iPod Refresh 2010 – My Hands On

It’s become an fall ritual as surely as the leaves changing color on trees. Apple’s refresh of the iPod line at their fall music event. I’ve spent some time using the latest models. Here’s what i think. Some wonder whether a refresh is needed. To me that’s a non question. It’s like asking car companies why they introduce new models every few years. This years lineup makes a lot of sense, features are segmented more clearly and there’s some new innovation in style And form.

iPod shuffle. This years shuffle takes design cues from the last two generations. The control buttons from two generations ago and the voice over from lasted generation. While the new form factor is evocative of the older one, it’s actually somewhat smaller. With a price of $49 for 2gb this is the value model. While the price is cheap, there’s nothing cheap about the device. The colors this year are a bit more pastel than we’ve seen in the past and the build quality is excellent with no visible seams. The shuffle makes for a nice entry level device with basic features.

iPod nano. This years nano takes a few steps forward and a half step back. What’s missing? There’s no camera for video recording, no games, no video playback. What you do get is a small multi-touch screen with iOS like icons (although it’s not an iOS device). It’s small enough to be wearable, clip included and paired with a wristband it’s even a watch replacement. (there’s a cool watch app built in). The touch features are a little different than we’ve seen before but take only a moment to learn. While I normally don’t like to see devices lose features in the case of the nano I’ll make an exception. My old nano has some games as well as videos on it ms I’ve never used either. Likewise, the camera on last years model has rarely been used. By keeping the focus on music features first and foremost and driving the design forward Apple likely has another hit on it’s hands.

iPod Touch. The iPod touch adds the most features and it’s now the flagship of the line. Think all the great stuff Apple added to iPhone 4 minus the phone. It’s almost all here. Retina display, FaceTime, A4 processor and gyro. Plus it comes in capacities up tp 64gb. The secondary camera takes 720p video but only sub megapixel images. Good enough for facebook as snapshots not photographs. As expected you’ve got the full catalog of iOS apps. Games in particular are excellent. With WiFi and Skype you can actually use the iPod touch as a great IP phone. In short, this is Apple’s best iPod. Ever.

It’s been nine years since Apple introduced iPod and a lot has changed over the years. While many consumers have supplanted a media player with a smartphone, for many users iPod os the way to go. With a lineup from $49 to $399 Apple has the most diverse product line that scales well. (for those with large media collections, Apple’s kept the iPod classic around with 120gb and last years price). The new models represent a decade of learning, technology advances and design expertise. For those looking for the gold standard in portable media or want to join on the iPhone app revolution without the phone, Apple has a device that just might be right for you.

A tale of two TVs from Apple and Google

Last week, Apple unveiled the newest version of Apple TV. It’s a stark contrast to what Google’s attempting to create. That’s the topic of this week’s Engadget column.

Apple’s shown the ability to do the two things that will make Apple TV a success over time: engineer content deals once thought impossible and evangelize developers. What we saw this week is likely just the next step in the larger iOS platform play — although the TV is the next battleground for connected screens and applications, the platform is what matters in the long term, and Apple should treat the battle for the living room as a marathon, not a sprint.

When less beats Moore

One of the more fun parts of my job is that I get to look at a lot of different devices. Recently, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X-10 Mini-Pro (which is quite a name) captured my attention. It isn’t the largest screen or fastest phone you can buy but it may mark the beginning of a trend of a new breen of devices. That’s the subject of my latest Engadget column.

As platforms mature, they tend to fragment into products that can meet specific needs. That’s true of everything from cars to toothpaste. It’s going to be true of smartphones as well. The X10 Mini Pro shows what the future of feature phones will look like. A device like this, optimized for communication, loaded with social media applications and running with a $15 dollar date plan would have tremendous appeal to younger audiences. In many ways, it may be devices like this that deliver on the vision Microsoft tried to establish with Kin — but with the platform flexibility and data pricing that Kin lacked. Long term, the X10 Mini Pro isn’t the phone for me, but I suspect it and devices like it could very well be in the sweet spot for some segments of the market. It’s nice to see that when it comes to phones at least, less can beat Moore.

Apple’s Fall Music Event – FIRST TAKE

It’s been a busy morning for Apple with lots of interesting news, a few surprises and some very important and solid products. Let’s get started and I’ll break it all down for you.

Apple introduces iOS 4.1
First up, Apple started with the formal announcement of the first major iOS 4 update, iOS 4.1. What’s new? Quite a lot actually. First there are bug fixes for some of the user reported problems related to the proximity sensor, Bluetooth and iPhone 3G users upgrading to iOs 4. There’s also support for Gamecenter, announced at the WWDC and a cool new feature called HDR for the iPhone 4 camera. HDR essentially takes three pictures, an overexposed an underexposed and mid range and combines them so that highlights are captured properly. There’s a few apps out there that do this now but it’s great to see this integrated into the iPhone experience directly. It will be available next week and the price is free for all supported devices. In a slightly unusual move also announced iOS 4.2 that will bring iOS to the iPad in November along with new features for printing as well as a new media sharing feature called AirPlay. That release will also be available for the iPhone and iPod touch thus unifying the platform.

Apple Refreshes iPod Line
Fall is when Apple typically refreshes the iPod line and this year is no exception with the first time for new designs in the entire line in Sept. The lineup has been changed up and down and it’s a pretty impressive array of products. For those thinking that the iPod has neared and end of life, they couldn’t be more wrong.

iPod shuffle – The shuffle lives in a new design that combines some of the best features of the last two generations. Back are the buttons from the second generation along with the VoiceOver and playlist features from the most recent design. It’s basic but with a price of $49 for 2gb it’s the most affordable iPod yet and still packs an impressive 15 hours of battery life. This years models come in five colors and they’re amazing, the orange is especially nice IMHO. Slightly more pastel in nature they show and attention to detail. This might be Apple’s cheapest iPod but there is nothing cheap about it.

iPod nano – The first time I saw an iPod nano live I recall laughing at how small it was and I couldn’t believe what was holding was a real product. What a difference a few years make. The iPod Nano, now in generation six is amazing. Apple’s made a tiny Multi-Touch screen so there’s no click wheel, just tiny Multi-Touch goodness. There’s no video, camera or games this time around and that makes sense. The screen is just too small to deliver on that experience. This is about music and photos and it has to be seen to be believed. It’s also got 24 hours of battery life and comes in 8gb for $149 and 16gb for $179. I think this one’s going to be a big hit for those looking for the state of the art music device.

iPod touch – According to Apple the touch is now the most popular iPod and it gets even better in this generation. First, as hard as this to imagine, it’s now actually thinner. I mean crazy super model thin. Of course, that’s not all. Ipod touch now has a retina display like the iPhone 4 along with the Gyroscope, the A4 and two cameras front and back. Yep, there’s FaceTime support. The rear camera will do 720p HD video but it’s not a multi-mega pixel for stills. More for casual snapshots appropriate for Facebook and the like. Apple now leads the market in mobile gaming and this new generation will push that lead further. There are three models 8gb for $229, 16gb for $299 and 64gb for $399. Considering the technology that’s in there, that’s very aggressive pricing.

iTunes 10 – Of course it’s not an iPod update without a new version of iTunes. iTunes 10 looks a lot like the prior generation with some more refined views, especially with list view. What’s really new is Apple has built a social networking service called Ping as part of the iTunes experience, centered around music. Users can follow other users and as well as artists. Apple’s starting with about a dozen artists who can post a variety of content. I can see what others are listening, share my music, find out what concerts are happening and let others know they will be there. I can invite others via email or connect to Facebook. There’s also a new Ping button that is activated in iOS so I can also get the whole Ping experience out and about. It’s an important direction for Apple and it sets the stage for a whole new set of services and functions down the road. This might be one of the most important pieces of news longterm from today’s announcements.

Apple Refreshes Apple TV in a BIG way
It’s been around for awhile but Apple TV has never been a runaway hit. Apple’s CEO calls it a “hobby” but the TV is too important for Apple to ignore. The latest version of Apple TV is about a quarter of the size of previous models and it works in a totally different way. It’s designed to deliver and optimized streaming experience to users. It’s totally built around a rental model, not a purchase model although you can still connect to your computer and your iTunes library and stream any content that’s there. Movies rent for $4.99 for first run HiDef and there’s now a TV rental option for $0.99 a show. First networks to join in are ABC and FOX, with the usual suspects expected to join in over time. In addition to YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe there’s also a Netflix client built in. Frankly, it’s the best and nicest implementation I’ve ever seen and that feature alone is worth the price of admission. The price of the new box is $99 making it affordable. Ports include Ethernet, HDMI, USB, optical audio and no power brick. of course there’s also WiFi and it’s powered by an A4. Overall, I like Apple’s approach. By not attempting to include DVR functionality Apple sidesteps the battle for input one on the TV set. It’s a very different approach that Google is taking and I suspect Apple’s approach will likely have more appeal to mainstream consumers. I also expect there’s going to be some questions of a TV device with no apps. While I think an app eco system for TVs can make sense, like the iPhone before it, Apple needs to educate the market on on a paradigm shift. This Apple TV is a reset in many ways and the TV a device with very entrenched habits and behaviors. Before consumers can make a shift to that model, Apple needs to establish a position in the living room. There’s also a lot of issues in terms of user experience, command and control and content rights that need to be figured out. I expect over time we’ll see more here as this product evolves.

Bottom line? This is Apple’s most impressive fall lineup that I’ve seen. Apple’s reset the iPod line making the different products scale well both in terms of features and price. With the addition to the new social network Ping, Apple further reinforces their position as the leaders in digital music and drives the eco system forward. With the new Apple TV, Apple’s managed to keep the best features of the last generation of devices that should keep existing users happy while driving the product forward with more appeal for the mass market. Overall, it’s an important refresh to the lineup and at the same time sets the stage for a number of interesting directions for the future.