By John Gruber
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Apple, today, announcing that the last remaining iPod model — the iPod Touch — is now discontinued and available only while supplies last:
“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to HomePod mini, and across Mac, iPad, and Apple TV. And Apple Music delivers industry-leading sound quality with support for spatial audio — there’s no better way to enjoy, discover, and experience music.”
This is a nice goodbye to a beloved product. It’s been under-remarked-upon how good the Apple Newsroom site has been. Back in the Jobs era, Apple would post things to the “Hot News” page of apple.com and when it was no longer hot or news, it would just disappear. Newsroom posts feel permanent. Apple’s post today contains a nice gallery of the best and most beloved iPod models: the 2001 original, the 2004 Mini, the 2006 Nano (which really propelled the lineup into what we then thought was the stratosphere of popularity), the 2007 Touch, the 2012 seventh generation Nano, and the Shuffle.1
I suspect most people reading this news will experience two thoughts, simultaneously:
That’s a shame, I loved the iPod.
Wait, they were still selling the iPod Touch?
The 7th-generation iPod Touch went on sale in May 2019; the previous model arrived in 2015. In the latter years of the iPhone era, the iPod Touch wasn’t exactly updated on a regular schedule. The final models from 2019 had the A10 chip that originally debuted with the iPhone 7 in 2016, and started at just $200 for the 32 GB base models. ($300 for 128 GB, $400 for 256 GB.)
Not only did the iPod Touch never make it to the Face ID era of iOS device design, it never even gained Touch ID. It is, today, a bit of a retro device.
But in its time, the iPod Touch was extraordinary. It debuted as a surprise in early September 2007, just 10 weeks after the original iPhone went on sale. It was, basically, spec-for-spec an iPhone without the phone. Alongside the debut of the iPod Touch, Apple cut the prices of the original iPhone — which had only been on sale for a little over two months — by $200. An 8 GB iPhone cost $400, and an 8 GB iPod Touch cost $300. But the iPhone still required a two-year contract with AT&T — with the iPod Touch, you paid $300 (or $400 for 16 GB) and owned it free and clear.
Turns out, 15 years ago, making an iPhone without the phone meant you could make something remarkably thinner. The original iPhone was 11.6mm thick and weighed 135g. The original iPod Touch was just 8mm thick and weighed 120g. The difference in thickness was particularly remarkable. It was like a vision of the iPhone’s future. This year’s A15-based 3rd-generation iPhone SE is 7.3mm thick and weighs 144g — much closer in size and weight to the original iPod Touch than to the thicker original iPhone.
I have two distinctive memories about the iPod Touch and its impressive, forward-looking industrial design. The first was in September 2012, at the event where Apple announced the iPhone 5, and, alongside it, the 4th generation iPod Touch. After the keynote, the media were invited to Apple’s usual hands-on area. I was hanging around with M.G. Siegler that day — Siegler was then covering Apple for TechCrunch — and we were among the first to enter the hands-on area. The table (tables?) with the iPhone 5 models on display were quickly mobbed. M.G. and I left for the table with the new iPod Touch models, which was far less crowded. This was the year when Apple added a small pop-out loop to which you could attach a wrist strap. We both had the same impression: we couldn’t wait to get our hands on iPhone 5 review units, but, the 4th-generation iPod Touch was thinner and sleeker. It still felt like the future of the iPhone, even alongside the sleekest new iPhone to date.
The follow-up memory was, I think, from WWDC 2013. Maybe 2014. I was on the third floor of Moscone West, before the morning keynote. Apple had put out some pastries, coffee, and juice for the media and “special guests” who’d been invited to the keynote. I was standing around, waiting for the doors to open for the keynote hall, looking for friends to say hello to. Mingling, as it were. I happened to walk by a man holding what struck me as an iPhone I’d never seen before. It was a jolt. It was, to re-use that same adjective, sleeker, in some fun color. Blue, maybe? My first thought was that he must be an Apple employee using an as-yet-unreleased iPhone prototype, inexplicable though that would be to do anywhere, let alone in a lobby filled with Apple-centric media. Yet he wasn’t being secretive or furtive about it at all. A brief moment later I came to my senses and recognized it for what it actually was: an iPod Touch.
To me, that moment exemplifies the heyday of the iPod Touch. More than just an iPhone without the phone, it was a preview of the iPhone’s future. Much like, in some sense, the original iPod was, too. ★
From the European Commission, “Remarks by Executive Vice-President Vestager on the Statement of Objections Sent to Apple Over Practices Regarding Apple Pay”:
Today, the Commission has sent a Statement of Objections to Apple. We are concerned that Apple may have illegally distorted competition in the market for mobile wallets on Apple devices.
Apple took a vibrant, perfectly balanced market where NFC payments were used by almost no one and turned it into a market where Apple Pay is accepted at most brick and mortar retailers and millions of iPhone users enjoy using it, with whatever credit and debit cards they choose. Let’s get back to a balanced market, right?
Apple restricted access to key inputs that are necessary to develop and run mobile payment apps, so-called ‘mobile wallets’.
Apple Wallet is more than an app; it’s a feature built into the OS. The core of the E.C.’s complaint is that they think Apple should be legally required to allow third party developers to add features to the OS.
NFC technology was developed by third parties, is standardised and available in almost all payment terminals in Europe. There are other technologies, such as those based on QR code, that can be used for mobile payments. But NFC technology is the most widespread in the EU, and allows for the safest and most seamless experience.
This passage, as well as much of the rest of the E.C.’s “statement of objections”, seeks to dismiss the hard work Apple has done to make Apple Pay successful. Yes, NFC is an industry standard, and Apple Pay is, in part, built on top of that. But before Apple Pay, NFC was hardly used, even though Android had supported it since 2011. When Apple Pay launched in late 2014, its support for the existing NFC infrastructure was so good, it worked with many credit card terminals that had no explicit support for “Apple Pay” specifically. The Rite Aid pharmacy chain went so far as to disable its NFC terminals, blocking even Google Wallet, which they officially supported, just to keep people from using Apple Pay — not for any sort of security or anti-fraud reasons, but because Rite Aid was part of the consortium behind the then-still-in-the-works CurrentC. CurrentC seems to be the sort of thing the E.C. is seeking to prop up — user-hostile but mid-sized-company-friendly.
Apple Pay was so easy to use people were using it at retailers who weren’t even Apple Pay partners. That’s not a credit to NFC, which had been in place for years. That’s a credit to Apple.
Apple has built a closed ecosystem around its devices and its operating system, iOS. And Apple controls the gates to this ecosystem, setting the rules of the game for anyone who wants to reach consumers using Apple devices. But other app developers depend on the access to this ecosystem to develop innovative mobile wallets.
Translation: Apple designs, implements, and controls iOS. Amazing scoop from the E.C.’s crack investigation team.
The potential for innovation in this space is enormous. But this innovation has been prevented by Apple refusing others to access NFC on its devices. As a result, various features of mobile wallets, such as financial complementary services, are simply not available. Because Apple is not challenged, it has little incentives to innovate itself.
And this is important. Because this market is growing fast. Today, Apple Pay, is by far the largest NFC based mobile wallet on the market.
The E.C. complaint wavers between claiming Apple Pay dominates NFC payments on iPhones and dominates the entire industry. The latter was true as recently as October 2017, when Apple Pay accounted for 90 percent of all contactless transactions globally, where it was available. As I noted at the time, that’s a remarkable achievement for a platform that by all accounts is a distant second to Android in global market share.
Here’s a study from last year that claims in the U.S., Google Pay has 3 percent share, Samsung Pay 5 percent, and Apple Pay 92 percent. You know, your classic three-way neck-and-neck horse race.
As for innovation, just two months ago Apple introduced Tap to Pay on iPhone, which Apple describes thus (italic emphasis added):
Apple today announced plans to introduce Tap to Pay on iPhone. The new capability will empower millions of merchants across the US, from small businesses to large retailers, to use their iPhone to seamlessly and securely accept Apple Pay, contactless credit and debit cards, and other digital wallets through a simple tap to their iPhone — no additional hardware or payment terminal needed. Tap to Pay on iPhone will be available for payment platforms and app developers to integrate into their iOS apps and offer as a payment option to their business customers. Stripe will be the first payment platform to offer Tap to Pay on iPhone to their business customers, including the Shopify Point of Sale app this spring. Additional payment platforms and apps will follow later this year.
It’s the NFC payment terminals in retailers that are built to only accept credit and debit cards. With a system Apple has designed entirely on its own — the new Tap to Pay on iPhone system — they’re including support for other wallets from the get-go. I honestly don’t understand where the E.C. sees anticompetitive behavior with Apple Pay. What I see is market share dominance stemming from the hard work of designing better integration into iOS and iPhones and educating users about the feature. How else could the iPhone’s share of NFC payments so far exceed the iPhone’s share of mobile phone sales? I’m not saying Samsung and Google suck at this, per se, but Jennifer Bailey’s team at Apple is really good, and perhaps just as importantly, really diligent about this sort of thing.
Back to Vestager’s comments:
Apple claims that for security reasons it cannot provide access to NFC for payments. According to Apple, security risks would increase if access were to be granted to third parties. We take security very seriously. Our investigation to date did not reveal any evidence that would point to such a higher security risk. On the contrary, evidence on our file indicates that Apple’s conduct cannot be justified by security concerns.
This dismissiveness on the part of the E.C. is infuriatingly facile. Could and should there be APIs that allow iOS apps to make use of NFC, securely? I think yes. I also think it’s quite likely that Apple is working on them. All sorts of features that were once only the purview of Apple in iOS are now open to third-party developers, like system-wide alternative keyboards, setting third-party apps to serve as default handlers for web browsing and email, and more. But there are always going to be features that are rightfully part of the system itself. And to a large extent, I think Apple Pay is one of them.
Consider the details of how NFC support might work for third-party “wallet” apps on iOS. I would imagine it work something like this:
Would that satisfy the E.C.? It should, but I don’t know that it will, because that’s not as streamlined as paying with Apple Pay:
Or consider the ultimate in convenience: riding transit with Apple Pay express mode:
Express mode works with things like car keys, hotel rooms, and student IDs, too. This feature is so deeply integrated with the system that it can even work when the iPhone is in power reserve mode when the battery is nearly depleted.
I don’t see how the security implications of any of these features — payments, car keys, getting into hotel and dorm rooms — are not obvious.
Should third-party wallet apps be allowed to take over the double-click-of-the-side-button feature? Should they be able to take over the volume buttons and mute switch too? Those buttons have been, and should remain, Apple’s purview. (Apple does allow camera apps to use the volume buttons as shutter buttons, like the system Camera app does, but, for example, you can’t make a game that uses the volume buttons as game controls, or an app that uses the mute switch to toggle between, say, light and dark modes.)
I mean, it’s all just ones and zeroes. Apple could allow users to add third-party wallet apps and grant them permission to be invoked simply by double-pressing the side button. But what happens then? Do you get an extra step where the user has to choose which wallet to use, Apple Wallet or a third-party one? Or does the third-party one replace Apple Wallet? What happens when you add a second third-party wallet app? It would get confusing very quickly.
Is it limiting that Apple Wallet is the only wallet on iOS? Yes. Is it simpler and easier to understand that way? Yes. Is that why Apple Pay dominates the contactless payment market worldwide, despite Android having supported NFC payments years before iOS did and having far larger market share in handset sales? I say yes, undoubtedly.
Is the E.C.’s argument that any third-party app should be able to wake up and respond to an NFC tap? As it stands, Apple can truthfully claim that using NFC with an iPhone is guaranteed to be secure and trustworthy. How could they claim that if they allowed third-party apps to take over that role? If that’s not what the E.C. is asking for, then the E.C. should describe, explicitly, what it is they are asking for.
Whose third-party wallet app is being stomped upon by iOS today? Who’s the aggrieved party here? To me it’s clear that the wallet itself belongs as part of the system. It’s the elements inside the wallet that should be open to third-party apps, which is exactly how Apple Wallet works. That NFC card readers in retail point-of-sale terminals only work with credit and debit cards isn’t Apple’s fault or responsibility, and Apple Pay integrates with any and all credit and debit cards that choose to support Apple Wallet. The E.C. complaint would make more sense if Apple Card was the only card Apple Wallet supported, but it’s not.
What, exactly, should Apple have done differently that would have appeased the E.C.? I genuinely can’t come up with an answer for this. ★
According to one industry insider, Apple might have already secured the most sought-after rights package in all of broadcasting and is just waiting for the most opportune time to announce it. In a Q&A article for Puck News, the entertainment news outlet’s founding partner Matthew Belloni said that while his sources are telling him that Apple is in the driver’s seat to secure the NFL Sunday Ticket rights beginning in the fall of 2023, others are saying that the deal is already done.
“One source told me this weekend that the deal is actually done,” Belloni wrote, “and is being kept quiet at Apple’s request, which I haven’t confirmed and don’t know for a fact; Apple isn’t commenting.”
If this is in fact true, it would line up with how Apple likes to dole out information. Despite reports abounding for months, Apple CEO Tim Cook chose to hold the announcement of Major League Baseball coming to Apple TV+ for one of their previously scheduled keynote presentations.
I know nothing about these negotiations between Apple and the NFL, but I do think it’s true that if Apple has already secured these rights, they’d prefer to keep the deal under wraps until a time of their own choosing to announce them. But it doesn’t seem feasible to keep the deal under wraps until the NFL’s 2023 seasons starts next year. Even if Apple and the NFL keep their mouths shut, the media industry is gossipy as hell, and word would likely leak from other parties, like Amazon and Disney. Let alone DirecTV, which is going to have to tell their longtime subscribers eventually.
NFL Sunday Ticket, as currently offered from DirecTV, is by anyone’s standards expensive:
The streamer’s baseball package only includes two games per week, while the NFL package would allow fans to watch all out-of-market games. Currently on DIRECTV, the Sunday Ticket’s To Go plan costs $73.49 per month during the season or $293.96 for the season while their Max Plan — which also includes NFL RedZone and DIRECTV’s Fantasy Zone — runs $99 per month and $395.99 for the season.
If Apple wanted to make one of those options available to all subscribers, it would undoubtedly require an increase in their monthly subscription fee, or the more likely option is that they would keep the monthly fee at the low $4.99 level and make Sunday Ticket available for an add-on price. The question then becomes, how much does the streamer charge for the a la carte option?
I don’t know about the “undoubtedly” there. It seems unlikely, I agree, that Apple would pay $2 billion per year for Sunday Ticket rights and then just include those games as part of the standard TV+ subscription, for all users. I think it’s even less likely that Apple would raise the prices for all TV+ users, whether they’re interested in NFL football or not. (TV+ is a worldwide service, for one thing, and in some countries, “football” is a different sport.) But it doesn’t seem impossible to me that Apple would just include Sunday Ticket for all TV+ subscribers, without raising the price. The question is, why does Apple want to stream NFL games? To make money directly from those games, or to get as many people as possible to try TV+ and eventually subscribe?
Some quick back-of-the-envelope math. At $5/month an Apple TV+ subscriber pays Apple $60/year. $2 billion divided by $60 comes to about 33 million — that’s how many new TV+ subscribers Apple would need to add, based on Sunday Ticket alone, to break even on the deal. (For the sake of argument, let’s just say that family plan and Apple One bundle subscribers are paying about $5/month for TV+ content too, as part of their subscription tiers. It also seems possible that the rights for Sunday Ticket might sell for more like $2.5 billion. Half a billion dollars here, half a billion dollars there — it adds up.)
According to the NFL, regular season games last year averaged 17 million total viewers. It’s worth noting, though, that average viewership is driven primary by in-market games, not out-of-market games. Most NFL fans watch one game on Sundays: their local team, via local TV. The games broadcast on your local TV channels are geo-excluded from Sunday Ticket — to watch them, you need to either watch on traditional TV or via a streaming service that includes your local TV channels. “All the Sunday afternoon games except for your favorite team” is not a selling point for most NFL fans.
The top-rated national broadcast, NBC’s Sunday Night Football, averaged 18.5 million viewers per week last year. But Sunday Ticket doesn’t include the Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night national games, which the NFL sells the rights to separately. I’m just including Sunday Night Football’s viewership for context.
So can Apple feasibly get 30+ million new TV+ subscribers just by offering access to NFL Sunday Ticket with a standard TV+ subscription? That doesn’t seem possible. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do it anyway, just to drive TV+ subscriptions by some number of millions of additional subscribers, and by raising awareness of TV+ in general.
If Apple does get the rights to Sunday Ticket, and they do choose to charge subscribers a premium for access to it, I think there’s a good chance that they’ll charge substantially less than DirecTV’s rates — that Apple will still try to make it more of a mass-market play for regular NFL fans, not just for superfans and gambling junkies.
I am reminded of Fox obtaining the broadcast rights for NFL games back in 1993. A few years ago The Ringer put together a good oral history of that deal. Fox spent a then-record $1.6 billion for the rights to the NFC games that had theretofore been broadcast on CBS, and they hired away all of CBS’s broadcasting talent, including John Madden. The point wasn’t just to put the best NFL games on Fox, the point was to put Fox itself on the map, to establish Fox as a peer to the big three traditional networks.
To me, that should be the point of Apple securing the rights to Sunday Ticket. Not just to get NFL games on Apple TV+, but to further cement TV+ as a top-shelf streaming service. ★