Weird but true: For Apple, 2009 has turned out to be the year of inner beauty. Most of the company's new products, including the iPhone 3GS and the latest MacBooks, are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, but which pack meaningful improvements inside. The trend continues with the fifth-generation iPod Nano. For the first time, Apple's annual reinvention of its most popular music player isn't about aesthetics-in fact, the new Nano is the same size as the old one and differs visually only its slightly larger screen and slightly smaller clickwheel, the camera on its backside, and the slicker and more vividly colorful (and, I'm hoping, more scratch-resistant) finish on its aluminum case. But the latest Nano carries more new features than any of more outwardly revised predecessors.
(See Related:Head-to-Head: iPod Nano Video vs. Pocket Camcorders )
In fact, this is the first Nano that feels a little less like a music player and a little more like a Swiss Army Knife. Much of what Apple has added has nothing to do with music: The Nano is now a video camera, a stand-alone voice recorder, and a pedometer. And the major new music feature-an FM radio-is so retro that I'd long ago assumed that Apple would never add one to one of its products. Like most Swiss Army Knives, the new Nano doesn't match every single-purpose product in every respect, but the improvements add up to a fun upgrade that retains a logical place in the iPod family even in the era of the much fancier and more versatile iPod Touch.
Here's what the new Nano (left) looks like compared to the one it replaces: That the 2.2? screen is noticeably taller, and the click wheel is just a skosh smaller, and closer to the bottom of the case.
And here's the flipside, with the camera and mike on the lower left-hand edge:
That video camera is unquestionably the most significant addition to the Nano, since it makes what was formerly a tiny music player into a tiny camcorder, and therefore opens up the possibility of it replacing low-cost video cameras such as the Flip and its competitors. After I attended Apple's event on Wednesday, I said that some folks would now think of the Nano as a video camera that does music, rather than a music player that can shoot video. Having used it, though, I've concluded that it remains a music player that offers video capture as a bonus feature.