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Why the iPod Still Matters to Apple

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Apple was widely expected to announce a press event for a brand new product on Wednesday — the iPad Mini. Instead, the company doubled down on an old and sometimes overlooked product, the iPod.

Apple aired a new commercial for the iPod on Wednesday night, which was the first new iPod ad since November of last year, according to TBWA/Media Arts Lab, the agency behind it.

The commercial is the latest sign that Apple isn’t giving up on the 11-year old product just yet. Apple announced a major refresh of the iPod line last month, updating the iPod Touch with a bigger screen and several new color offerings, and releasing a much thinner iPod Nano with built-in fitness features.

The iPod re-energized Apple’s brand in the early 2000’s and helped kick start its transformation from struggling has-been to the world’s most valuable company. In recent years though, the iPod has taken a back seat behind Apple’s two other hugely successful mobile i-Products, the iPhone and iPad. The ads showing silhouettes dancing to music on their iPods are a distant memory, replaced now by lonely celebrities yammering to Siri on the iPhone.

Even though the iPhone and iPad now account for far more of Apple’s revenue than the iPod, the line of music players does still have a role to play in Apple’s business.

A Billion Dollar Business

For the most part, iPod sales have declined year-over-year since 2008 — the year after Apple released the original iPhone — but the product still brings in more than $1 billion in revenue each quarter for the company.

Apple sold 6.8 million iPods in the June quarter of this year, resulting in $1.06 billion in revenue. That represents about 3% of Apple’s overall $35 billion in revenue for the quarter, but it’s still more than the company makes from software and peripherals.

However, those numbers don’t give a complete picture about the value of the iPod.

Dominating the MP3 Player Market

As Apple pointed out in its last earnings call, the iPod continues to dominate the market for portable music players, making up more than 70% of the market in the U.S. Some might roll their eyes at the idea that Apple touts being the leader of a market that it itself is cannibalizing. That said, the iPod continues to be one of the leading ways that people consume music.

According to the most recent data from the NPD Group, 43% of online users 13 and older listen to music on portable music players, a category that does not include smartphones or tablets. The same percentage of those surveyed say they consume music through online radio services. So the iPod dominates a means of music consumption that is as popular as Pandora and Spotify.

Russ Crupnick, an analyst covering the entertainment and music industries for NPD Group, suggests that part of the reason for this is that many consumers continue to prefer to have a “dedicated music device” for specific use cases.

“Apple has usage situations that are unique to the form factor of the iPod,” Crupnick told Mashable. For example, many consumers may be more comfortable taking the iPod Shuffle to the gym than their iPhone, for fear of losing or breaking the latter, not to mention the fact that the Shuffle is smaller.

A Gateway to Apple’s Ecosystem

Perhaps the biggest reason that the iPod is still useful to Apple is that it serves as a gateway to its brand, and more importantly, its ecosystem of products.

Crupnick and NPD have found that the iPod and iPod Touch are far more popular among children 14 and younger than the iPhone, iPad or Android smartphones. In total, about 28% of U.S. households surveyed by NPD say their children use iPods and iPod Touches regularly, compared to 7.4% for iPhone and 7.5% for iPad. The iPod Touch is particularly popular among those at the upper end of that age bracket.

“When the kid starts to get older and deserves their own device, parents aren’t spending the money on a full-blown tablet, or on a data plan, but an iPod Touch is a perfect compromise,” Crupnick said. As a result, he says that the iPod gives Apple a way to reach younger consumers.

Children aren’t the only demographic that Apple can reach with the iPod. As Crupnick points out, half of Americans still don’t own smartphones. “There are lots of people who think the economics of a smartphone don’t make sense, or they don’t have a need for it, or else the kids are a little too young or the adults are a little too old,” Crupnick says. For many of these consumers, an iPod — or more likely an iPod Touch — can serve as a substitute.

What’s more, considering that the iPod Touch is essentially an identical experience to the iPhone minus the data plan, it may just condition some of these hesitant consumers to eventually transition to the iPhone, which is now Apple’s core business, even if it’s not as exciting as a new iPad Mini.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/11/apple-ipod-ads/

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Google’s New App Will Take You on a Field Trip

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Google Thursday launched an app called Field Trip, “your guide to the cool, hidden, and unique things in the world around you.”

Working in the background on your Android phone, the app pops up a card on your handset when it thinks you’re around something interesting. A map view within the app can also help you seek out locations around you on your own.

Field Trip suggests places and experiences that fall under a number of categories: Architecture, Historic Places & Events, Lifestyle, Offers & Deals, Food Drinks & Fun, Movie Locations, Outdoor Art and Obscure Places of Interest around you. Information for the cards comes from trend-setting publications such as Thrillist, Zagat, Songkick and Atlas Obscura.

Ranging from a history lesson about a building you walk by each day, to a recommendation on where to get lunch, information about locations pops up as you walk by rather than you having to seek it out. This way, the app might help you uncover something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

The frequency you receive Field Trip notifications can be selected from three different app modes.

If you have a Bluetooth headset connected to your phone, you can have it read information about locationswhile you’re walking. The app can also detect when you’re driving and audibly tell you about places as you’re passing.

If you find a great new location using Field Trip, you can also share it with friends on social networks such as Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.

The smartphone-optimized app is available now for Android phones, with an iOS version expected in the future.

Check out the video below for a look at Field Trip in action.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/27/google-field-trip/

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Apple, It’s Time to Make Something New

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Mashable OP-ED: This post reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily those of Mashable as a publication.

Something truly astonishing happened in San Francisco Wednesday. And it had nothing to do with the iPhone 5 launch.

In the blue above the city, three skywriting jets hired by an artist and a design company wrote the first 10,000 numbers of Pi — yes, 3.14159 and 9,994 more — in dot-matrix numerals a quarter-mile high.

Carefully coordinating each plane to write every third character, they looped the number-string 150 miles around the Bay Area, a feat that made geeks everywhere gasp and think of three more characters: O, M and G.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, a technology company released a phone that was a little bit taller.

I don’t mean to begrudge Apple‘s big day. The launch event was a lot of fun. The iPhone 5 is a superior gadget with plenty of under-the-hood incremental innovations, and seems certain to become the world’s bestselling smartphone. The LTE battery life thing is a cool achievement. We get it. If I were on the iPhone 4 two-year upgrade cycle, rather than being halfway through my 4S contract, I’d probably be lining up for one come Sept. 21.

But the “Pi in the Sky” project served as a timely reminder of how much technology can awe and inspire, and that technology companies should try hard to make new things that push the boundaries of that. In fact, it put me in mind of Sergey Brin’s fantastic aerial display at Google I/O.

At that launch event, the Google co-founder bounded on to stage, in an unscripted moment that would make Tim Cook blanche, and asked us if we would like to see a demonstration of his mysterious experimental glasses-with-a-tiny-screen project, Google Glass. Why yes, Sergey, yes we would.

We were rewarded with a jaw-dropping live stream from the glasses of skydivers in a Zeppelin, one of the world’s only three Zeppelins, which happened to be flying right over our heads. The skydivers parachuted onto our roof, jumped on bikes, did tricks, then zoomed into the hall to deliver the glasses. And the crowd went wild.

A stunt? Certainly. But it spoke of the daring risk that Google is taking with Project Glass, an entirely new kind of user interface. The kind of roll of the innovation dice that it’s unfortunately hard to imagine Apple making under its current leadership.

The world’s most valuable company has chosen to play it very safe indeed, throwing all its engineering know-how into microscopic levels of innovation in a handful of hardware products. What’s the only new Apple gadget on the horizon for sure right now? A smaller iPad.

And that’s great. More power to them. I can’t wait to see the iPad Mini either. But at some point soon, Apple might have to look around and admit it has ceded the title of Silicon Valley’s most innovative and inspiring company to Google.

As a loyal Apple user who can’t bear to imagine Android fans getting that smug, I implore Tim Cook: Please don’t let that happen.

Tim Cook’s Walter White Moment

If you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you know this recent and resonant scene (spoiler alert) where Skylar White drags her husband to a storage locker. Here she’s been keeping his surplus cash, spraying it for silverfish, unable to count it because each bundle is stuffed with too many denominations. Skylar turns to Walt and asks: Is this, finally, enough?

(Not quite a spoiler alert:) It does the trick.

I’d like to think that at some point Tim Cook will be taken to a storage locker, or rather an aircraft hangar, and shown the entire pile of Apple’s cash on hand. The company had $100 billion just sitting around in early 2012, and that could grow to $200 billion in 2013.

Apple has grudgingly announced it will start to give $45 billion of that to shareholders, in the form of dividends and stock buybacks (the latter is more an investment for Apple than a giveaway). For the rest, it won’t account.

You can look at this all sorts of ways, but economists tend to get very frustrated at the fact that Apple simply refuses to reinvest this money in the economy — take chances, grow the company, design lots of new things, hire lots and lots of people to make and sell them.

That’s the way money is supposed to work. That’s the way it has worked, historically, in America. And when the world’s most valuable corporations choose to sit on their hoards like feudal lords — especially at a time of high unemployment — the economy suffers. People suffer. And Apple itself suffers, because it’s leaving even greater growth on the table.

It makes sense that Tim Cook would want to keep a healthy hedge against the future, a rainy day fund. Like Walter White, he’s been burned. The scars of 1997 and ’98, when the company was teetering on the edge of going out of business, are still there.

Cook was the inventory guy Steve Jobs hired to fix that problem, and he became the master of delivering just a few products in massive quantities very quickly. This was what part of what took Apple from zero to $100 billion in 14 years.

But the other half was innovation. Specifically, a leader who worshipped it. Who invented entirely new product categories. Who would constantly pepper Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design chief, with product proposals that began: “Hey Jony, here’s a dumb idea.”

Jobs was a restless innovator. Toward the end of his life, he was not only coming up with supposed breakthrough ideas for a television — the still-rumored iTV — he was sketching out designs for planes and boats that outshone those of his billionaire pal Larry Ellison.

The “just a few products” limitation was something Jobs imposed on the company reluctantly, as a way to make it focus, to get out of its rut. But he always wanted to stretch the limits of what technology could do — such as saving the music industry from itself.

Cook has earned the right to run the company the way he wants. And for all we know, Jobs-like innovations at the macro level continue quietly in the most secret bowels of Apple. (They’d have to be a whole lot more secret than the iPhone 5 features.)

But the signs don’t point to that. They point to a company that is spending just 2% of its revenue on R&D, is focused on exquisite tiny details (those shiny diamond-cut edges!) at the expense of big ideas, and is satisfied with being ever more dominant in a few categories with reiterated products.

Jobs’s comeback was Apple’s second act. Now comes its third, in which the old rules and careful constraints don’t apply. An act in which the company has to decide in what way to expand, now that it has so much cash it could build more than 50 Space Shuttles.

So here’s hoping we’ll see some moonshot product launches, ones that surprise and even risk making us laugh (remember how we joked about the iPad name?). Here’s hoping Apple gets what SpaceShipOne builder Burt Rutan once told me. “If you don’t have a consensus that it’s nonsense, you don’t have a breakthrough.”

Here’s hoping, even though — especially when — it’s pie in the sky.

BONUS: A Look at the iPhone 5

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Amazon Kindle, Google Nexus 7 Ads Shamelessly Rip Off Apple Ads

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Did you see that cute ad with that new tablet thingie? You know, the one with the adorable kids and that mellow guitar strumming?

Chances are you did, but you may not remember exactly what it was promoting. That’s because Amazon and Google have finally perfected the art of imitating Apple’s warm and fuzzy ads. Of course, Amazon’s not the only company that wants to be like Apple these days.

“As an agency, we often hear ‘…we want to be more like Apple…’ from clients, so it isn’t surprising that Amazon’s new Kindle ads have a familiar look and feel,” says Jojo Roy, CEO of Sequence. “Half the tech companies out there want to copy Apple, and most aren’t that successful.”

Chuck McBride, the president of ad agency Cutwater and a veteran Apple ad creator, judged Amazon’s ads a misfire:

These Kindle ads view/read like a brochure. Very functional voiceover with a little verbal twist at end. Obviously, there are iPad comparisons in terms of demonstrating what the product does. Yet somehow I get more of a sense that amazing possibilities might come from the iPad even though they, too, are quite functional. Apple speaks of how it will change the way you view content. Kindle speaks to simply being able to do it save a few technical functions like no glare. Like we didn’t know that already. Unfortunately, in the end, the ads are less powerful than the product itself. And they deserve better.

What do you think? According to our chart, Amazon and Google hit upon most of the key elements of an Apple ad. Are they missing anything?

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Samsung Galaxy Camera Is a Game Changer

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5 Apps to Digitize Your Business Cards

This post originally appeared on the American Express OPEN Forum, where Mashable regularly contributes articles about leveraging social media and technology in small business.

Granted, it might be easier to accept a physical, paper business card, but you still have to enter that person’s email address and phone number into your contact book. Instead, import or share business cards with two or three taps to eliminate post-event busy work.

These five mobile apps either scan paper business cards into the cloud for easy organization or shun paper all together, so you can manage contacts from your smartphone.

 

How do you handle business cards in today’s digitally inclined climate? Which app do you find the easiest? Share your tips in the comments below.