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Apple iPods Reimagined: 2010 Version (9/2010)
by Douglas Dixon
It's back to school time for the 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 Apple iPod line. (Yes, Apple is now definitely a CE company, and not Apple "Computer" any more.)
This year's event featured another impressive 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 - Entertainment
In particular, the iPod touch (yes, Apple uses lower case for the product names) 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. 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.
iPod shuffle - Clip and go
Meanwhile, the tiny clip-on iPod shuffle reaches back to the 2008 version 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 (which was described as covering the entirely new iPod line), 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.
What Apple is doing with the iPod line is much more than just becoming a consumer electronics company, or even a mobile device company with the expansion to the iPhone and then the iPad.
These devices are a great business, but the lock-in to Apple's online stores makes it even better -- at the recent announcement event, Jobs reported that Apple now manages over 160 million user accounts complete with credit card information, and ready for easy one-click shopping. Jobs reported that 11.7 billion songs have been downloaded from the iTunes store, along with some 450 million TV episodes and 100 million movies -- plus 35 million books from the recent iBooks store, and 3 billion apps from the App store (as of January).
This ready collection of content and entertainment then feeds to the desktop though iTunes on the Mac and PC, to mobile devices through Apple's iOS mobile operating system across the iPhone, iPad, and several generations of the iPod touch, and to the living room through the reenergized Apple TV. Ching!
The content conduit to Apple's mobile devices is the recently renamed Apple iOS mobile operating system -- a common interface running across the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. From any of these platforms you're just a tap away from buying and downloading new apps, music, videos, and e-books, thanks to the convenient built-in App Store app, iTunes app, and iBooks app.
iOS 4 brought multitasking and ebooks to the new iPhone 4, and iOS 4.1, announced as "coming soon" at the Apple event, will bring the updated platform to the iPod touch, complete with the new Games Center social gaming hub and iTunes Ping social networking, helping to consolidate the touch as a gaming and entertainment system. This will be followed by iOS 4.2 in November, to bring the package to the iPad.
This will consolidate Apple's interface across all three lines of devices, and add gaming as a more visible element of the content pipeline.
Apple also announced the release of iTunes 10, featuring the new Ping social network for music discovery. The iTunes Store now offers HD TV rentals for 99 cents, and supports AirPlay wireless playback to compatible speakers and devices in the home.
Apple also has reworked the iTunes logo, removing the CD icon in the background, since iTunes is poised to surpass the sales of CDs in the U.S. next spring, and is the top online media sotre in the world. Apple now boasts over 160 million iTunes users in 23 countries, accessing a library of over 14 million songs, 65,000 TV episodes and 10,000 movies including 3,000 in stunning high definition video.
This mass of content also feeds Apple's venture into the living room with Apple TV, which brings iTunes movies and TV shows to a set-top box. The box is now even smaller -- fitting in the palm of your hand, but the key improvement is moving to a rental model for all the content, so there's no purchasing, no issue of running out of storage on the box. Apple is pushing this new outlet even harder by dropping the price to $99 from $299.
Apple offers online rental of HD TV show episodes from some but not all the major broadcasters (ABC, ABC Family, Fox, Disney Channel, BBC America), now for 99 cents compared to a $2.99 purchase. You also can stream from Netflix, watch online video and photos from YouTube and Flickr and MobileMe, play audio from podcasts and Internet radio, and access music, photos and videos from your home PCs and Macs.
Apple iPod nano (gen 6 '10) -- Music & Multi-touch - 1.54", 0.74 oz, 8 & 16 GB (9/10)
Find the Apple iPod nano (gen 6) on Amazon.com
Apple iPod touch (gen 4 '10) -- WiFi - 3.5", 3.56 oz, 8, 32, 64 GB (9/09)
Apple iPod classic (gen 3 '09) -- 2.5", 4.9 oz, 160 GB (9/09)