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Apple iPods Reimagined: 2010 Edition

It's back to school time for kids, but for the consumer electronics industry it's already time to ramp up for the holiday season. So it's not surprising that Apple has announced its annual September update to the iPod line (see product comparisons). (Yes, Apple is now definitely a CE company and not Apple "Computer" any more.)

This year's event featured another impressive keynote performance by Steve Jobs, extolling the great now iPod line, but not fully explaining the scope of the changes -- it's not just features and functions, but more of a re-imagining and repositioning of what iPods are all about. Yes, the new iPods are smaller and lighter and less expensive and sexier than ever, but they also are significantly re-focused in terms of how you might want to use them.

iPod touch - Focus on Entertainment

In particular, the iPod touch is now the star of the line, having supplanted the nano as the most popular model. The touch is now fully targeted as a gaming and entertainment system -- Jobs called it the number one portable game player in the world, outselling Sony & Nintendo portables combined, with over 50 percent market share in the U.S. and worldwide.

The new touch is thinner and lighter, yet has picked up many features of the recent new iPhone 4, including the high-res Retina display, dual cameras with microphone for FaceTime video calling and HD video recording, three-axis gyroscope for gaming, and more powerful Apple A44 mobile processor. It holds the pricing on all but the low-end model, at 8 GB for $229, 32 GB for $299, and 64 GB for $399.

So the touch is now "the iPhone without the phone" -- almost -- as Jobs carefully did not use that description himself, instead attributing it to others. In particular, the touch still does not have the GPS capability of the iPhone, and so misses out on the exciting and interesting apps developing in location-based tracking and services (see my Smartphone Apps Gallery).

iPod shuffle - Clip and Go

Meanwhile, the tiny clip-on iPod shuffle reaches back to the 2008 model to return the control pad that was eliminated in last year's version (the only controls were on the earbud cord). Trimmed to a smaller size just large enough for the controls, it retains last year's VoiceOver feature to announce song and playlist name, since there's no display for browsing your collection.

But the new version is only available with 2 GB of storage suitable for "hundreds of songs", and no longer with a 4 GB model. The price also drops $10 to $49.

iPod nano - Multi-touch Music

Limiting the shuffle's capcity fits in to the biggest change in the iPod line-up -- repositioning the iPod nano from a media / video player back to a music-focused player, but now with a multi-touch display. The new nano is square, with the display filling the front face -- the controls have been eliminated and replaced by touch-screen gestures.

This is a very different nano, shrunk by half to only about 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inches. The interface is iPod-ish, with a home screen and the ability to customize the icons, but the tiny 1.5" screen means that only a few buttons or song names visible on the screen at a time, requiring a lot of touching and swiping to explore a larger collection.

This is therefore a new product, not a derivative of the previous nano line. It's no longer a media player, having lost video playback, camera, microphone, and speaker, although it does retain the FM radio. Instead, the new nano is focused as a multi-touch music player, now even with a clip on the back (like the shuffle). It's now more like the shuffle with a display, and with 8 GB of storage for $149 or 16 GB for $179 for thousands of songs.

iPod classic - Take Everything Everywhere

Meanwhile, although unmentioned in the Jobs keynote, the iPod classic still lives on as the boring older sibling, with heavier hard disk instead of less expensive flash memory, and therefore offering 160 GB for $249, compared to 32 GB for $299 or 64 GB for $399 with the touch. That's enough to hold 40,000 songs or 200 hours of video for those who want their entire collection in their hand.

See my full article, Apple iPods Reimagined: 2010 Version, for more on the new iPods and Apple ecosystem (iOS 4, iTunes 10, Apple TV)

See my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more details and chronologies on these product lines and associated software and services.

Find the Apple iPod touch, Apple iPod nano,
and iPod shuffle on Amazon.com

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This entry posted on September 12, 2010.

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