple has scarcely bothered to publicize it, but they’ve released a new version of the Shuffle today that’s half as big, has more RAM (4GB for the $79 version) and a voice navigation sysem. In many ways, this makes it better — as an audio player, at least — than the more expensive models which require you to look at their screens to navigate play lists.

This is a very cool move, particularly in a terrible economy.

And in other news, the Mac Mini is apparently doing very well — amazing what fixing the previous model’s most glaring deficiency (i.e. 3d graphics performance) can do!

Just for comparison, a Mac Mini at $599 is pretty competitive with a PS3 or optioned up X-Box 360, both of which are bigger, noisier, and a lot less useful.

If Apple could just close the TV loop (i.e. provide reliable DVR functionality either out-of-the-box or as an accessory) for a suitable price (i.e. less than $100), it would be game over in the living room today. As it is, Apple seems to be ignoring the TiVo niche because they know that, in the medium run, TV is dead*. The problem is that the medium run may be five years, and a lot of things can happen in five years.

Indeed, looking out five years it would seem that at least one of the following markets, and probably two, will be dead: iPod, desktop computer, notebook computer, netbook — and Apple appears to be investing in all of these.

* Why TV Lost is a really nice analysis by Paul Graham. He observes that the TV companies (like the newspapers) are stupid not to treat the web as their primary medium, and instead do stupid things like pull desirable TV shows off their sites after a limited time, and make sure you can’t see a show online before it airs on TV. Once the TV companies evolve or are replaced it won’t be necessary to provide DVR functionality, but in the mean time Apple may be missing a big opportunity to build market share.

Or Apple may not be interested in investing in a business which is ultimately doomed.

The iPod business may be doomed, but Apple is already in it, already dominates it, and will make a ton of money from it for the forseeable future. The TV business is probably doomed, but Apple isn’t in it, may never dominate it, and may never make any money from it. I guess I just answered my own question.

Addendum: The Earbuds Thing

It’s odd to me that Apple didn’t make the new Shuffle’s headphones separate from the controls (e.g. put a connector above the controls and below the earbuds) since the only obvious objection to the new iPod is its (currently) unique controller. It’s not so much that it doesn’t support third-party earbuds (although yes, that’s annoying) but that the earbuds aren’t interchangeable with other iPods. I’m always misplacing my earbuds. But then, the iPhone already has that problem and seems to be doing fine.

Licensing iTunes/iPod Compatibility

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Apple allowed third parties to support iPod and iTunes right about now? Creative, Samsung, et al, must just be thrilled by the Zune announcement.

Or maybe just wait for Zune to come out, wait until Microsoft has spent a billion or two getting up to, say, 20% market share, and then do it.

Just a thought.