Did Apple Get it Wrong with Ping and Apple TV?

Apple TV and televisionWith regard to the new Apple TV, and the Ping social network built into iTunes 10, many bloggers and journalists seem to think Apple got it wrong. I’m not one of them, except that I’ve adopted their tactics and shamelessly put “wrong” in the title to get your attention.

Steve Jobs complained a while back that technology existed to disrupt the current cable TV industry but lacked a “go-to-market” strategy. Apple always has a go-to-market strategy. In the case of Apple TV, the strategy is to proceed cautiously with a neat, tidy package of technology for $99 as a first step to get the content pricing right for TV shows.

Steve is right when he says that owners of the previous Apple TV were mostly happy with the device. Now they’ll be even happier, and new customers will be found more easily at the $99 price point.

Alas, there is criticism — as there should be, to move the discussions forward. According to Don MacAskill, in “What the AppleTV should have been” (SmugMug): “Customers are dying for some disruption to the cable business, and instead we get a tiny fraction of cable’s content.” He goes on to write about the need for apps on Apple TV. “Just require the use of an iPod, iPhone, or iPad to control it. Put the whole UI on the iOS device in your hand, with full multi-touch.”

Not a bad idea, really, except that Steve Jobs was quite clear about the notion that people “don’t want a computer on their TV.” Steve: “They go to their wide-screen TVs for entertainment. Not to have another computer. This is a hard one for people in the computer industry to understand, but it’s really easy for consumers to understand.” According to Dan Frommer in “Here’s The Difference Between Apple TV And Google TV” (Business Insider), the strategy is to “ease people into the idea of using an Internet device in their living room.”

A tipping point will occur in 2011 when enough iPad users are streaming live TV to the Apple TV device that the device evolves as a viewer for iPad apps on the widescreen TV — apps you control on your iPad with your fingers. In this scenario, there is no need for a UI or apps on the Apple TV itself; it simply receives streaming audio and video. You could launch any network TV app on your iPad to watch it on the screen. Not a bad idea, and far less complex than creating an entirely new type of “TV-app” and adding an Apple TV section to the App Store.

But I do think both are coming, after the tipping point: TV-like apps (especially multiplayer games and the Game Center), and an Apple TV section in the App Store. Apple TV will most likely run iOS at some point; at which time it will evolve as a living room entertainment center with apps. Not a computer in the living room, but an app machine that interacts with your iPad.

Second, Ping. (That sigh you hear is my frustration at having to go through the process of adding my profile and following others in yet another social network.) Overall, I agree with Richard MacManus in “Ping: First Look at the iTunes Social Network” (ReadWriteWeb): “Overall, I can see Ping being useful for following friends who have similar tastes in music to me…. However, Ping is probably not going to be very useful for following friends who don’t share my music tastes.”

Indeed. With Facebook already taking care of the Big Picture of my social life, I don’t need another social network to link me to all my friends, yet again. What I would rather have is a place to go to mix with some friends and some strangers (maybe a bar, with music). Ping doesn’t come close to that, but maybe we are all looking for something Apple isn’t in business to provide. Apple is not a social networking company; it is a consumer electronics company and media retailer.

Look again at iTunes 10, in which Ping is just a feature, like Genius. As Om Malik points out in “Why Ping Is the Future of Social Commerce” (GigaOM), “With 12 million songs and 250,000 apps, the best way for Apple to enhance the iTunes store — aka its shopping experience — is through the use of social.” Apple is embedding social features into iTunes, that’s all. Ping drives people toward paid music downloads; it’s meant as a complement to the usual discovery and search methods in the iTunes Store. With so many titles to browse, the traditional search methods are simply not enough.

I predict that Ping will survive the slings and arrows of criticism (which, by the way, also plagued Twitter at its inception, and more to the point, also haunted the Genius feature of iTunes) and become useful as a way to navigate the iTunes Store. I have, of course, misgivings about this disruption, since my Rockument site survives on clicks and purchases on Amazon and iTunes. But you can’t stop the network effect from disrupting businesses. Affiliate sites like mine will eventually have to change business models, and I might as well give myself the same advice I’d give others: good luck with that.


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