Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apple trickles out iPod features just enough to stoke demand

For years, many consumers, including myself, have wanted Apple to put an FM radio tuner in its iPod portable music players.
Today, the company added the feature to just its iPod Nano models. It also added a video camera to the Nano – its mid-range device – but not its high-end iPod Touch.
Apple has been very clever in how it adds features to its iPods.
It didn’t add FM tuners previously because it didn’t have to.
Rival products with FM tuners, such as Microsoft’s Zune, weren’t gaining market share, so Apple wasn’t forced to follow suit. Instead it put that feature on hold until it needed to add new capabilities to stoke demand.
I wanted the FM radio feature for use at the gym. Lifetime Fitness has a bank of TVs tuned to various cable stations and rebroadcasts the audio on the FM band. It’s easier to listen than read closed captions while jogging on a treadmill. I imagine that sports fans also wanted the feature to listen to game coverage.
Apple added a video camera to the iPod Nano to go after the market dominated by Cisco Systems’ popular Flip pocket camcorders. Apple executives compared the new iPod Nano to the Flip at Wednesday’s product launch event in San Francisco. They said the iPod Nano is a better value because it does more and has a larger display.
“They’re really taking on the Flip camcorder which in the past few years has been an impulse Christmas gift for kids and other family members who wanted to keep a quick video camera in their pocket,” Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, told me by phone after the press event.
Curiously Apple did not put the video camera in its high-end iPod Touch. The iPod Touch is essentially an iPhone without a cellular radio. The iPhone also has a camera for still photos and video, but the iPod Touch does not.
Apple has carefully positioned its products at various price points and with different features. It’s looking not only for upgrade business, but the opportunity to sell people more than one type of portable media player.
For example, I have an iPhone and an iPod Shuffle. I use them for different situations.
Apple’s iPod family now includes the iPod Shuffle, starting at $59 ($20 cheaper than before); the iPod Nano, starting at $149; the iPod Touch, starting at $199 ($30 less than before); and the iPod Classic at $249.
“It’s a really solid holiday lineup for them,” Bajarin said.

Photo: Apple’s newest iPod Nano

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