Apple held its traditional September product launch event this morning in San Francisco. This is usually the time of year when they update their iPod range of products. This article is a more or less real-time summation of the products and announcements offered this morning, so apologies if it isn't as well edited as normal.
This year, they announced a number of new products, and gave a bit of corporate background about their ongoing growth and sales achievements. Their retail stores are proving to be very successful, with 300 stores in 10 countries (US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Australia and China). They have as many as 1 million people a day visiting their stores.
They have now sold over 120 million iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads – the three families of products that use what they now refer to as their iOS system, and are selling almost a quarter million new iOS devices every day.
The concept of third party software for these devices is proving to be wildly popular – they have over 250,000 so-called 'apps' for iOS devices, and over 200 are downloaded every second of every day.
Today sees the release of their new version of iOS, version 4.1, which will be available for download next week for the iPhone and iPod Touch. It offers some bug fixes and some new enhancements. One of the nicest enhancements is allowing the camera to take 'High Dynamic Range' photos – a sophisticated capability that to an extent seems a bit out of place in such a basic camera as that on the iPhone, but welcome nonetheless. Something that will be popular with younger readers is adding a Game Center to allow for multi-player games over iPhones.
They also provided some teaser information about the next version of iOS, to be called 4.2, primarily designed to add to iPad functionality. It will allow for wireless printing from an iPad to a printer, and gives the iPad folders and other multi-programming abilities. iOS 4.2 is due to be released in November, and will be a free upgrade.
With that as introduction, Steve Jobs then turned to detail the main part of the event – a complete new range of iPods being released.
There can be no doubt that the iPod was the turning point in Apple's corporate life. Apple has now sold 275 million iPods since it was first launched nine years ago (October 2001).
The smallest product in their series, the iPod Shuffle, has been redesigned and now looks a bit like an earlier model. It remains incredibly tiny and boasts an impressive 15 hour battery life (up from 10 hours in the current models). But the iPod Shuffle's biggest feature has always been its low entry price, now reduced further to a mere $49 (for a 2GB capacity player). The Shuffle was formerly $59 for a 2GB unit and $79 for a 4GB unit – it seems the Shuffle might now only be available in a 2GB capacity.
I continue to dislike the iPod Shuffle however, due to its limited capabilities and constrained user interface. Don't be seduced by the low price – spend a bit more to get a better iPod such as a Nano or Touch.
Which leads to the next part of Apple's product release. The Nano. This has been completely redesigned, and also made massively smaller. It is now similar in size to a Shuffle (ie perhaps 1.5" x 1.5" and now is controlled via a touch screen interface rather than by the former traditional/classic iPod wheel and buttons.
One big disappointment – the new Nano no longer offers the video camera that was built into the previous version. This was a lovely little unit that I found myself using due to its convenience (rather than its quality) and it is sad to see it go.
The new Nano units have the same 24 hours of battery life as their predecessors (when used for audio playback, or presumably 5 hours of video), and come in 8GB and 16GB capacities, selling for $149 or $179. These are the same prices and capacities as the previous Nano units.
The next product they released was a new version of the iPod Touch, a device which has become the most popular of the iPod product range. The iPod Touch is essentially identical to an iPhone, except for lacking the phone, camera and GPS capabilities.
The new iPod Touch model line has been updated to mimic most of the enhancements of the new iPhone 4, although it looks a little different in terms of shape. It has the same high resolution display (what Apple calls its 'Retina' display) and adds both a front and rear facing camera, the same as on the iPhone 4.
The iPod Touch offers an impressive 40 hour battery life for music playback, up from 30 hours in the previous models. Their video playback battery life is not yet known, but the previous model offered up to 6 hours, so perhaps the new units offer up to 8 hours. The Touch comes in three capacities – an 8GB unit for $229, a 32GB unit for $299 and a 64GB unit for $399. The previous iPod Touch units had the same capacities, and were priced at $199/$299/$399, so there is a slight increase in the 8GB unit (which no-one should choose) but no change in price (or increase in capacity) for the other two units. Of course, one can fairly say that the new iPod Touch units have more features (better screen and two cameras) so they are arguably better value than before.
This was an interesting omission. There is no reference to their iPod 'Classic' – the hard disk based higher capacity iPod that currently is available in a 160GB version selling for $249. This has long been expected to be retired, to be replaced instead with a higher capacity iPod Touch (probably a 128GB unit), but it seems that whatever the future of the iPod Classic may be, Apple is not rushing to release a higher capacity iPod Touch, and perhaps part of the reason for this can be seen in the Touch pricing. If they are continuing to sell a 64GB Touch for $399, it seems that a 128GB unit would probably have a price of $499, which makes for a huge price jump for someone wanting more than 64GB of capacity.
The new iPods will be on sale from next week.
Steve Jobs went on to release a new version of the iTunes management program used for buying and managing songs, videos and application programs on Apple iOS devices. This new version will be iTunes 10. It adds 'social networking' features so you can see what your friends are listening to/watching, with these new social networking features grouped together under the term 'Ping'.
Lastly, Jobs followed his typical pattern of attempting to spring a surprise on the audience, and this time chose to announce a new product, Apple TV – something widely anticipated, and a successor to an earlier and not very successful product of the same name.
The new Apple TV is a device for renting and streaming video from internet suppliers, through the Apple TV box (it is just a box that connects to a video monitor, not a television set) and to a video monitor. Episodes of television shows will be 99c each, first-run movies $4.99. The device will also stream video from Youtube and Netflix, or from anything stored on your computer (including pictures and music as well as video).
Full details of the rental policies aren't yet clear and will probably vary from product to product and from source/supplier to source/supplier, but one example shown indicates that if you rent a video, you have 30 days to start watching the video, and 48 hours to finish watching the video.
The Apple TV unit will sell for $99, and goes on sale in four weeks.
We expect that the new Apple TV unit will prove very successful. Indeed, we fear that just as iPhone sales overloaded the phone data networks, runaway Apple TV sales may massively stress some parts of the internet in general.
Overall, this was a great series of new product announcements by Apple, and shows that the company is moving quickly forward in all dimensions of their product range.
But what was missing? Other than any reference to the iPod Classic, one possible extra announcement that would have definitely been a bonus would have been an upgrade to the iPad – adding a camera or two in particular. But with Apple currently selling all the iPads it can manufacture at present, I guess there's no pressing need to upgrade this product series any time sooner than its one year anniversary point.
What are the 'must buy' items from these new release announcements? Well, actually, not very much leaps out as a must-buy upgrade to people who already own a previous version of one of these devices. The iPod Shuffle remains an entry-level product that should be of no interest to most MP3 player purchasers, the new Nano has a nicer touch screen interface but otherwise is mainly the same as before, and reducing its size from already very small to even smaller is not a major point. The cameras on the iPod Touch are nice, but the higher quality screen makes very little difference to most things you look at.
However, the Apple TV unit, at a mere $99, is now priced so low (the earlier units were $229 and underfeatured/undersupported and offered at a time when Apple wasn't the giant of consumer electronics/entertainment devices that it now is) and seems to offer so much that it will surely be massively tempting for people to buy 'on spec' just in case it proves to be a viable useful device.
Almost certainly Apple is trimming its margins on the Apple TV product to the bone in the hope of making more money by keeping a share of 'backend' rental fees that you'll end up paying every which way to use the device, and the obscured costs of renting video to watch through the Apple TV will doubtless eclipse the upfront $99 purchase price. And if a flurry of downloads of multi-gigabit high definition movies to Apple TV devices doesn't destroy the internet as we know it, we can probably expect this to quicken the transition by many ISPs to place limits on how much internet data we can get per month, and to start charging us for extra usage over and above such limits.
It is foreseeable that the $5 cost of downloading a movie rental might be matched by another few dollars of charge for the internet bandwidth usage.
This type of video streaming might also quicken a transition to a multi-level internet, with data streams being given higher or lower priority based on their type and the price you pay for them.
Lots to speculate on. And lots to look forward to. Well done, Apple.