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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Apple announces iCandy

Steve jobs today unveiled the latest in Apple's suite of digital technology, a sweet, or rather a sweet dispenser. Apple is bravely stepping into a market arena long dominated by PEZ and seen by many as one that is ripe for a serious hardware manufacturer to bring high-end functionality into. The announcement brings to a denouement months of speculation in the confectionary press that Apple were about to make inroads into their market – famously there were even mock-ups of what iCandy might have looked like published in Chocolatier Today.

According to Mr Jobs this won't just be any sweet dispenser but the one sweet dispenser anyone will need or want. “iCandy is a total confectionary solution in a single, desirable and easy to use device for grown-ups that does away with ugly and cumbersome front-end,” said Jobs. “iCandy combines the functionality of other sweet dispensers with the ability to pre-select the flavour and texture of the item dispensed as well as order new sweets online through the iSweets software that comes with it.”

It seems that whilst iCandy will dispense many other forms of previously available sweets, sweets that are purchased via iSweets will come in a sealed container that can only be opened by placing it in the iCandy device. Speculation has started that this will mean that the previously much vaunted business model of partnering with manufacturers such as Haribo to produce a significant new channel will not gain the market share predicted. “People won’t really bother with the iSweets store outside of the occasional curiosity purchase,” says Richard Laybrook of Toffee and Butterscotch News, “probably preferring to put sweets from packets they already have into the device”.

The unveiling of the actual iCandy device received astonished gasps from the audience who despite their journalistic objectivity couldn't get enough of the rounded corners and shiny effect on the interface. One of the questions from the audience focussed on the design culture at the company and whether this device had reinvigorated what had been seen as a stale and stagnant process at Apple. The criticism has been that new devices and new versions of devices are simply given more rounded corners, a shiny effect on the interface and released to market in a new colour. The iCandy with its shiny effect and rounded corners was clearly a huge departure for Apple available as it is in black, white and silver on the same device and will soon be available in nearly 4 colours but remained true to the Apple aesthetic. "Yes," quipped Jobs, "the strongest flavour of iCandy is Apple."

A technology blogger in the front row, who was clearly a week late, questioned Jobs on whether or not this was in fact anything new at all and wasn't he guilty of lumping together many technologies that were approaching obsolescence in a very thin, very shiny new case, giving it good packaging and sticking the letter i in front of a generic name to make it sound cool? Wasn’t this, he continued, a symptom of over-investment in product design, marketing and the miniaturisation of old technologies in favour of genuine innovation? Unfortunately Jobs reply was never heard as a several burly Apple PR execs reminded the blogger that he had an urgent appointment elsewhere that wouldn’t require his press credentials which he gladly surrendered to them after almost no struggle at all. Another question asked if Apple HQ was really the most appropriate place to release the product when the Confectioners Association of America was meeting only a two hour drive away, but everyone pretended they hadn’t heard the journalist and nothing more was said.

Further speculation as to Apple’s future direction was ignited this week as a company lawyer contacted the estate of Isaac Asimov to enquire as to the trademark status of the iRobot name.

iCandy will be available in America in July 2007 once it is fully feature complete and will be rolled out into Europe and the world by May 2008.



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