In a rare break from form, Apple Computer today held a press conference to announce its forthcoming product plans. Some industry watchers attribute the move to prodding from partner Motorola, which was forced to delay the expected announcement of its iTunes phone due to a disagreement with Apple. Ron Garriques, president of Motorola's mobile phone division, who had noted that "Steve's perspective is that you launch a product on Sunday and sell it on Monday," reportedly convinced the mercurial Jobs that Apple would be better served by laying its plans on the table this time.
In another surprising occurrence, Apple also actually invited us and other Web publications to cover the press conference, providing a QuickTime-based webcast and taking questions via conference call. As a result, we have complete coverage thanks to the efforts of a number of staffers and friends.
iPod double-shuffle -- Although the bulk of the press conference was devoted to discussing forthcoming Macintosh models, as you'll see in the subsequent articles, Steve Jobs did take a few minutes at the beginning to discuss new iPod marketing efforts.
As with the iPod U2 Special Edition, the first marketing push involves a repackaging of an iPod, this time in conjunction with gum giant Wrigley. The diminutive iPod shuffle, which is eerily reminiscent of a package of chewing gum on its own, will receive a green jacket that makes it look like a package of Wrigley's Doublemint gum. But it's not just a pretty package; the new iPod will sport 2 GB of RAM, a configuration that warrants its name - the iPod double-shuffle - and $200 price. As with Apple's recent Pepsi promotion, specially marked sticks of gum will have codes that redeemable for free iPod double-shuffles. Wrigley's will also be outfitting all of its in-store displays with ads promoting the iPod double-shuffle, and the company plans a series of television ads touting iPod double-shuffle wearers as being able to "walk, chew gum, and listen to twice as many tunes."
Despite Steve Jobs's renowned reality distortion field, news of this promotion prompted lots of snickering in backchannel iChat sessions that many of us were using during the press conference. Although we don't see Apple losing much on the deal, since it can't cost much to change the case and pop in more RAM, it does seem as though Apple is in real danger of diluting the iPod and iTunes brand by hiring it out to every two-bit candy and soda company that comes knocking. That's especially true when the result is an iPod - like the U2 Special Edition - that moves away from the iconic white-on-white look.
Dell Dropping DJ for iPod -- No one ever accused Michael Dell of walking away from an opportunity to make money. Dell Computer, which has a long history of selling products produced by other companies, has reportedly discontinued its line of MP3 players in favor of reselling Apple's iPod line. "Hey, we're not proud," said Michael Dell in a brief on-stage appearance with Steve Jobs at today's press conference. "We're in business to make money, and if we can sell a boatload of iPods that work seamlessly with our PCs, everyone wins." Dell also said that the company would be bundling iTunes and QuickTime with every computer sold.
The Dell partnership makes a lot of sense for Apple, since Dell sells vast numbers of PCs every day, and aggressively pushes other products during the sales process. As with the HP partnership, Apple simply gains access to another large retail channel, and further advances the iPod's fortunes.