Because that is what they are going to sell like. A few hours ago, Apple held its usual fall iPod refresh event to set things up for the holiday season. And as an added bonus, Apple live streamed the event on their site, a first since 2002.
Steve Jobs handled the keynote solo style today, save for one developer demo. As many of you know, Jobs has had some major medical issues over the past couple years, culminating in a leave of absence and a life-saving liver transplant. When he returned to Apple, the fall iPod event was his first round of stage time. That was one year ago, and he appeared exhausted and frail. Today was completely different. He looked healthy, was energetic, and even cracked a number of jokes. Glad to see you’re well, Mr. Jobs.
Steve kicked off the event by recognizing Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, who was in the audience. Then he talked about the success of Apple’s retail operations. Next, the overall health of the App Store. And then, with all the numbers out of the way, the really good stuff.
Steve introduced iOS 4.1, available for download next week, and ran through some of the updates. He explained there are a lot of bug fixes, primarily with the proximity sensor of iPhone 4, issues with Bluetooth, and performance with iPhone 3G (and presumably second-generation iPod touch, as the hardware is similar).
There are several new features landing as well. The camera is getting an HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo setting. Basically, turn it on, and the iPhone will take three photos in rapid succession at different exposures, then meld them all together to present a perfectly exposed photo, in theory. As I am a bit of a camera nerd, I have a feeling I will love this simple implementation. Honestly, these days I take more pictures with my iPhone 4 than my Canon 40D.
iOS 4.1 will also allow HD Video uploading to YouTube and MobileMe when connected to WiFi, TV show rentals, and the introduction of Game Center.
Game Center is all about multiplayer games. You can challenge friends or be auto matched with a stranger. You can also compare scores on a leader board and discover new games. Game Center will be an app on your device, but also an API for developers to integrate Game Center into their games.
Yes, you read that right, Steve also talked about iOS 4.2. The primary mission of iOS 4.2 is to bring everything in iOS 4.1 to the iPad (finally). A couple other features will be wireless printing and AirPlay. I’ll talk about AirPlay in a bit. iOS 4.2 will be a free update to iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads in November.
Steve said the secret to the success of the iPod is that Apple has never rested on its laurels. Seems true enough to me. And these new models are very impressive.
Starting with the iPod shuffle, Steve took a walk down memory lane and discussed the first, second, and third generation of the shuffle. People loved the first one, went nuts for the second (which I have long said was the perfection of the shuffle design), and that the third wasn’t much of a hit. See, Apple had removed all of the controls from the third generation, moving them all to the headphones. What a disaster. Well, the fourth generation brings back the controls, and looks like a slightly smaller version of the second generation. The shuffle comes in silver, blue, green, orange, or pink. It has a 15 hour battery and will be available next week at $49 for 2GB.
Apple has heralded the death of the click wheel, the iconic input method of mobile music player history. The new iPod nano has a 1.5” touch screen, a clip on the back like the shuffle (runners won’t need a silly armband for it), dedicated volume buttons, and does still have enough room for the 30-pin Dock connector.
The new nano is, however, missing a few features that the last generation had. Those would be the video camera, the ability to play video, and games. In fact, the interface looks a lot like iOS, even down to putting icons in jiggly mode and rearranging them. But, I’m not sure if it is iOS or just looks like iOS. (My wager is that it is iOS, but locked down).
The new nano is quite the compelling redesign. It will also be available next week in silver, black, blue, green, orange, pink, and red. It has a 24-hour battery and comes in 8GB and 16GB, selling for $149 and $179, respectively.
Apple added a lot to the iPod touch and somehow made it even thinner. The new iPod touch gains the A4 processor found in the iPad and iPhone 4, the amazing Retina Display (by far my favorite feature of the iPhone 4), a 3-axis gyroscope, and not one, but two cameras! The is a camera on the back that can record HD video, but sadly takes fairly low resolution photos, and then a camera on the front for — wait for it — FaceTime video conferencing! I have a feeling this may be popular with some of my relatives. I know FaceTime was indispensable for my son and I when my wife went out of town for a week last month.
The new iPod touch will be available next week, running iOS 4.1 with Game Center. It will be available in capacities of 8GB, 32GB, and 64GB at $229, $299, and $399, respectively.
Sidenote: Unlike previous years, all three capacities are the new generation of iPod touch. Traditionally, Apple has relegated the previous generation to the 8GB slot. This time, all three carry cameras, Retina displays, and A4 chips. Color me impressed.
Not even a mention in the keynote. Not pictured in the iPod family lineup. I thought it may finally be dead. But no, there it sits, unchanged from last year, on Apple’s site. A relic now in more way than one, what with the spinning hard drive and the click wheel. I will be truly surprised if the classic still exists as a product after next year’s fall event.
Apple unleashed the tenth major iteration of iTunes, iTunes 10. Steve explained that since the iTunes Store is about to surpass CD sales, they decided to ditch the CD out of the icon. I very much like the look of the new icon. I’ve thought for a while that the CD sure seemed dated this day and age.
Other enhancements, according to Apple, are a new hybrid view, where you’ll get album artwork for 5 or more songs that are from the same album in list view.
Apple also set out to strengthen music discovery by creating a new social network inside iTunes called Ping. Follow artists and friends and be followed, create a circle of friends, post your thoughts and opinions, see customized song & album charts, and see concert listings.
I’m not too sure about Ping, but I have yet to try it out, as iTunes 10 went from “Available Today” to “Coming Soon.”
One last note that I noticed from the screen shots is that the close, minimize, and zoom buttons (at least on the Mac) have gone from being horizontal to vertical and in line next to the player controls, saving ¼” of space of vertical window real estate. It’s a small thing, and seems odd compared to the rest of Mac OS X, but let’s face it, screens are getting wider, not taller. I like it, and I hope the rest of Mac OS X goes this way in the next major update.
One More Thing Hobby
Since the introduction of the Apple TV in 2007, Apple has referred to it as a hobby. The hardware had remained unchanged except for a hard drive bump from 40GB to 160GB. But it’s the one Apple product I can think of that hasn’t had much success. Why? Well, according to Apple, customers want Hollywood movies & TV shows, everything in HD, lower prices for content, no reliance upon a computer, no worrying about managing storage, no syncing, and they want it to be silent, cool, and small.
The new Apple TV is ¼ the size of the old, fits in your hand, the content is in HD, and is on a rental model. HD movie rentals are available day and date with DVD releases for $4.99, and TV shows are available to rent for 99¢. The content is streamed straight to the device, and there is even support for Netflix Instant.
Now let’s talk about AirPlay. There’s been a technology in the AirPort Express called AirTunes for a while now, which let you stream music from iTunes to speakers connected to an Airport Express. AirPlay replaces that, and expands upon it. One feature of AirPlay is the ability for any iOS device to stream content to an Apple TV. And not just music, but videos and photos too. Let’s say you’re watching a movie on your iPad, but you decide to move to the living room. A couple taps, and the iPad pushes the movie onto your TV via the Apple TV. Same goes for an iPhone or iPod touch. This feature will come with iOS 4.2.
Another expansion of AirPlay is it won’t be limited to AirPort Express and Apple TV. Third parties will be able to embed AirPlay compatibility into their devices. According to Engadget:
That means you’ll be able to stream music from iTunes, your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad to speaker docks, receivers and stereos from companies like Denon, Marantz, Bowers & Wilkins, JBL and iHome, complete with song, album, and artist info and album art.
Sounds like a winner to me.
Overall, I think it was a great event. I hope the trend will be to live stream keynotes in the future. I know my mother is already green with envy for the new green iPod nano, though I’d rather her have an iPod touch for FaceTime (are you reading this, Mom?) I’d be surprised if these new iPods aren’t on a few of my relatives’ Christmas lists.