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Emerging Media: The Big Apple
Apple's no longer satisfied with competing in the computer market. Instead, announcements like the iPhone show that the company is looking at what it will take to replace the brick-and-mortar, big-box consumer electronics giants.
Tues., Feb. 20, by Damien Stolarz

A version of this column will appear in the April/May issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here to subscribe>

If you haven’t watched the full keynote speech from Macworld—you know, the one where Steve Jobs introduced to the iPhone—you owe it to yourself to do so. Even if you’re not an Apple or Jobs fan, what he discussed has broader implications for the future of mobile media delivery than you’d think.

Apple’s entrance into the mobile phone market was very well planned. Two years in development, the product approach is right out of the Apple playbook: control the software, control the hardware, and even add value to the network (their "visual voicemail" collaboration with Cingular allows random access to voicemails, abandoning a primitive 20th-century ritual involving the 7 and 9 keys).

The phone is entirely touch screen-based, has only a single button to go "home," and embodies the style and minimalist design you’d expect from Apple. It has a "multi-touch" interface, where you can use both fingers to "squeeze" pictures to grow or shrink them, a feature that will either be considered cute or revolutionary; the jury is still out until the general public can get their hands on the phones.

Apple also premiered its iTV at Macworld and released it in February. It’s much as predicted—it’s svelte, it’s simple to use, and it’s the Apple-sanctioned conduit for getting your media to the HDTV. It has component and HDMI connectors, and it’s much like the various media-bridge-to-the-TV products that have been coming out for the last five years. Except, this time, it works with iTunes.

In a lot of ways, nothing unexpected was released at the show. Apple dropped Computer from their name (they’re now just Apple, Inc.), they showed their hand on the digital living room, and they made their first foray into the phone market. OK, there were a few surprises—iPhone runs OS X (I didn’t expect iPods to run OS X until a few versions from now), and going 100% touch screen without even a QWERTY keyboard is pretty bold (we’ll all have to see how easy it is to punch in letters on that thing).

But here’s the rub: CE manufacturers now realize that Apple is their new worst nightmare, the sleeping giant who can rumble in several years late to the party, look around, and drop an atom bomb on the market segment.

Many experts first thought the success of iTunes/iPod was a fluke. Today, pundits painstakingly track how Apple’s revenues shifted so much towards iTunes/iPod sales. And now Apple is rather overtly repeating its slow-wind-up, rope-a-dope, pick-your-own-metaphor attack on the rest of the CE strongholds: phones and TVs.