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Steve Jobs and Apple made several announcements Tuesday regarding the iPod family of products. Changes, upgrades and improvements to the iPod, Nano, Shuffle, iTunes and a little something called iTV were all unveiled. Now, some of these announcements were pretty major, some were minor and, for those in the hardcore Apple community, there was definitely a letdown. Let’s break it down, piece by piece.
iPod – The popular 5G iPod has been upgraded to version 5.5. While this is not a major upgrade (e.g. version 6G), there were significant enough changes to move it along half a generation. The first change, and possibly most important to many customers, is the $50 price drop. The 30 GB model is now down to $250 with the new 80 GB model coming in at $350. Yes, you read that right, 80 GB. Who on earth can fill up 80 GB?! We’ll get to that later.
The actual size and shape of the 5.5 iPod has not changed. The screen, however, is 60% brighter and the battery life is much improved. This thing should run for up to 3.5 hours for video playback and 20 hours for audio. In addition, they have upgraded the earbuds on all the iPod models.
The final changes to the 5G are not limited to the new models. Once you upgrade iTunes (again, we’ll get to that later), a firmware upgrade can and should be performed on the current 5G iPod. This upgrade includes a brightness setting, text-based searching, gapless playback, and the ability to play games. Yep, that’s right, for $4.99 a pop you can purchase games like Bejeweled, Cubis 2, Mahjong, Mini Golf, Pac Man, Tetris, Texas Hold 'Em, Vortex, and Zuma. Hell yeah! Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde got nothing on me, baby!
Got all that? The iPod 5.5 is cheaper, brighter, longer-lasting, and you can now bust a nut on the river.
Nano – The Nano has moved up to version 2G. That’s second generation, not 2 GB. What has Apple done to move this product up a whole generation? Honestly, not much. Yes, the casing is now aluminum, like the mini before it, and yes, it now comes in colors. Outside that, I don’t see a whole generation gap between the old and the new.
Let’s break it down. The new 2G Nano comes in 2 GB, 4 GB and 8 GB models. All versions are reportedly smaller, if you can imagine that, and have batteries that last for up to 24 hours of playback. The 2GB only comes in aluminum color and costs $149. The 4 GB comes in green, blue, and some awful reddish-pink color and will set you back $199. Thankfully, the $249 8 GB comes in black. Getting away from those hideous colors is worth the $50 difference.
And that’s it folks. The only other changes are the addition of text-based searching and gapless playback, mentioned above. Kinda ho-hum for a generation leap.
Shuffle – I’m quite excited about the changes to the Shuffle. Now, I do not own a Shuffle myself, but I can tell you for sure that I will soon.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “Self, how much could Apple possibly change the Shuffle? It’s a tiny white stick with no screen that plays songs randomly or ‘Shuffle’d.’” Well, when Apple shrinks the Shuffle down to about 1/3 the size of the original and adds a clip built in, what more could you ask for? How does a $79 price tag for 1GB sound? Are you kidding me? This thing is 1.6 inches long and weighs about half an ounce. Hang on while I order one… all right, it should be arriving in October.
iTunes – Time to upgrade iTunes again. This time, we’ll be moving to version 7.0. Moving from version 6.x to 7 constitutes a major upgrade. So what’s all changed to consider this a major upgrade? Quite a bit.
For starters, the layout has changed. The “source” column (the column on the left side of the window) is much cleaner. I like the way they have organized it by grouping similar items together in a category. Another change is the addition of multiple media viewing options. In the upper right, you can choose between the traditional view, showing items in a list sorted by artist including album art, or, the coolest of the three, in the “cover flow” view. It’s quite hard to explain the last view. I compare it to shuffling through your CDs as they sit on the shelf. Very cool.
The gapless playback featured in the iPods comes from the new version of iTunes and allows for seamless playback of certain songs. For example, now you can play your favorite concert album without all of those annoying gaps between each song and, finally, the last four tracks on Abbey Road will play continuously. Once upgraded, iTunes will go through your library and update any songs necessary.
In addition to updating songs for gapless playback, iTunes will automatically search your library for missing album art and add those covers for free.
There is also a neat new screen that offers an overview of your iPod. It includes name, version, capacity, and all the settings for syncing that used to be found under the preferences menu.
If you’re still wondering how you’re going to fill that new 80GB iPod you’re about to purchase, look no further. iTunes now includes a new iTunes Movie Store. With more than 70 movies available today, and many more to come, you should not have any problem filling up all that hard drive space. Movies are going to run you $14.99 for new releases, $12.99 for pre-orders, and $9.99 if you can wait a week after it’s released to download it. The iTunes movies can only be viewed on your iPod or in iTunes. You will not be able to burn them to DVD or share them. Also, they will be in 640x480 resolution, which is near DVD quality but not quite. I think Apple is headed in the right direction here but only being able to get 640x480 resolution when HD-DVD is on the horizon and only being able to watch them in iTunes and your iPod are both drawbacks. Which leads me to the last announcement of the day:
iTV – Apple “pre-announced” a wireless set-top box for video streaming. Codenamed iTV, the concept here is that you can connect your current TV, be it traditional or HDTV, to this box and you will then be able to access everything in your iPod or in iTunes wirelessly. With component video, HDMI, optical audio and RCA-style stereo audio ports, you should be able to connect this to any TV. The iTV also has an Ethernet port, 802.11 wireless connectivity, and a power cable.
The idea certainly is good. These days, the best speakers in the house are typically attached to the TV. Hook up the iTV and you can now listen to your whole music library, watch movies downloaded from iTunes, or access anything else on the iPod.
The iTV is not set for release until Q1 2007, which gives you plenty of time to decide between the ease and low price of iTunes movie downloads and the new HD-DVDs coming out soon.
All in all , a pretty big day for Apple. There were some exciting announcements (2G Shuffle, iTunes 7 and perhaps iTV), a ho-hum announcement of the 5.5 iPod, a slight letdown for the 2G Nano, and perhaps the biggest letdown of all, no news of an iPod Movie version. All the recent talk around the Apple community centered on a rumored widescreen iPod where perhaps the entire face of the 80 GB iPod would be the screen, with a “virtual” click wheel.
Another letdown is that Apple still doesn’t have an “iPhone.” There have been so many advances in the mobile phone arena that many consumers are now able to carry one device that satisfies their phone, music, video, and photography needs. While iTunes is still the industry leader in legal music download services, the newest, and fast becoming the biggest, competitor is legal downloads to phones.
Don’t let the lack of an “iPod Movie” or “iPhone” get you down though. Just go get your 5G iPod, download the new iTunes 7, and get that thing ready for some competitive miniature golf, gapless playback, and text-based searching. Well, right after you go out and purchase the new Shuffle of course. Outside that, I’m going to wait a few months for the “iPhone” or “iPod Movie” to come out.
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