Amid much fanfare in San Francisco, Apple introduced its latest music products, including new features in iTunes and a refresh of the iPod line.
Apple's news was neither unexpected nor dramatic. The company announced some nifty new capabilities for its iPod Touch and iPod Nano, higher capacities at lower prices, and evolutions of the hardware designs. The announcements underscore Apple's challenge to continue innovating a music platform as mature as the iPod and iTunes ecosystem.
iPod Sales Figures
Among the more impressive stats: Cumulative iPod sales have hit 160 million; 90 percent of cars sold today are iPod ready; and the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store has served up 100 million applications in its first 60 days.
iPhone Software Update
The biggest news from the event actually had nothing to do with Apple's music devices. Apple said it will release a version 2.1 software update for iPhone users. Apple CEO Steve Jobs was a bit vague on details, but did say the update offers a slew of performance enhancements. "It fixes lots of bugs. You will get fewer call drops, significantly fewer crashes, and backing up to iTunes is faster."
iPod Nano: New Form
The rumors leading up to this event turned out to be true: The iPod Nano gets a major design change, again. In a return to the tall, portrait style of the first and second generation Nano's
The new design "combines the best of both worlds--the portrait aspect ratio people loved, and yet it's the thinnest iPod we've ever made," Jobs said. (He humorously started the event by announcing reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated, a reference to the accidental publication of his obituary a few weeks ago.)
The new iPod Nano has the same high-resolution screen of its predecessor, but it's oriented upright, with the screen above the playback controls. The unit has an oval shape, with a curved aluminum chassis, and curved glass over the display.
New to this model: The integration of an accelerometer, a feature already found iPod Touch and iPhone. The software has been refreshed, says Jobs, to provide a better user interface experience, with more graphics and easier navigation, as well as to take advantage of the accelerometer. For example, turn the Nano sideways, and you'll get the Cover Flow interface. Pictures and movies also work sideways.
New iTunes Features
Another new enhancement takes advantage of the new Genius playlist creation feature introduced today in iTunes. Genius lets you automatically create playlists from songs in your music library that go great together--with just one click. The big boon here is that you can create Genius playlists even when not connected to iTunes; Jobs did not offer details on how, exactly, the new Nano can do this, but presumably information is supplied in the background when you sync your device with iTunes, to enable this feature when not connected.
Among the other new features sure to catch attention: Shake to shuffle--shake the Nano, and the acceleromenter will shuffle your music. Push and hold the center button to get new navigation options. And an integrated voice recorder, so if you attach a microphone, you can digitally record voice conversations. The new, ultra-thin Nano's specifications say the battery will last 24 hours for music, and four hours for video.
Apple also announced a rainbow of new blindingly bright colors, in a return to the high-contrast hues of a few years ago: They include silver, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, and pink. The 8GB Nano gets a $50 price cut, to $149, while the new 16GB Nano will be priced at $199.
Touch Changes: Minor
The iPod Touch expectedly gets a dramatic price drop that brings it more in line with the iPhone 3G's pricing, if you want to pay a slightly higher price for a multimedia player that doesn't have phone capability. The 8GB iPod Touch will sell for $229 ($30 more than a comparable iPhone 3G), while the 16GB model will sell for $299--which means you'll get double the memory for the price of the old 8GB iPod Touch.
The design of the new iPod Touch remains similar to before, but like the Nano, the Touch thins down compared with its predecessor. The chassis remains contoured stainless steel. The biggest hardware additions: Integrated volume controls on the side, and a built-in speaker (similar to what's on the iPhone 3G) for casual listening. Jobs said the volume controls were the number one requested feature for the iPod Touch. Also now integrated: Nike + iPod software and receiver; now, you only need to buy the Nike+iPod transmitter for your shoe, and don't need the extra receiver dongle, as before.
In spite of its thinner profile, the Touch's battery life is rated for an impressive 36 hours for music, and six hours for video.
The iPod Classic stays in the lineup, but the thicker model goes away and the current 80GB model gets a boost to 120GB, and that model will be sold at the same $249 price as the 80GB's current price.
Apple is also releasing its own new headphones. One pair, due next month, including a microphone and playback controls, and will cost $29. The other pair will sell for $79, and will feature both woofer and tweeter drivers.
This story, "Nifty New Capabilities for iPod Touch and iPod Nano" was originally published by PCWorld.