Why The iTouch Is Inevitable

Sonos Wireless ControllerFor the past 2 1/2 years, we’ve been using Sonos as the primary interface to music in our home. It started when Sonos did an advertising deal on this blog and as part of that campaign, I did a long review of Sonos. That first Sonos box led to a few more, and we’ve now got four Sonos boxes in our two homes (we paid for all of them). Sonos has updated their software a couple times since then and they’ve addressed all of the issues I raised in that initial review.

But a week or so ago, they did something really big. They released an iPhone/iPod Touch app. I have four Sonos boxes and I have four Sonos wireless controllers. It’s the wireless controller that really makes Sonos what it is. The picture at the top of this post is the Sonos wireless controller in our family room where it usually hangs out, controlling our music all day long.

But the controllers are $399 each and they are a bit bulky, need a proprietary charger, and serve only one purpose.

Compare that to the iPod Touch that’s running the Sonos app on in our family room now. It costs $229 and it does everything that the Sonos controller does. It’s easier to type on when searching for music, it’s easier to scroll through artists and/or albums with the gestures on the touch screen, and it’s lighter and smaller. In short, the iPod touch running the Sonos app is a better experience than Sonos’ own wireless controller.

The iPhone/iPod Touch form factor makes for an ideal family room remote. It’s better than any universal remote we’ve ever used. And it benefits from the application store/market ecosystem it can participate in. I think the Sonos app is just the first of many entertainment device controller apps that will find their way onto our iPod Touch.

But honestly, I don’t like the idea of paying for the 8gb of storage on that iPod Touch that we aren’t using. I don’t like the idea of the audio codec and headphone hack and assorted other hardware that’s required to provide iPod functionality that we’ll never use.

If Apple were to release an iTouch (an iPod Touch without the iPod functionality) that simply was a processor, OS, wifi, touch screen, browser, and a minimal amount of storage (but not enough for photos and music), it would be a killer device to build home controller apps on. I think it could be sold for less than $150 (I’d love to hear some opinions of what Apple could sell it for profitably). And it could participate in the app ecosytem like the iPhone and iPod Touch can. It might even be a great game device too.

Developers are using the iPhone SDK to do amazing things (like pocket guitar) and I think it’s inevitable that we’ll soon see a third device in the iPhone family because it will allow developers to focus on new markets like home entertainment controllers like the Sonos app.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. monsur

    All of our music sits on a central server hooked up to our stereo. The iPhone Remote application has *transformed* our home listening experience. Instead of having to pull out a computer and select music, the first thing me or my wife does when we get home is fire up the iPhone Remote and start playing some music. We definitely listen to more music at home with that app. It is the most life-changing application on our iPhone, and it was free!

  2. Robert Seidman

    You want the iTouch because you’re a purist. But why should Apple make it?If I’m Steve Jobs, I say to you, “Fred, you’re never freaking happy! I give you a wonderful multi-purpose device that already costs $170 less than your clunky, one-dimensional Sonos controller and all you do is whine about making something that doesn’t have the hard drive or iPod functionality! It would probably only cost us $50 or so less to make them, and we’d sell so few of them we’d basically have to sell them at the same price! You and the other 85 Sonos owners are better off buying an iPod touch than a new controller for the Sonos. So WTF!? If you don’t like all that other stuff, just ignore it…or download some of the free games from the app store and have fun!”

    1. fredwilson

      this is not about me Robert. this is about third party developers. the point i am making, and apparently making badly, is that apple would unleash a wave of creativity if they put out an iTouch. think about the things you could do with it.

      1. Robert Seidman

        I think I made my point badly (crabasa may have made it better). My point is that device probably winds up costing only a little less than the iPod touch for the reasons crabasa states. And let’s say the pricing is more significantly different — say $149 vs. $229. I don’t see that changing the world so much that it unleashes a wave of creativity that isn’t already happening.Apple wants to suck you into their other stuff, and I don’t hold that against them — but hopefully things get to a point someday where the iPod Touch is $100. Apple *has* unleashed a wave of creativity with the current devices. I could certainly be wrong, but I don’t see stripping away the iPod functionality and hard drive as substantially reducing the cost enough to change the level of creativity.

      2. Albert Francis

        Frankly, I don’t see the point in this either. What other applications can you really think of that would be great on this except for Sonos? And since most of us have iPhones anyway, why do we need another device just to be our remote? Can’t we just use one device and be done with it?

        1. fredwilson

          Most of us have iphones?What are you kidding me?The iphone might have 10% market share by the end of next year

      3. JoseChang

        Bad idea all around. I agree with robert completely. No point in selling another type of ipod without the ipod. If you don’t have any memory then how would you store the games, productivity apps, and etc. that developers are making. Creativity?

        1. fredwilson

          There’s a difference between the memory needed to store apps and the memory needed for mp3s and jpgs

    2. Kyle S

      I agree with Robert. The marginal cost of adding the headphone jack and extra hardware to the iPoud Touch is probably very low – I doubt they could make money at a $150 price point unless they sell a whole lot of them. Let’s say both devices existed – a $150 tablet and a $230 iPod. Being able to pay $80 for all the additional functionality you’d get seems like a bargain.

      1. fredwilson

        Not if you don’t want or need the additional functionalityA home control device doesn’t need music or photos on it

        1. BillSeitz

          The popularity Windows on Netbooks, and bloatware in applications, argues against that market generatlization.

          1. fredwilson

            yeah, but the success of point solutions in web apps suggests that services that do one thing well are better than services that try to do everything

          2. Robin

            Point solutions work well with web apps because the browser integrates them into one ‘virtual device’, and because of the low-friction distribution, the solutions can be made very deep in an incremental fashion.The decision to pay money for a point solution web app is usually made long after it has demonstrated its value. Additionally each of the point solutions has a separate brand associated with it allowing them to succeed or fail without diluting one another.The only part of the ipod touch hardware that is arguably redundant for a true universal remote is the flash, and as people have pointed out elsewhere, that doesn’t contribute significantly to the cost. I would guess that creating a separate specialized model would cost more at this point.On top of that, they would have to market it, and differentiate it from the existing models, which would increase the complexity of the buying decision.Over time, the Touch will reduce in price to this point anyway, and that time period is probably only 12-18 months. Meanwhile, the rest of the touch platform (phone and ipod) will be receiving incremental improvements. Is there really an independent path for such a product or would it have to be decommissioned or folded back into the line after less than 2 years?I see the iPhone/iPod touch as Apple’s solution to the convergence problem. The idea is one device per person that you replace every 2-3 years as technology advances. The ipod touch is to address the market for people who don’t want or can’t have a phone subscription. Other than that, these devices are not a ‘phone’ or an ‘ipod’ they are part of a platform solution that consists of tightly coupled software/hardware capabilities.Carefully controlling the capabilities of the platform, and limiting the number of combinations, is key to how Apple’s pace exceeds Microsoft and others. This is true on the desktop and is likely to be equally true in mobile. They want to keep it simple for themselves, and it’s equally important that they do so for 3rd party app developers.You can argue that removing the flash wouldn’t affect 3rd parties, but removing any other capability certainly would and could stop the special device from being a target for games etc.I agree that the platform is a great solution for remotes, and the fact that Apple released their own remote app suggests to me that they do too, but I just don’t see a window for a specialized device to add value to them.

  3. Carter Rabasa

    I think that you’re probably overstating the cost savings of removing the iPod components. The main cost of the device are the components you’re likely to keep (touch screen, battery, Wi-fi, etc).More to the point, I think the benefits of creating niche extensions of the iPhone/iTouch are outweighed by the costs. Developers don’t want different targets to code against. Apple wants to evolve the concept of mobile computing, not slide backwards into creating super remotes.

    1. fredwilson

      The sonos app runs fine on both the iphone and the ipod touchIt’s not two different targets, the software is the sameIt’s two different cost structuresHow many people are going to go out and buy a $229 universal remote?But a lot of people would do that if it were $99

      1. Robert Seidman

        if it were $99, yes. But with the current product/manufacturing I don’t think it could be done for less than $179. By the time your proposed device is available for $99 the iPod Touch won’t cost much more than that either.

      2. Albert Francis

        The economies of scale far outweighs creating another device that needs another production line, marketing apparatus, developers, Q&A, R&D etc etc.

      3. Andy Freeman

        > How many people are going to go out and buy a $229 universal remote?> But a lot of people would do that if it were $99How many people bought universal remotes for $30? (Yesterday’s price at Walgreen’s.)Yes, you’re talking about more features and more money, but surely experience with the existing products is relevant.

        1. Andy Freeman

          Yes, I know that the proposed iTouch allows downloadable aps.My point is that the universal home controller/home automation has a long history. Lots of money has gone into making devices controllable. Lots of devices are controllable. Universal remotes (for some definition of “universal”) are available.The answer to “Why is the outcome going to be different this time?” needs more meat than “it’s a different interface” or even “it’s a programmable interface”.

  4. Dan Cornish

    The iPhone/iPod Touch platform is far bigger than another platform. The number of USEFUL new apps that are release every day is staggering. What other platform has this kind of interest? Facebook, no because most of the apps are useless. When the iPhone first came out people flamed it because it had no native apps and cost over $500. Remember the famous interview with Steve Ballmer? It will only be a matter of time before a more affordable devise will be released, much like happened in iPods. The new devise will not be exactly what Fred wants, but will accomplish what he wants. Also the market for universal remotes is very small.

  5. ErikSchwartz

    I think Apple learned their lesson about fragmenting the product line into too many niches back in the dark days of the mid 1990s.I don’t anticipate they’ll do it again.

  6. trush

    I think there’s an interesting opportunity here but I think there has to be a wider adoption / simple innovation in the space of the Sonos-like home systems.I’ve tinkered with some setups including a little EEE Box to my LCD TV and running iTunes from my iPhone. It’s an interesting experience but there’s definitely room for improvement in the whole digital music listening process. Then again, I still listen to vinyl so I’m probably overly critical of digital music experiences at home.

  7. charlietuna

    Apple focuses on new form factors and markets than on price points. Fred’s device will be available in late 2009, it’ll cost either $99 or $149, and it’ll still be an iPod Touch. I think a larger screen ultra-portable is inevitable, probably costing $599, and probably run some flavor of OS X. It’ll be marketed as an eBook reader, but we know better, it’ll be much more than that.Sent from my iBook 3G

    1. fredwilson

      Yay. I can’t wait for the iTouch!

  8. kenberger

    You can COUNT ON such a device coming out, at least somewhere along the lines of what’s described here. Extending the success of iTunes, it’s all about the App Store. The only way to ubiquity in the mainstream, and thus a Metcalfe Law effect in the app offerings, is to offer a much lower-price option. I’d say $150 or maybe even $99 is what we’ll see.With the current economy, this is becoming even truer, iPhone production is being curtailed and lower-priced units across the product line are already being released or targeted.

  9. dlifson

    For people with Mac Minis in their living rooms hooked up to big screen TVs, I’d love to use my iPhone as a keyboard and mouse. You can do this today: set up a VNC server on your Mac Mini and install the Mocha VNC client from the iPhone App Store. No more clunky keyboard while you are on the sofa. Plus, it’s super fast since it’s running over your home wifi network.Once I get a Mac Mini (waiting for the next release), I’ll be setting this up.

    1. fredwilson

      Boxee is the way to go if you have a mac mini and a big screen (which iswhat I have in both my family rooms)http://boxee.tv/Their iphone/itouch remote is coming soon

    2. kenberger

      Boxee is indeed awesome if you have Mac now or willing to wait for PC support. Future looks very promising.While you wait, if you have PC and big screen, XBMC http://xbmc.org/ is fantastic, there’s an excellent iphone/itouch remote app, or use your windows media center remote. Cool open source, plug-in support too.

      1. fredwilson

        i am sure you know this Ken, but boxee is the commercial extenstion of the xbmc project. they are working together.

        1. kenberger

          yep, a notable detail. that’s why pc folk might enjoy this for now as a warmup while they wait.

  10. Jay Levitt

    I think you may have just invented the Palm Pilot.

  11. example

    Hahahah This was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read. Look at this:http://www.newegg.com/Produ…8GB of flash memory costs $13 dollars, RETAIL. The adding the chip directly probably only adds $5 to the cost of the iPod touch, if that..

  12. Steve Murch

    I completely agree Fred. I have been a long-time Sonos fan (also with four in my home), and was thoroughly impressed with the iPhone/iPod app. It’s now the primary UI for my Sonos player, and it will certainly mean I’ll consolidate devices within the home.My own development work releasing an iPhone App has also cemented my view how transformative it is. As background, my app is called “160,000 Recipes – BigOven”. It complements the website I built, a food social network called BigOven.com. What is so amazing is that it took me about 4 years to write a best-of-breed Windows app that gets a couple hundred downloads a day. But it took me 4 *weeks* to write an iPhone app that got 200,000 downloads within the first 9 days of its release. Currently, about 10% of our pageviews on the site are from iPhone app users, and that’s on a reasonably sizeable base (BigOven.com serves about 2.5 million unique users a month right now.) It floors me what the ROI is in terms of user attention.

    1. example

      It’s really hard to imagine it taking 4 years to write a recipe app for windows. Nice spam, though.

      1. Steve Murch

        LOL. Definitely wasn’t hard for me to imagine, because it does a lot more than a traditional not-connected-to-the-Web application. It’s really software plus services in the cloud. It includes connection to a 160,000+ recipe archive and pretty rich social network about food that now gets a decent amount of traffic.Definitely NOT trying to spam, just trying to add the perspective of someone who has written both an Internet site, a iPhone app and a traditional Windows app in the last 4 years and seen the comparative results on that effort.My point is that the iPhone app process has had an extremely high ROI in terms of exposure, and this, too, makes me feel that the iTouch device family will expand. The developers are there, they have a strong econoomic incentive now to create iPhone/iPod/iTouch-compatible apps, and the process is very easy. Sorry if my post seemed like spam, but I am only trying to make my point a little more concrete with some real data.

  13. Jay Parkhill

    Call it the iRemote: quasi-open remote/mini-browser for home networks and entertainment systems. Sounds great to me.

  14. csertoglu

    Fred, isn’t this the idea behind BugLabs?

    1. fredwilson

      Sort of. That’s where the inspiration for the post comes from. The itouch is bugbase without hardware modules

  15. wmfischer

    Why stop at remotes? With their latest SDK, hasn’t apple built the ultimate CE UI? Car radios, clock radios, microwaves, DVRs, HVAC, cordless phones, dvd players, home alarms, etc. A car or house could have a single CPU with multiple wireless small format touch screens (ultra thin clients). Developers could compete to build the best device GUIs.

    1. fredwilson

      Poorly written post. That’s what I was trying to say. But they have to get the price point to $99 I think and that means taking out features to reduce cost

      1. Niklas Morberg

        But the cost of flash is (as already shown before in this thread) negligible. The iTouch is already here. It’s called iPod Touch. It will get cheaper. But not dumber.And I’m sorry you spent your money on the Sonos system now that a setup with Airtunes and Apple’s Remote app does the job just as good (if not better).I’m not sure if your original post is intended as flame bait, but it comes across as ignorant and late to the party. Sure, the Sonos app is somewhat fresh, but the Remote app has been out for quite a while. If you want to add value you should write a review comparing the two solutions.

  16. suresh

    the whole point of the iPod Touch is that you can decide to use it as you see wish..if you don’t want to synch music or photos you don’t have to…if you don’t want to synch podcasts you don’t have to..but at the minimum its a computing platform which allows you to install applications (e.g. Sonos player duh!) — do you would expect it to have 8Gb of storage for people that want to download games, etc..pointless discussion — the iTouch is already there.. its called the iPod.

  17. perpetuity

    I yearn for some kind of extension of the “iTouch” platform but am not certain what form factor would be best. Hopefully something compelling will be created from within the hive.Have you seen the Remote app Apple provides? It’s dandy. I have a Mac Mini connected between my stereo rig and television, plus speakers via airtunes in other parts of the house. You can use Remote to handle all the stuff you would normally do on screen with iTunes. It’s pretty nice.Incidentally:Why do you not like the “audio codec” ??What’s wrong with MP3? It’s the most prevalent codec out there and that is all you need for iPod support. Yes, AAC is also supported and works handily. But you can buy a CD and rip it to MP3, or, buy from Amazon (I do unless iTunes has DRM free songs) and it just works. I don’t get why anyone would have a beef with an audio codec.The headphone hack? What’s that? You might be referring to the original iPhone only which has a recessed jack. Those days are over, the iPod Touch never had it and the iPhone 2.0 does not.

  18. Austin Bryan

    I don’t like the idea of paying $1000 for a Sonos when I can accomplish the same result for a fraction of the cost, if not free (okay, not really free, but I already owned all of the necessary components, as many of the readers here likely do). I’ve got my Macbook Pro streaming music wirelessly through my surround system using an old Airport Extreme that I piggy backed to my Time Capsule. And I can control every aspect of playback wirelessly through Remote on my iPhone. http://lifehacker.com/40023

  19. Brent Brookler

    Little late to the conversation, but I understand and agree with the point you are trying to convey.I was browsing the AppStore the other day and saw a golf app called, ‘GreenFinder’ for $34.99. It is one of the more expensive apps I have seen, so I read the description and comments. It uses the GPS in the iPhone to tell you distances to the green. The comments talked about users who had stand alone devices that cost $300 and this app was as good or better. By leveraging the device and adding specific utilities through software, more and more innovative applications will be made on the iPhone and iTouch.I think the iTouch will get down to $150, it will just take a couple years.

  20. RockerRick

    Do you have your Sonos hooked up with Rhapsody or Napster? Have you ever checked out the Rhapsody app for Tivo? I’ve been hooked on the rhapsody model and the tivo interface (through the tv) is really cool and great for entertaining. If only apple would ever allow a rhapsody app… I’m assuming android will get it.

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t have a tivoWe use sonos for four things1) music library2) rhapsody3) last.fm4) internet radioIt’s the perfect interface for all of them in one placeI know that many of the commenters feel that mac mini plus itouch remote gets the job done and maybe it does, but sonos still is delivering the goods to me

  21. Craig Bromberg

    Fred, it’s interesting to me that you’re gradually creeping up to precisely the system that many Apple TV users have had–at a fraction of the cost of Sonos. In fact, we’ve been around this bend in previous discussion on your blog, but ATV is tremendously underrated in this regard because it gives you the power of Sonos for $150 per TV, and both the Touch and iPhone work directly with it thanks to the Remote app. Plus, thanks to all the ATV patch fiends out there, Boxee now works on ATV–an almost painless hack at this point. Interestingly, for a while, I coveted your Sonos/Rhapsody system, but a hacked ATV far exceeds that firepower (and provides 5.1 sound, HD quality video, and even a web connection to my TV.) As I said, at $150/room that cannot be beat.

    1. fredwilson

      I get your pointBut when you’ve already invested in sonos, the tradeoff works a bit differentlyI run boxee on a mac mini and that’s a pretty unbeatable experience tooBoxee is great for video but not yet quite as good as sonos for audio

      1. Craig Bromberg

        Ah the investment! Well, since you’re justifying the Sonos experience onthe basis of your sunk costs, allow me to remind you (my journalism-basedmorals are showing here) that your readers will often take your advice–Ialmost did, so passionate were you about Sonos/Rhapsody at that time–to thetune of hundreds of dollars.This is interesting for two reasons. First is that in the past you raked ATVover the coals because it was a closed Apple product, but over time it’sbecome clear that for a Mac, this is is an uncharacteristically “open”product to modding. ATV keeps growing in value relative to other audiocontrollers whereas the rest keep getting more expensive. Also wonder ifperhaps this illustrates how little sense bloggers (I’m afraid I’mgeneralizing here) don’t quite see that product cheerleading w/o carefulcompetitive research can lead to some bad buys. Upshot: caveat lecteur! And:get thee an Apple TV for video AND audio: The ATV interface is pretty muchall the control you need to play just the tunes you want when you wantem–and you can play any file, using almost any codec now on ATV.

        1. fredwilson

          I wrote the post about sonos over two years agoAt the time it was the best product out thereI did my researchWhen was the last time I promoted it to my readers?And apple tv is not a great product unless you hack itIt’s closed like all other apple productsA waste of money compared to a mac mini which is totally openYou can download bit torrent files on a mac miniBut not on an apple tv, unless you do a double boxee hackI appreciate the comment but you should do your research too

          1. Craig Bromberg

            No need to get defensive: just pointing out that while we may share similarpassions, we don’t all have similar resources–and noting that this is oneof the many differences between journalism and blogging: the former iscommitted to resolving readership needs, the latter to proclaimingindividual passions. I carry no brief for Apple but ATV is a good productgradually getting to great and can’t be beat at the offered price point. Towit (speaking of research): Mac Mini: From $599. (Apple); Apple TV(40gb): $179.00 (Amazon).No need for a “double” hack either: http://code.google.com/p/at….Note that this hack not only gives you Boxee, but XBMC–both of which workstraight outta the box with FrontRow.

          2. should be asleep

            If you read Fred’s post you would note that he uses Sonos for his personal library, Rhapsody, Last.fm and internet radio.Apple TV doesn’t allow you to play the 5 million song Rhapsody or Napster streaming services.Apple TV doesn’t allow you to play the 15000 radio stations on Sonos.Apple TV does not allow you to play last.fm. (or Sirius or Pandora or Napster)Apple remote and apple tv can’t play different songs in each room. Fred said he has 4 ZonePlayers. He and his kids can each play radio stations, rhapsody or last.fm they want in each room. With Apple TV they could only play their library and then only in one room or the same song in all rooms.Likewise, Apple Remote can’t play the same radion station in more than one room.The list goes on and on. You can’t control the volume of individual rooms when they are synched on Apple TV.Apple TV is a nice 1 room system. Sonos is the player in the multi-room business and their new iPhone Controller is one of the best apps in the store. It makes the Apple remote look like a toy. check out the reviews. See their video. Educate yourself. With Sonos and Rhapsody and Last.fm, you will find yourself listening to more music from more places than you have in your life. It will bring you great joy.

  22. Nigel Walsh

    This is one of the best things about the Iphone – I even paid for the app before it was released.. very very cool. I dont see why you would ever buy the standard remote now – wish I knew before I bought a few of them!.