As is all but customary in September, Apple hosted a press event this week centered around its consumer music and media lines of products. iPods, iTunes, and the Apple TV were the order of the day today, and we got some surprises out of Apple as well.
For example, a new iPod Touch with a camera on the back had been widely leaked, mostly because a number of case manufacturers had put cases in their stores earlier than they probably should have that showed space in the back for a camera. We even saw square cases for what looked to be a square, fat iPod Nano, and the truth behind those leaks was revealed as well.
Apple’s culture of secrecy is starting to show a few cracks, but not really of Apple’s own doing – it’s just impossible to get as large as Apple is and have as many partners as Apple does and not have breaches here and there – especially when your company is so popular yet so secretive that people are actively looking and scouring the web for possible leaks and clues into what your next move will be.
With that being said, let’s dive into today’s announcements. All in all, there’s little that’s earth-shattering here, mostly updates and changes that are evolutionary and not revolutionary, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth getting excited over.
iOS Updates and Gaming
Steve started out the presentation by announcing the availability of iOS 4.1 for all devices, including the iPod Touch and iPhone, and 4.2 for the iPad coming in November. He also mentioned that iOS devices have outsold Sony and Nintendo gaming devices combined, so there’s no reason to not take them seriously as gaming platforms. Apple is full and true a gaming company – and the first announcement hammered the point home.
Apple announced GameCenter, a new multiplayer matching service for iPhone and iPod Touch games that support multiplayer competitve or co-op play. You’ll be matched up with others who own the games you do and want to play live online, and you’ll be able to play multiplayer games right on your iOS device. Apple has already signed up Epic Games for at least one RPG title.
The fallout from this could be enormous – we very well may be looking at the eventual introduction of more multiplayer games for iOS devices. Do I hear World of Warcraft or integration with Battle.net for the iPad, anyone?
iPods, iPods, and more iPods!
Steve Jobs said as much: every iPod in the lineup saw changes and upgrades today, some of them really impressive, others not so much. The venerable iPod Shuffle, which as of yesterday was a tiny, nondescript aluminum brick, saw the return of the click-wheel to its face, and looks more like the iPod Shuffle of old – square with a clip on the back and a click-wheel on the front. The new shuffle will sport 2GB of storage and retail for $49, an amazing price point. It’s retains the voice-activated playlists of the original, and comes in six colors.
The iPod Nano got the biggest makeover. The new iPod Nano comes in a square version – again – and ditches the clickwheel and screen entirely for an iPod Touch/iPhone-like touch screen. The iPod Nano is tiny and the touch screen is tiny too, with only enough screen real estate for four app icons. The new iPod Nano is shaped just like the new Shuffle, but the touch screen and the buttons on the outside control everything. It also features a clip on the back for portability, comes in seven different colors, and will retail for $149 for 8GB and $179 for 16GB.
The new Nano was clearly the most controversial of the announcements – I looked at it and actually laughed aloud at how ridiculous the concept is: it seems entirely too small for that touch display to really be worthwhile, but it’s clear that the touch-screen and apps are Apple’s future, and you’re coming with them if you want an iPod. Whether or not the iPod Nano is actually running a full version of iOS that can run apps from the iTunes App Store remains to be seen. The Nano also lost its camcorder, so I suppose we can safely consider that feature a flop.
The iPod Touch got updates too, including a camcorder on the back (likely to make up for the lack of one in the new Nano and to put it where it rightfully belonged in the first place – iPod Touch users are more likely to download apps and want to do the same things their iPhone-owning counterparts do) even though it can’t take still pictures, a slimmer profile (that doesn’t have the same design at the iPhone – it retains the old curved design,) and Apple’s new Retina Display for high-resolution goodness. The new iPod Touch is also getting iOS 4.1, so all those great new apps and games for the iPhone 4 will work on it as well.
The new iPod Touch also has a front-facing camera, and will support FaceTime calls with iPhone 4 owners, which is an amazing announcement. The new iPod Touch costs $229 for 8GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB, still ridiculously overpriced for massive adoption in my opinion, but we’ll see sales in the coming months.
Conspicuously absent from the announcement entirely was the iPod Classic – Apple’s last remaining hard-drive based digital media player. It saw no updates, no changes, no price drops, not even a mention – which leads me (and a lot of other tech bloggers) to believe that we’ll see it silently put to death in the coming days.
iTunes 10 and Ping
Also announced today was an update to iTunes, bringing the version of the app to iTunes 10, which in itself is really a usability update to the service to make the service easier to use and more streamlined. The biggest new feature in iTunes 10 is the addition of Ping, a social service that will allow users to share and suggest music to one another, swap playlists, discover new music, and share what they’re buying and listening to with their friends and family. Apple’s essentially built a social network into iTunes, and it’s probably the last nail in the coffin for MySpace and a lease on life for iTunes itself – especially in Windows where people have been deserting it en masse because it performs so terribly.
The new service will allow users to share what they have playing, as well as concerts they’re planning to go to, and other users will be prompted to sample or download the music they’re playing as well as buy their own tickets to the same concerts or shows. It seems that Apple is inching step by step into a more Web-focused and enabled music service, likely using the technology and talent they got when they purchased LaLa back in April. Still, the announcement did fall short of a full web-based iTunes music store, and there were no subscription services for iTunes or massive changes to the catalog like some people had predicted.
One more thing: The Apple TV!
Steve Jobs pulled out the infamous line at the end of the iTunes segment, and claimed that he had one item that – while it was never a huge hit, was definitely well loved by the people who adopted it: the Apple TV. He claimed it was time to make HDTV and the Apple TV more than just “a hobby,” and unveiled a new all-streaming set-top version of the Apple TV that’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.
The new Apple TV will have $0.99 HD video rentals, and first-run $4.99 streaming HD movies (first-run meaning it’s the same day the DVDs hit the shelves, not in advance like Netflix.) The box will be all-streaming and have no on-board storage, and support streaming media from services like Netflix, ABC, Fox, and others, although some content providers haven’t fully signed on yet.
The tiny device will have HDMI and Ethernet on the back, and support 802.11n wireless for streaming video. Users will even be able to use their iOS devices (iPads, iPhones, etc) as wireless remotes for the new Apple TV.
That’s all the good news, and a rundown of the features. This is where the questions start, that’ll have to be answered when people get hands-on with the Apple TV next month after it ships: first of all, what does “HD” mean to Apple? When I think HD, I’m thinking gorgeous 1080p video, but not all streaming services think that way. Are they going with the TV definition and sticking with 1080i, or are they bumping it down even further and sticking with 720p? Will the Apple TV be able to stream media from other sources, like an iTunes library on another device on a home network?
I like the ability to stream video from so many Web-based sources, but more and more TVs are coming with the ability to do the same thing, and more and more set-top boxes are hitting the market. Granted, the new AppleTV undercuts them all by price point, but also sacrifices on-board storage and goes for an all-rental (which on the flip-side means no-ownership) model for media on your big screen. It’ll also have to compete with the likes of the upcoming Boxee Box (unless they find a way to let you install Boxee on the new Apple TV directly,) the Roku, the Western Digital TV Live, the PopBox, and the Popcorn Hour, to name a few.
The AppleTV is likely aimed at consumers who don’t have anything connected to their TV for streaming today, and who might want a little more in the way of additional video content than an XBox 360, for example, can offer easily, and without the need for syncing or streaming media from another source. Kind of a beginner’s set-top box with room to grow – and at that price point, it’s well placed.
That does it – all of the announcements today were exciting, but as I said not particularly earth-shattering. The changes to the Apple TV were likely more revolutionary for Apple and its approach to video and TV content, but evolutionary when considered in the context of the rest of the market. The changes to the iPod lineup were largely welcome, although I’m curious to see how the new Nano – the only model that really changed appreciably with the exception of the super-cheap Shuffle – is received by owners.
Of all of the announcements, I’m actually most intrigued by iTunes 10 and Ping. I really want to give it a shot and see if it can breathe a little life into music-based social networking. As soon as it’s available for download (Apple said it would be out today) I’ll let you know.
What do you think about the announcements today? Will you be picking up a $99 buck Apple TV, or a new iPod? Sound off in the comments!