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Apple Sees the Light: iPod nano Gets Camera, Speakers, Mic, FM Radio ... and Pedometer!

The power of the Apple iPod brand starts with the lust-inducing designs -- slim, sleek, smooth -- and simple. The iPod line has avoided the feature check-list competition of other players, as Apple has continued to reject even useful features like voice recording and FM radio, requiring consumers to turn to third-party add-ons.

But over the years, Apple has begrudgingly accepted that consumers like these additional functions, adding features including a color display, photo and then video playback, and built-in games and other extras. Beyond these new options, Apple added further complexity to the interface with innovations like the Cover Flow view and Genius automated playlist creation. Similarly, the simple iTunes music organizer has extended far beyond audio to manage and sync photos and videos, as well as calendar and contacts.

Even so, the iPod designs were still sleek and pure, with display and click wheel, and minimal other buttons or controls -- and a smooth back unmarred by the ugliness of a removable battery. But the purist white / silver / gray colors have been falling to consumer enjoyment of brighter vibrant shades.

And then came Apple's annual September iPod line update last week (see post from last year), in which Apple saw the light of consumer demand and has just piled on the features for the iPod nano.

The announcements started with lower prices for more capacity, including a lower-end iPod shuffle at $59 for 2 GB of storage (in addition to 4 GB for $79 -- see previous post), an updated iPod classic bumped up from 120 to 160 GB for the same $249, and an updated iPod touch with 8 GB dropped from $229 to $199, 32 GB from $399 to $299, and a new 64 GB for $399.

Between the four iPods, different capacities, and color options, Apple now has more than 30 models!

But the big change is the new iPod nano, now in its fifth generation. It starts with a larger display (2 to 2.2 inches) in the same sleek and light package, and still in the same capacities -- 8 GB for $149, and 16 GB lowered from $199 to $179.

Then come the new features, starting by matching now-common ideas -- FM radio reception, a microphone for voice recording, and a speaker for listening without headphones. But in Apple's implementation, the FM radio not only displays station and song information, but also has Live Pause to hold or rewind playback 15 minutes, and iTunes Tagging to remember songs to review and buy in iTunes.

But the big news is the video camera, so your portable player becomes a pocket camcorder that shoots full standard-definition video (but still not photos). And Apple has added 15 real-time effects, including sepia, film grain, thermal, motion blur, and twirl, so you don't need to do any editing before you share clips to online sites. Unfortunately, the camera lens is located on the lower back of the player (on the other side from the click wheel), which requires careful hand positioning when shooting videos.

Not content with common features, Apple also added a pedometer to the nano, with an accelerometer to track your steps for analysis of calories burned. You can wear it in your pocket or on an armband, or integrate with the Nike+ shoes (previously used with the iPod touch).

Finally, Apple has added VoiceOver from the iPod shuffle, to speak the song title and artist when you press the center button. And with the new iTunes 9 it expands the Genius feature to automatically find interesting music, with Genius Playlists for similar songs and Genius Mixes from the iTunes library.

The iPod nano still looks slim and sleek in vibrant colors, but as the features have piled on it can no longer can really be called simple. For example, the iPod nano User Guide (PDF) is 103 pages, with 15 pages on the basics, including a table of 43 common actions with the controls.

But you can ignore all that -- the new iPod nano is as sexy as ever, with a polished anodized aluminum surface, a bigger screen, plus the obvious benefits of the built-in camera, mic, and speakers. Heck, with that kind of motivation, you can learn to use plenty of new features

For Apple's comparison of the iPod line and specs, see www.apple.com/ipod/compare-ipod-models

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line -- and a iPod Product and Pricing History.

    Find the Apple iPod nano (gen 5) on Amazon.com

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