The absence of transformative gadgets from Apple and its keynoting CEO Steve Jobs at this week’s Macworld Conference in San Francisco underscores a major theme in this recession year. Apple and other tech giants will produce fewer game-changing devices at a time when economically-squeezed consumers are less apt to buy them. Best Buy already is selling refurbished iPhones at a $50 discount from their launch price 18 months ago. In these difficult times, the issue is not only the cost of the gadget, but the ongoing service.
Now more than ever, the emphasis is on applications and embellishing the basics. Apple today announced variable pricing on iTunes downloads and a mostly DRM-free inventory of major label songs. Fees will range from 69 cents and 99 cents to $1.29 per download depending on song popularity and release date. The variable pricing overshadowed announced enhancements for the likes of iPhotos and iMovies, representing the qualitative software changes ahead for Apple’s iPhone and iPod as well as a new industry-wide modus operandi for 2009. The latest wave of digital interactive devices has hit a plateau of sorts that now shifts the focus to monetizing, enriching and expanding applications on smart gadgets, whose capabilities far exceed their routine use. That is a window of opportunity in a down market for enterprising software and content creators.