On the iPod Touch

I’ve been using Omnigroup’s OmniFocus for several weeks now to prepare for my evaluation of this task management application (part of a series). It’s quite an impressive tool. I’m ready to put my thoughts together — look for it by the end of the weekend. Meanwhile, I want to comment on the iPod Touch.

I’m going to retire my battle-worn third generation iPod this weekend. Now that the iPod Touch offers much of the same functionality as the iPhone, I’m ready to ugrade. You might wonder why I’m not going to spring for the iPhone. The main reason is cost — not the cost of the iPhone, but the cost of the AT&T service plan. The cheapest plan equates to over $700 per year. Since I don’t talk on the phone that much (and my current employer provides me with a cell phone), I’ve decided the Touch is my best bet.

The only thing I think I’ll miss is the iPhone’s ability to surf the web and check email via the AT&T EDGE network when one is not near a WiFi source. But I’m confident that WiFi access points will continue to proliferate to a degree that will make it easier and easier to connect wherever I am. If I can’t connect in some locations, no big deal. I don’t really want to be connected in all places at all times anyway! When I’m on a business trip, however, it will be a particularly nice feature to be able to browse the web, get directions, and check my mail from my hotel room or at a nearby coffee shop.

The Infamous $20 Fee

Some iPod Touch owners are expressing outrage at Apple's decision to charge $20 for a major software upgrade of the device. This upgrade, announced this week at the Macworld Expo, adds five applications (mail, notes, maps, weather, stocks) to the iPod Touch — features that have been on the iPhone from the start. For those who buy a new iPod Touch as of last Tuesday, the additional apps will be included for free.

I have mixed feelings about this. I can understand why some early adopters feel like they are getting ripped off and, in effect, penalized just for being early adopters. However, early adopters bought the Touch with full knowledge that it did not have all the software features of the iPhone. Apple never said that these features would eventually be added, although many hoped for this.

It’s not surprising that Apple opted to charge a nominal fee. The real question, I think, is if $20 is “nominal”. I’ve read that a fee of some sort is legally necessary because of the Sarbannes-Oxley Act. This Act apparently states that you can’t add new features to something that you offer at a one-time fee without charging for the additional features. The iPhone is exempt from this because users pay running fees per month for this device. But what about the Apple TV? You don’t need to pay a monthly fee for this appliance, right? Yet Apple rolled out a major software upgrade for this at Macworld as well…and they’re offering it free to all, including existing Apple TV owners. Apple should better explain their rationale for the fee decisions they have made.

Still, I think it’s not that bad of a thing. If you buy a new Mac, you get Leopard and the latest version of iLife pre-installed. But if you already owned an iMac when these updates shipped, you have to buy these upgrades. I don’t see much of a difference between this and the situation with the iPod Touch. I suppose that’s easy for me to say since I’m going to get these additional apps for free.

So the question really comes down to this: why $20? Why not $5 (or whatever the minimum is to meet business/legal requirements). Twenty dollars seems a bit inflated. One thing is clear: this is a black eye for Apple. They have not offered a clear explanation to justify the upgrade cost for the iPod Touch, so people are drawing their own conclusions and forming unfavorable opinions. The impression Apple is leaving is that they may be getting a tad greedy…and they don’t care much about early adopters (faithful consumers that Apple should want to take care of very well).

Perhaps all the bad press will lead Apple to offer a discount of some sort to those who must pay this fee, as they did for the early adopters who bought the first iPhones only to see the price of the phone drop a whopping two hundred dollars just a few weeks later. Or perhaps they will simply ignore the grumbling of a few iPod Touch owners and press on.

As Apple’s market share continues to expand, I hope they don’t lose sight of what makes them special. I’d hate to see them become more like, er, that other company that sells PC operating systems.

Troy Kitch @troykitch