Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Apple Media Event Today-New iPods Announced

With little fanfare, Apple today made good on its promise to refresh its iPod line of MP3 players at a special media event held in San Francisco, CA. With Apple CEO Steve Jobs stepping out on the stage and proclaiming and I quote "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated" referring to the recent media reports of his less than stellar health. It made for a great event opening line.

Every year around this time Apple normally announces a refresh in its line of iPods in time for the ever-profitable holiday season. Although no earth-shattering announcements or introductions were made today, the updates to both iPods and more importantly iTunes are significant enough to warrant a rundown of the major announcements.
  • iTunes 8.0 was announced today and is available for immediate download with significant changes from verison 7.x. Most notable is the addition of a feature called Genius which creates smart playlists based on songs you choose from your library. Support for High Definition (HD) content and more significant here is the return of NBC television shows to the iTunes store which had been absent for the past year following a dispute between the two companies. HD versions of TV shows will now be available for download at a premium price of $2.99 vs. $1.99 for the standard definition counterpart. Shows like Heroes, The Office & Monk are available for download from the iTunes store today.
  • The iPod Nano saw its form factor returning to its rectangular vertical roots with its new curved fourth generation design that makes so much more sense than the hidious looking square version introduced last year. The Nano offers enhanced video playback, an accelerometer, and a new larger wide screen LCD that changes the display from portrait to landscape by simply turning the Nano. Another cool feature is the ability to shake the Nano which in a sense orders it to cue up and play a new song (shuffle if you will). The new Nano will come in three new colors (Orange, Purple & Yellow) for a total of nine different colors-one to suit everyone's taste. The new Nano will come in two capacities-8Gb $149.99 & 16Gb for $199.99 and are shipping starting today.
  • The iPod Touch also received a major cosmetic makeover as well with a new curved backside similar to that of the iPhone 3G. The back is now that infamous Apple "Fingerprint Magnet" stainless-steel. The iPod Touch now sports a built in speaker as well as hardware volume control buttons similar to those found on the iPhone, something the first generation Touch lacked. The new Touch will come with a new firmware 2.1 version that will fix some bugs that users of firmware version 2.o have been experiencing. The new iPod Touch line also were granted a price drop across the board, but will still come in three different capacities: An 8Gb version for $229.99; 16Gb for $299.99; 32Gb for $399.99 and all are available immediately. The 2.1 firmware update will be available to users who already have 2.0x firmware installed on thier iPod Touch for free. Users with 1.0 firmware will have to pay $10 for the upgrade, definitely a worthwhile update. The new iPod Touch has been dubbed as "The Funnest iPod Ever!" by Jobs and Apple.
  • The iPod Classic line has also been updated, reducing this line of iPods to a single sku. The current 80Gb and 160Gb iPod Classics are now history in favor of a single 120Gb model that is thinner than both current Classics. No other significant changes to this line was announced. It's puzzling that Apple would eliminate its largest capacity iPod from it's line, but that doesn't mean that they won't later come back with a new higher capacity Classic later when a 1.8" drive of higher capacity becomes available. The classic will be available in Silver or Black.
  • The iPod Shuffle line was updated as well today and it will now come in four new updated more vibrant colors in addition to the traditional silver with capacities of 1Gb $49 and 2Gb $69.
  • Phone firmware 2.1. Apple announced the new 2.1 firmware update for the iPhone which is slated to become available this Friday September 12th. The firmware upgrade promises to greatly improve battery life, provide for fewer crashes, fewer dropped calls, and allow for significantly faster backups, all issues that needed addressing. Two factors conspicuously missing from mention is any reference to 3G data connection speed improvement, and the previously announced background process feature which is supposed to allow users to do tasks like instant message while talking on the phone.
  • Jobs also introduced two new unique iPod earbuds at the media event. The first offers an in-line volume control that also integrates a click button which allows a user to pause, advance to the next song by clicking twice, or back by clicking three times. The earbuds also feature a microphone that allows users to take advantage of the recording feature found on the iPod Nano & Touch. Price is $29 and will be available in October. A $79 enhanced earbud set similar to those made famous by Shure will also be available for the iPod as well. This set will have an earbud that has both a wooferer & tweeter in each earbud, if you can fathom that. The earbuds come with three different ear adapters to best fit the user.
In all, Apple made some significant updates to iTunes and it's cash-cow line of music players at a time when the current crop of iPods were getting long in tooth. Gaming seems to be the next frontier that Apple is attempting to conquer as it demonstrated three new games for the iPod Touch & iPhone at the event including one from video game giant EA (Electronic Arts).

Even Microsoft who holds a 2.3% share of the MP3 hardware market (compared to Apple's whopping 75.4% share) is unveiling new Zune MP3 models this week that rival the capacities & capabilities of the Nano & Classic- introducing both a 16Gb and 120Gb Zune-not that anyone is really paying attention.