No doubt about it, Apple's iPhone and iPod touch continue that company's record of high class industrial design. But if Steve Jobs's taste and focus make for great-looking consumer products, his tightly-integrated hardware/DRM/software business model is more a throwback to the great (and sometimes unfairly labeled) "robber baron" industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Ironically, this business style is about as far from the culture of the Web as any company active in this space today. I hope Apple's design sense goes on forever, but the days for its business model are numbered.
The touch takes the iPhone, removes the mediocre camera and mediocre 2G GSM radio, and substitutes a Wi-Fi radio, and the maximum memory is a small 16 GB (though that is double the iPhone's). My son, writing from Rotterdam, had the following reaction to the touch:
... This ipod, the full touchscreen ipod, I've been waiting for so long, it's incredible, exactly what we all wanted - except - 8gb/16gb? This is next to nothing! My ipod, the grandpa of ipods from a whole 4 years ago, is a 15gb. ...
Most importantly to folks in my business, it continues the crippled version of the Safari browser. Like a TV cable box with parental controls, it lets you access only media on the web that "Dad" Jobs wants you to access -- in this case, the iTunes Store of course, YouTube and one of the newest media companies, Starbucks (see Gerd Leonhard's reaction to the Starbucks announcement). Only this isn't to keep you from naughty lyrics, it's to ensure you don't use any media that doesn't give Apple a cut.
The paucity of memory on the touch is puzzling, especially when Apple simultaneously released the iPod Classic with 160 GB of storage. Why limit what you can store on the only device they have that permits paid downloads from iTunes?
On the subject of the Classic's large storage, read Bob Lefsetz's progressive vision of what Apple should do with this storage:
... It’s like we’re living in the twilight zone. The labels are stuck in the nineties and the public is in the twenty first century. Who even HAS 4,000 albums? ¶ A lot of people. Oh, not as CDs. But as MP3s, stolen from the Net, their friends, their family. ¶ People WANT music. The labels just can’t figure out how to sell it to them. ¶ Took them over three years to even deliver it easily online at a reasonable price (2003’s iTunes Store). But, they still haven’t given people what they want. How about a 160 gig iPod PRELOADED with the greatest hits of the sixties? Or the history of dance music? Don’t bother to steal the music, you can get it, for an extra fifty bucks. ...
Link: Lefsetz Letter. Right on. In the end, preloading will win out over even the iTunes Store -- because folks will realize that its superior pricing rationality and security will kill off virtually all piracy. If the 2007 iPod Classic holds 40,000 songs. With Moore's Law progression, we'll have a 1 TB iPod in five years. Will be a nice retirement gift. Hint, hint.
P.S.: The picture above (taken at about the same age as Steve Jobs is now) is of "robber baron" James J. Hill, "The Empire Builder," whose railroad's advertising in Scandinavia and then its tracks were largely responsible for getting my grandparents and thousands of others to Minnesota in the 1880s.