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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

First impressions: 'The Beat Goes On' Announcements

While I'll be reviewing Apple's new lineup of iPods on the SuperSite for Windows, I thought it would be interesting to toss out some thoughts about the devices based on the recently completed special event at which they were introduced. As always, the iPod line remains the standard by which all other portable media players are judged, and the Fall 2007 lineup is the strongest yet. Here's what it looks like, along with other revelations from "The Beat Goes On":

No Beatles
Despite persistent rumors and constant Beatles references during the Jobs keynote, "The Beatles" catalog was not made available on iTunes. (Yet.) Sigh.

Grade: F

iPod facts and figures
The domination of iTunes and the iPod is astonishing. According to Apple, the company has distributed over 600 million copies of iTunes and has sold over 3 billion songs, 95 million TV shows, and has provided over 125,000 podcasts to listeners. Astonishing.

Apple has sold over 110 million iPods to date, also astonishing.

Grade: A+

iPod shuffle
Apple added new colors and not much else to the $79 iPod shuffle, which was thoroughly revamped for last year. New colors include red (as in Product[RED]), purple, light blue, and light green, in addition to last year's silver color. Otherwise, the shuffle hasn't changed, up to and including the same 1 GB of storage space. This is mostly OK: The shuffle was fine as-is, but you'd think Apple might have bumped the storage to at least 2 GB.

Grade: B

iPod nano
The best-selling nano is getting quite a bit fatter/wider thanks to a new QVGA 320 x 240 screen (equal to that of last year's iPod with video) that supports video as well as Cover Flow; it also comes with 3 iPod games. While I question the width increase of the new device (coming as it does with a non-updated music-only iPod shuffle), the new nano looks neat. It is all metal (though I doubt anyone was actually asking for that), thinner than before, and appears more rounded on the edges than the too-sharp-edged iPod with video from last year. It sports 24 hours of battery life for audio and 5 hours for video, both excellent. Pricing is reasonable at $149 for a 4 GB version and $199 for 8 GB. The new nano is available in five colors: black, red, gray, blue, and green. They look great overall.

Grade: A

iPod classic
Replacing the old iPod with video (which some people think of simply as "iPod") is the new iPod classic. This player doesn't appear to be particularly exceptional other than the new storage options: It's the same basic size and shape as the previous iPod, but appears to have rounded edges, like the nano. (Assuming that's the case. It may be a photographic trick.) Anyway, the iPod classic is now all-metal (whatever), thinner than before, and comes in 80 GB and 160 GB variants. The 80 GB version gets 30 hours of battery life for audio and 6 hours for video; it costs $250. The 160 GB version gets 40 hours of battery life for audio and 7 hours for video; it costs $350. Both are reasonably priced, though the tiny screen is increasingly uninteresting in the wake of the Zune, iPod touch (see below), and iPhone. As before, the iPod classic comes only in black and white.

Grade: B

iPod touch
Arguably the most impressive introduction of the event and the one countless digital media fans have been clamoring for, the iPod touch is basically the iPhone without any phone features. It features all the iPhone goodness you'd expect, including the multi-touch UI, the Cover Flow views, the icon-based home screen, and landscape video playback.

The iPod touch does more than that, however. It includes integrated 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, like the iPhone, which you can use with its integrated Safari browser, YouTube application (a la iPhone), and... drumroll, please... the new mobile version of iTunes, dubbed iTunes Wi-Fi. Yep, Apple jumped on the obvious train and added that feature so many people were looking for: Buying music over the air. Sadly, you cannot sync over the air via Wi-Fi, which would have really completed the picture. There was also a Starbucks announcement that is barely worth mentioning, given that it will taken until 2009 to completely rollout, assuming it ever happens.

The price is reasonable, but not exceptional, given the capacity: An 8 GB version is $300, while a 16 GB version will set you back $400. Battery life is great, 22 hours for audio and 5 for video, but then you won't be putting much video on this thing with such small amounts of built-in memory.

The only reason this doesn't get an A+ is the storage: Even 16 GB is paltry for a video collection. I honestly believe customers would be OK with a thicker device if they could get an 80 GB or even 160 GB hard drive in there (with the resulting larger battery). Maybe someday that will happen, but this is a wonderful start.

Grade: A-

Apple is dropping the 4 GB iPhone and, most astonishingly, dropping the price of the 8 GB version by $200 to a much more reasonable $400. I've often referred to the price point on the iPhone as being exorbitant, but this brings it down to reality. Bravo to Apple for being this aggressive this quickly.

The iPhone also picks up some iPod Touch features, like iTunes Wi-Fi (sweet) and the silly Starbucks application, as expected.

Finally, Apple is adding one of many curiously missing features to the iPhone: Ringtone support. Now, customers can buy song ringtones for $1.98: 99 cents for the ringtone itself and 99 cents for the song. It's not the full iTunes catalog, however, but rather a 500,000 song subset. The new version of iTunes, being released "tonight," will also add a ringtone editor so you can recast nonprotected songs from your existing music collection into ringtones yourself. Neat.

Grade: A

iTunes 7.4/8?
There's a new version of iTunes coming tonight, apparently. We don't know much about it beyond the new ringtones stuff and reverse sync with iTunes Wi-Fi, so there's no point in writing it up quite yet. Stay tuned.

Grade: n/a

As is often the case, Steve Jobs loves playing to the home crowd and the Apple friendly people in the audience--about half were Apple employees according to at least one blogger who was there--ate it all up. I don't like the lies--Apple isn't the first to add a Web browser to a portable media player, example--and I don't like the boasting, but there's no denying that Jobs is the master of this domain. Say what you will, but this time, at least, he was right on target. This stuff is excellent.

Grade: A

Overall, this was a solid even exciting event. I'm looking forward to reviewing the new iPods, and iTunes 8.0, if that's what it is. I'm also curious how Microsoft intends to answer this threat with new Zunes, and if that's even possible.

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[ Posted at 2:56 PM | Permalink ]


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