Woz on Beats: Apple's 'getting back to some cool roots'

Steve Wozniak, the outspoken Apple co-founder, also says in an email to CNET that he's worried Beats is just a fad.

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Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak rarely shies away from sharing his thoughts about Apple. Getty Images

Steve Jobs never did a deal as big as Beats, but another Steve -- Wozniak, that is -- thinks the acquisition could be a smart move for Apple.

It "sounds good for Apple [to be] getting back to some cool roots," the Apple co-founder said in an email to CNET.

However, he did voice some concerns about Beats' popularity being short-lived.

"I worry about the Beats hardware fad fading, but if I were to buy ordinary headphones, I'd probably choose Beats," he said. "They beat other brands in my mind, like Skull Candy."

Apple on Wednesday said it plans to buy Beats for $3 billion, giving the electronics giant a popular headphones business and subscription streaming music service. The acquisition brings Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre to Apple's management team, and Apple will continue to use the Beats brand. Beats controls about 60 percent of the $1 billion premium headphones market, according to NPD Group, and it has proved popular with everyone from celebrities to tweens.

News of the deal broke earlier this month. At the time, it was unclear just why Apple would want to make the biggest acquisition in its 38-year history. Beats sells a lot of headphones, but Apple, which already sells its own branded in-ear headphones as part of a line of accessories for the iPhone and iPad, could make similar headphones of its own. As for a curated streaming music service such as the one offered by Beats, that's also something Apple could probably create on its own.

Apple executives on Wednesday defended the move in interviews with reporters and a memo to employees. CEO Tim Cook praised Iovine and Dre and said the subscription service they built is the "first one that really got it right." He also said that Beats gives the company "a head start" on new products for the future.

"It's not what Apple and Beats are doing today," Cook said. "It's what we believe pairing the two together can produce for the future."

Wozniak, meanwhile, questioned whether Apple's failure to publicly support net neutrality could be related to the Beats deal. Earlier this month, nearly 150 tech companies signed a letter that opposed proposals by the Federal Communications Commission to charge content providers for access to so-called Internet "fast lanes." The companies, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter, pushed the FCC to ensure a "free and open Internet." Apple was one of the companies noticeably absent from the letter.

"The streaming music is probably a bigger deal for the future," Woz said. "I'm just guessing about this. I'm not an analyst, and I'm not close to that market. I may be a tad old fashioned here, but I'm a pure iTunes lover. But I'm also a bit worried that this entry into streaming music might be related to Apple's name being missing from a recent document signed by many of the major players in Silicon Valley urging net neutrality in a pure form. Is Apple planning on a 'fast lane' for this delivery?"

Streaming music isn't something that necessarily would require faster lanes on the Internet, but streaming video is. Some Apple watchers, including Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, have speculated the Apple-Beats deal is about video, not headphones or music. They have surmised that Cook tapped Iovine to run Apple's content business and launch the long-awaited iTV with full over-the-top video.

 

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