Apple Teaches Old iPods New Tricks
Apple's iPod family may not be the company's hottest product line anymore -- that role has been mostly taken over by iPhones and iPads -- but the company nonetheless managed to cram some new features into its three main iPod models. Meanwhile, Apple also rolled out a new social networking feature to iTunes called "Ping" as well as the gaming service Game Center.
Apple put a charge in its iPod line Wednesday, but it remains a holdout in the "all you can ear" music subscription market.
Apple revamped its flagship player, the iPod touch, so it's now essentially an iPhone without the phone. It also brought buttons back to the iPod shuffle and a touchscreen to the iPod nano.
In addition, while the company remained true to its a la carte mode of delivering music, it is dipping its toes into social networking with the new Ping service it added to the latest version of its music software, iTunes 10.
"For everyone who thought iPod was a dying species, Apple is saying, 'Not so fast,'" Michael Gartenberg, a partner with the Altimeter Group, told MacNewsWorld.
"[Apple] has revamped the line in a very, very powerful way," he added.
The new iPod touch includes features introduced in the latest versions of Apple's iPhone. For example, FaceTime has been added to the device. FaceTime allows a touch user to conduct one-on-one video conferencing calls over a WiFi connection with other touch or iPhone 4 owners.
"The video conferencing capability has the potential to bring Apple into a whole new category of products, really creating the first affordable video conferencing product sold at retail," Ross Rubin, an analyst with the NPD Group, told MacNewsWorld. "That is very significant."
The unit also has dual cameras. One at the back of the device can shoot HD video. The other on the front of the iPod can capture VGA video. Both can shoot still images, too.
Simple video editing can be performed with an app included with the iPod. For flashier editing, a mobile version of Apple's computer editing software, iMovie, can be purchased from the iTunes store for US$4.99.
The new touch also has Apple's Retina display. With its high pixel density -- 320 pixels per inch -- objects on it are very sharp and smooth, even when enlarged.
In addition, the display has an ambient light sensor. It adjusts the brightness of the screen based on the lighting conditions around it. It also has backside illumination to improve visibility in bright or low lighting conditions.
An 8 GB touch is priced at $229, a 32 GB model at $299, and 64 GB edition at $399.
Return of Buttons
At $49, the most affordable iPod in the new lineup is the iPod shuffle. The tiny unit -- it measures 1.14-by-1.24-by-0.34 inches -- comes with 2 GB of flash storage and is offered in five colors: silver, blue, green, orange or pink.
Buttons have been reintroduced for performing functions on the device. The last version of the device had the controls on the earphone cord.
VoiceOver, a feature in the previous version of the player, is also included in the new shuffle. The feature can speak, in one of 25 languages, an artist's name and a song's title at the press of a button, as well as playlist titles or the power status of the unit's rechargeable battery.
The new iPod nano isn't much bigger than the shuffle. It measures 1.48-by-1.61-by-0.35 inches and has a 1.54-inch touchscreen display, which, for its size, also has a dense pixel count of 220 pixels per inch.
An 8 GB version of the nano will sell for $149 and a 16 GB version for $179.
Best Refresh Ever?
With the introduction of the new iPods, Apple is also flirting in social networking and gaming. It has added a music discovery and socialization feature, called "Ping," to the latest edition of iTunes, version 10, and a multi-player game system, called "Game Center," to the touch.
Ping allows you to follow your favorite artists and follow other iTune members with similar interests. If a "friend" recommends a song, you can listen to 30 seconds of it before you decide to buy it or not. If an artist is performing in concert, you can see who in your friends network is attending the event. You can also share music recommendations through Facebook.
"Ping isn't the move to the cloud that many had thought might happen, but it does allow Apple to participate in some of the dialog, discussion and music discovery that we have seen on subscription-based services," Rubin observed.
Game Center further advances Apple's position in the mobile gaming market, according to Gartenberg. "It has multi-player matchups, leaderboards -- all the things that you'd want in a gaming service," he maintained.
While iPods have, in recent times, lacked the pizzazz of other Apple products, it seems that this week's event has put new juice into the line. "This is one of the best refreshes yet," Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told MacNewsWorld.
"Given that a lot of us were thinking that the iPod was last decade's news, this was a very strong product launch for Apple, probably one of the strongest iPod launches they've ever done," he added.