With the iPod leading the way for Apple's charge into the consumer market, NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin said the iPod is reaching iconic status.

While the iPod Shuffle aims to openly compete with many other players in the MP3 market, the upcoming release of iLife '05 may quietly threaten products of third-party developers.

"They just have incredible brand momentum at this point -- it is certainly the hot product this year," Rubin told MacCentral. "The iPod is Apple's hottest product since the Macintosh and it has transformed an industry, just like the Mac did. I think that merits iconic status."

When Jobs unveiled the iPod Shuffle he introduced an MP3 player that has no screen; no way to visually navigate to the next song. The new iPod has a small wheel that allows the user to skip to the next or previous song, adjust volume, and play and pause.

"What we didn't want to do is just go down the lemming route of doing something that everyone has done and hasn't been successful," Greg Joswiak, vice president of Hardware Product Marketing, told Digit. "We wanted to change the rules and go much simpler -- Shuffle has become the most popular way people listen to their music."

Not having a display is not something Rubin sees as a big problem for the iPod Shuffle.

"This is a product that's going to be used without a great deal of focus," said Rubin. "It's going to be used hands-off, so omitting the screen is not much of a disadvantage. The controls are simple, software configuration is nice and it's tough to beat in terms of size and price."

Will the Mac mini bring switchers?

Apple has always been complimented on its industrial designs and criticized for the high price point of its products. With the introduction of the Mac mini, Apple introduced its first low-cost Macintosh, but is that enough to bring Windows users swooning? Rubin doesn't think so.

"It certainly is an innovative form factor -- it has the potential to change the way people work with desktops," said Rubin. "I'm not sure if it will spur a massive conversion from the PC world, but it has the potential to sway some fence sitters."

In fact, Rubin thinks much of the Mac mini's success will come from second or third computer buyers -- people who already have a main system, but want something for the kids.

"It's going to do pretty well as a second family computer," said Rubin. "It's low cost and if you have the peripherals lying around it makes it easy to put in the house."

As a second computer the Mac mini will undoubtedly have to be able to handle the ever-growing games market. Game specs have continued to climb over the past couple of years, but Apple said the mini is more than capable of handling the load, thanks in part to its graphic architecture.

"It has its own graphics card, which really helps -- other products in its class usually have integrated graphics cards," said Apple's David Moody.

iLife '05 takes aim

With the announcement of iLife '05, it appears that Apple is targeting a slightly different market than the previous version. At the very least they have upped the ante for anyone that wants to compete with them.

The new features of iPhoto will almost eliminate the need for using third-party applications like Adobe's Photoshop Elements, a consumer level version of its flagship product.

"The user has the ability to choose whether they want a third-party application to handle the editing, but we believe that with iPhoto you really don't need to leave the application to perfect you photos," said Rob Schoeben, Apple's vice president of Applications Marketing.

While NPD's Rubin wasn't sure if the new iPhoto would threaten products like Elements, it did say that competing with Apple would be difficult.

"It wouldn't be the first time Apple has added functionality to an application and a company has decided that Apple's distribution is just too much to compete with. It's very tough to compete with an Apple product, particularly one that is bundled."