THE PIED PIPER OF CUPERTINO Steve Jobs took to the stage earlier this evening to unveil a load of updated Ipods and a cut price version of the Apple TV.
As Apple has seen its original cash cow being overtaken by the Iphone, Jobs knew that something had to be done to make sure that Christmas sales would not disappoint. Clearly aware that the faithful could not live without the latest Apple fashion accessory, he decided to refresh the firm's line of music players.
First out of the blocks was the Ipod Shuffle, which got its buttons back after Jobs admitted that users missed them in the previous generation. For £40 with 2GB capacity, Jobs promised a 15 hour playback and five different colours.
Unsurprisingly, the Ipod Touch got a major update with front and rear facing cameras. The biggest update was the inclusion of Apple's A4 chip, the same chip found in the firm's Iphone 4 and Ipad. Jobs also confirmed that the device will have Apple's 'retina display'. Silly name or not, the incredibly high pixel density is a joy to behold and is the sort of technology that Apple should incorporate in more of its products.
Pricing for the Ipod Touch seemed a little hairy, even by Apple's standards. Jobs announced that the 8GB version would go for $229 while the 32GB would cost $299 and the 64GB, $399. As is typical, Brits get shafted with the 8GB, 32GB and 64GB models costing £190, £250 and £330 respectively once various taxes and levies are added, which Apple now displays separately on its online store.
The most dramatic update was reserved for the Ipod Nano. The pint sized music player has now shrunk down to little more than a touch screen capable of displaying little more than four Iphone OS (IOS) icons.
It's an impressive looking device with the screen supporting multitouch. Users can even rotate the display, though it isn't automatic as the device lacks an accelerometer. Jobs claimed that the new Ipod Nano could achieve 24 hours of playback. The unit comes in 8GB and 16GB capacities going for £130 and £160 respectively.
Jobs also revealed that Itunes would be updated with Ping, a social networking application that focuses on the musical tastes of its users. He was clear to distance Ping from the current social networking darlings, Facebook and Twitter, though it was obvious that Apple's service is going up against Myspace. The first 'fashionable' social network still heavily promotes itself as a place to discover and track musicians though now faces further decline into total obscurity at the hands of Apple.
Ping is a logical progression for Apple given the access it has to record labels, artists and consumers. The ability to keep in touch with artists and friends and snoop on their purchasing and gigging habits seems like a good way for Apple to sell more music through its service.
It was also revealed that Ios 4.1 would be released next week with updates including improvements to the camera application. However the most significant addition was the release of Game Center, a service similar to Microsoft's Xbox Live match making service.
Jobs went to great lengths to show just how popular gaming has become, particularly on the Ipod Touch. With Game Center coupled to the very capable Apple A4 chip within the new Ipod Touch, Nintendo most definitely needs to view Apple as the primary threat in the handheld gaming market.
There was also a preview of IOS 4.2 which Jobs all but alluded would be simply IOS 4.1 rebadged for the Ipad. That update, scheduled to tip up sometime in November, will bring wireless printing and Airplay, another re-hash of an old product, this time Airtunes. Airplay will allow the streaming of music and video to the Iphone, Ipad or Ipod Touch.
Before Jobs signed off he decided to reveal the latest version of Apple TV, something that he labelled as a "hobby", or rather code for products that fail to take off. Admitting that the device had failed to ignite the firm's balance sheet, Jobs outed a palm sized pillbox which has no storage, a single HDMI port, a power connector and Ethernet jack. There's wireless too but aside from that it's little more than a client for renting stuff off Itunes.
While Jobs tried to convince those who dare question his brilliance that paying $4.99 per viewing of a "high definition" 720p film is cheap, others will wonder who will pay £100 for a box which has far less technology than Apple's Ipod Touch.
As we had previously reported, Apple has done a deal with US television networks ABC and Fox for users to purchase shows at 99 cents a pop. As there's no hard drive on the new Apple TV, you'll have to pay that price again if you want to repeatedly watch shows.
Apple's Ipod range for the most part got deserved updates. As Jobs alluded to, the Ipod Touch has now become the primarily cash cow, something that probably explains why the Ipod Classic failed to get an update. With the latest hardware updates, it offers a great mix of form and function. The Ipod Nano received an evolutionary update that makes it even more of a fashion item while the Shuffle is probably the most 'back to basics' product Apple flogs.
The Apple TV on the other hand may end up failing, even though Apple has the right design philosophy. Jobs went into detail on how users want simplicity in the living room, without having to worry about storage or having to deal with another computer. There's no doubt that Apple TV will do just that, but it's pricing is far from conducive.
To be fair to Apple and Jobs, the TV, film and record studios play a very significant role in what Apple is able to charge and Jobs has generally been an advocate of lowering prices in this area. Nevertheless, paying $4.99 to see a film is not exactly cheap given that you won't have a local copy.
Apple TV may remain Jobs' hobby but the refresh to the Ipod range should do more than enough to make sure Apple enjoys healthy Christmas sales. µ
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