As unpredictable as Apple can be, the marketing machine in Cupertino is also prone to keeping to a schedule. Since planting a flag claiming Tuesday’s as their own, every one since has been “iTunes Tuesday,” Apple’s branded day for releasing new music. Since 2005, Apple has also kept to a schedule with product upgrades. On either the first Wednesday (2005 and 2007), or the second Tuesday (2006 and this year) in September, new iPod Nano’s are released.
Today, at the much hyped, and wildly anticipated Apple press event in San Francisco – Apple delivered on time. As foreshadowed by early posters, and largely as predicted by the Apple -watching media: Steve Jobs took the stage to reveal slate of evolutionary changes to the iPod lineup.
There wasn’t a lot to shock – there were new Nano’s, an improved iPod Touch, and an iTunes upgrade. Missing were rumored subscription services and Macbook upgrades.
Like a summer beach reading best-seller, the show still delivered a well executed, enjoyable, albeit predictable, result.
The Hardware Headliners
Co-headlining the morning act were new iPod Nano’s. Dubbed “nano-chromatic” for their rainbow of available colors, the slim, fourth generation devices are a return to the popular vertical form factor that defined the second generation.
The tall and narrow units are about the same length as their grandfather but with a modern upgrade, they feature the same larger screen (re-oriented) as found on the squat, squarish 3rd generation model. The edges on the new entry are also curved to an oval shape, presumably to improve their fit in pockets and our hands.
For the environmentally conscious, the new Nano’s are made with a glass and aluminum design that Steve Jobs specifically called out as “eco friendly.” They, along with the new iPod Touch model, feature arsenic-free glass, no PVC’s, no mercury and no BFR’s.
Battery life is projected at 24 hours for music and four hours for video.
The most significant change for the Nano is the inclusion of an accelerometer similar to that used on the iPhone and iPod touch. Married to an improved user interface, it allows owners to flip through cover art by moving the iPod sideways. If it’s given a shake, it will shuffle songs.
The Nano’s will be sold in 8GB ($149) and 16Gb ($199) configurations. They’re expected to be available at retail within the next week.
iPod Touch, Second Generation
The Touch model, last year’s originality standout, co-headlined the morning event with its sophomore debut. For the most part, the changes here were subtle.
The new Touch, which some are dubbing a 1.5 release as opposed to a 2.0, gained a case with a chrome rim and a thinner form factor with a tapered shell. Volume controls were added to the side. An non-audiophile on board speaker has also been added.
Jobs called it “the funnest iPod ever” and played up its game playing abilities.
Price cuts, as expected by many analysts, were made. The new Touch’s, which are already available, will be offered at $399 for a 32GB model. A 16GB model will sell for $299 and the baby, 8GB model for $229.
Almost forgotten, the iPod Classic lineup saw a minor change to its product SKUs. At the top end, the 160GB “thick” model was discontinued. The thinner form factor 80GB model was bumped up to a 120GB drive. It will sell for $249.
The Software Stories
Supporting the new iPods, Apple gave the iPod Touch (and iPhone) OS an upgrade from version OS X 2.0 to 2.1. The upgrade will be available by Friday.
More significant than those bug fixes, the iTunes music software was upgraded to version 8, available now. This generation features a new visualizer, improved album management/navigation functionality and also a music discovery/recommendation engine called “Genius.” Genius is a learning algorithm capable of generating playlists of music related to songs just heard. It can also recommend new, undiscovered music. In concept, if not implementation, it seems similar to Pandora and the music genome project.
At the iTunes store, a year after splitting up in a disagreement presumed over fees and pricing, Apple and NBC have rebuilt their relationship. Apple announced all of the network’s programs will return to the iTunes store. They’ll be available in both standard definition and high def. The HD shows, both from NBC and other outlets, will be priced at $2.99.
• For analysts and watchers whose first interest was at Steve Jobs health and not the products, Jobs had a message. A slide in the beginning of the show proclaimed “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
•8.5m songs are available on iTunes, 30k TV shows, 2600 movies and 3000 iPhone/iPod Touch applications.
•iTunes has 65m user accounts.
•Users have downloaded more than 100m applications from the “AppStore.” There is access from about 62 Countries.
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