Sunday, 31 August 2008

Apple music event invitation this week

This week looks likely to see the release of Apple’s customary cryptic media invite to their annual music special event. Whilst the company has never told us to expect these events on an annual basis, expect them we do. After all - it’s a pattern that has been established over the past four years. In early Fall, Apple invites the press over to their campus - or some place nice in San Francisco, to usher in the new season’s iPod offering. And why would it be any different this year? After all, the iPod lineups is starting to show its age again, and it needs a spruce-up as we approach the holiday buying season.

In order to get an idea of what to expect - let’s review the last few such invites. Each has been a formatted HTML e-mail with the customary, oddly shaped JPEG with rounded corners at the top, and squared corners at the bottom. Why they do this, I don’t know, since the intended audience is surely us great unwashed crowd of bloggers and forum posters, rather than the actual recipients of the e-mail. A nice PDF or a web page would surely be a better option. But hey...

Each invite features a cryptic headline and a teaser image - as follows:

September 5, 2007
Headline: “The beat goes on.”
Image: iPod dancer ad
Products: color shuffles, video nano, iPod classic, iPod touch

September 9, 2006
Headline: “It’s Showtime”
Image: Searchlights
Products: 2nd gen nano, iPod games, 2nd gen shuffle, Movie downloads

October 13, 2005
Headline: “One more thing”
Image: Theater curtains
Products: Front Row, Video iPod, Video Downloads

October 26, 2004
Headline: “Steve Jobs, Bono and The Edge invite you to attend a special event”
Image: Apple logo on grey background
Products: iPod photo, U2 iPod, bizarre “they’re digging in the wrong place” rejection of video

Of note from the list above - the event occurs around the same time every year, but it has been moving earlier each year. Since the invites usually go out a week before the actual event, this year looks likely to breaking that trend, but it is still probable that the event will be in early September, giving Apple sufficient time to ramp up for the holidays. That means invites must go out this week.

The second thing to note is that the events tend to have a theme. 2004 was photos and U2, 2005 was video, 2006 was movie downloads and 2007 was... OK, well 2007 was just cool new iPods.

There are several possible themes for this year:
  • Greater affordability
  • Touch technology across the range
  • All Flash lineup (abandoning hard drive in classic iPod)
  • Rental - fill your iPod with music
  • Sharing - share you music wirelessly (like Zune!!)
These last two points would be evidence of Apple flip-flopping like a presidential candidate. But Steve’s been known to make u-turns in the past. Most famously, he argued that competitors introducing video to their MP3 players were “digging in the wrong place,” a year before Apple did exactly the same thing themselves. Steve also criticized PC manufacturers who made all-in-one LCD computers with the motherboard hidden vertically behind the screen two years before Apple launched an iMac with precisely the same design.

In every case, when Apple makes such a u-turn, the rationale is something like this:

“Our competitors have tried to do something like this before, but we don’t think they got it right. We didn’t want to launch this until we knew we’d cracked it, and now I think you’ll agree, this is something really special.”

I can’t wait to hear Apple-haters railing with frustration when Steve says this about their new music rental service. The sad thing is, it’ll be almost true, since music rental on an iPod is a much stronger proposition than music rental on any other device. Especially with the iPod's tight integration with iTunes.

More on this when the invites finally arrive - although sadly, I doubt there’ll be one in my inbox!

Update x2: Since the Hurricane Gustav crisis seems to be over, Apple will presumably be able to proceed with any PR activities as planned.

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