I was already expecting the message when I plugged in my iPod earlier today: A new firmware update is available. Click here for more information…
The firmware update, of course, was OS 3.0. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a routine update; iTunes wanted my money. $9.99, to be exact. I knew that I’d need it (more on that later), so I grudgingly paid.
But $9.99 is far more than most people will pay for an app, and while OS 3.0 adds a lot of features, for iPod Touch users, it will have to be treated as a product. And like any other product, things will ultimately come down to one decision: to buy, or not to buy?
Many users will balk at the thought of paying $9.99, especially those who are content to stick with basic iPod functionality and the endless stream of free apps. Hardcore enthusiasts will think otherwise, but a large chunk of users will probably put it off until something convinces them. Apple knows this, I’m sure. So what are they banking on to persuade iPod Touch owners to upgrade?
1. The features themselves—copy & paste, voice memos, note syncing, and so on. These will propel some folks to upgrade, sure, but the iPod was already a great device prior to OS 3.0. Copy and paste won’t woo everyone. Peer-to-peer gaming? Maybe. But again, more on that later.
2. Pushy demands for updates—god, I remember trying to avoid the upgrade to 2.2.1. It seemed so pointless, and I didn’t want to take the time to download it. But iTunes kept insisting that I upgrade, and I finally caved after a few weeks of pestering. I expect iTunes to do exactly the same this time around, and there’s even a block devoted to OS 3.0 in the App Store. Marketing tactics FTW—Apple will do everything in their power to convince you to upgrade. And why shouldn’t they? They’re a business.
3. Specific apps and games.
Numbers 3 and 4 will make or break the OS 3.0 experience. We already know that many big-name apps are planning to use 3.0-exclusive features: the Sims 3 (in-app purchases), Touchgrind (play your own music), and the upcoming KillTest from ngmoco (formerly LiveFire; it will feature in-app purchases and local peer-to-peer play). But while many of those perks don’t exclude OS 2.x users from playing, some games will likely come out that will demand OS 3.0. It's too early for that now, but as time goes on, it'll become more and more common; think of games like Audiosurf that would have to rely on 3.0 APIs. And peripherals have the ability to greatly expand the iPod Touch’s ability as a gaming platform—imagine a Bluetooth joystick or a real D-pad, or even Guitar Hero-style add-ons—so if you want to utilize those, you'll need to pay for the privilege of...paying for add-ons. Great.
So, the way I’m looking at it is: that $9.99 is really for access to these amazing games of the future. Most of them won’t appear for a few days, or a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. But like it or not, there will inevitably be some excellent, top-notch games coming out that will require 3.0—and I suspect that Apple knows it, and that they’re banking on third-party games and peripherals to sell 3.0 to you. Want to jump into a head-to-head game even without a WiFi network? Nope, sorry, no can do. What about that awesome expansion pack? Nope, you can’t have that either. What about this great game—everyone has it, but you can’t, just because you’re a cheapskate who wouldn't upgrade your firmware.
I knew that eventually, I’d have the chance to review a game or an app with 3.0-exclusive functionality, so I downloaded 3.0 immediately. But even if I wasn’t a reviewer, I knew that there would be some game that would have me drooling over its 3.0-exclusive content, and that, eventually, I’d crack.
Do I like the fact that I had to pay for a firmware upgrade? Heck no. Why, for example, can’t I get a free incremental update? 3.0 has so many basic fixes, like eliminating the autocorrect that insisted you LOL in all-caps. But Apple can get away with it—and, because of that, it’s hard to stay too angry.
So how many iPod Touch owners will upgrade to OS 3.0? Apple is banking on them being a sizable chunk, and it looks like their strategy is going to pay off. Is OS 3.0 worth $9.99? That's another question altogether, but a product is worth exactly as much as people are willing to pay for it. Have you downloaded the update already? Or are you waiting to hear others’ impressions?