Daniel Eran Dilger
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Curious Stuff About the New iPods

Daniel Eran Dilger
Apple’s iPod Event introduced a flurry of new features that raises some interesting questions and uncovers some new information on Apple’s worldwide plans to expand the iPod’s reach.

The Standard iPods.
The entire existing iPod lineup got a revamping, with the Shuffle simply getting new colors, the Nano getting video playback, video games, and Coverflow, and the 5.5G iPod, commonly called the “video iPod,” getting more capacity, a facelift, and new official designation as the “iPod Classic.”

Those three products all maintained existing price points with several new features:

The 3G Video Nano, leaked under the name “Fat Nano” and called the “3G Nano” by Apple, gets a 2“ 320 x 240 screen for video and Coverflow features, as well as video game compatibility with the 5G iPods. It ships with three free games: Apple’s Vortex, Klondike, and iQuiz. The Nano also remains the only iPod that works with the Nike+ system.

Nano is rated for 24 hours audio playback, 5 hours video playback and comes in two 6.5 mm thick versions:

  • 4 GB $149, silver
  • 8 GB $199, silver, black, red, blue, green

3G iPod NanoiPod Shuffle

Those new colors match the iPod Shuffles, which remain at $79.

The iPod Classic is mildly revised, thinner, and offers a new top capacity of 160 GB. This is the only remaining hard drive based iPod, and comes in silver or black. It is rated for 40 hours audio playback, 7 hours video playback, and comes in two versions:

  • 80 GB $249, silver, black, 10.5 mm thick
  • 160 GB $349, silver, black, 13.5 mm thick

iPod Classic

New OS X iPods.
Many assumed an iPod based on the iPhone would be a natural, but I originally didn’t expect Apple to release one this fall. Rumors called for an ”iPhone nano,“ which I argued against back in July. Rather than a new smaller iPhone, Apple released an iPod with iPhone features.

[Kevin Chang, iSuppli and The iPhone Nano Myth]

Iphone Nano

Called the iPod Touch, it has the same display as the iPhone, WiFi, and an even thinner case: 8 mm vs 11 mm. Its WiFi works with same Safari browser and YouTube client as the iPhone, the it delivers the same Coverflow features and multitouch photo and video playback. It also adds a new WiFi Store application for buying songs from iTunes.

Oddly, the iPod Touch appears to lack the Google Maps, Weather, and Stocks widgets of the iPhone, which is a curious omission. It also lacks a Mail client, Notes, and a camera. It does have the iPhone’s Calendar and Contacts–making the new iPod Touch a full fledged PDA.

Interestingly, Apple has also added dictionaries for UK English, French, and German, and localized support for English, French, German, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Russian, and Polish.

Clearly, Apple plans to blow out the new iPod touch worldwide at a scale far faster than is possible with the iPhone, which is tied to service provider agreements in every location. That may also explain why Apple isn’t advertising the US based stocks, weather, and Google Maps applications with the iPod Touch, although YouTube is there, and Mail should be.

It appears Apple is ready to establish the iPod Touch around the world to prime the market for the iPhone. Also, there’s no longer much reason to try to get around activation for the iPhone.

iPod touch

Put a Mail and VoIP client for this device, and the mobile phone market may change dramatically worldwide, shifting from cellular to WiFi. At $300 – 400, this makes a very cheap Internet mobile computer. The iPod Touch also offers 8 or 16 GB of Flash storage, twice that of the largest iPhone.

  • 8 GB $299 8 mm thick
  • 16 GB $399 8 mm thick

The iPhone meanwhile, got an aggressive $200 price drop and the smaller 4 GB model was discontinued. I did not expect Apple to cut its price so soon or so much, particularly given the fact that sales appear to have surpassed all other smartphones and even tied the popular LG Chocolate feature phone.

  • 8 GB $399, 11 mm thick.

This will be painful news for mobile makers already struggling to live up to comparisons with the iPhone. Motorola is banking on the RAZR 2, which is just another flip phone with slight improvements in its crappy software. Nokia demonstrated the iPhone as its own vision for the future. Things don’t look good for mobile makers, or their service provider partners, particularly the CDMA2000 Sprint and Verizon in the US.

The iPhone was already cheaper, now it’s no contest. Say goodnight, Palm and Windows Mobile.

Mobile Prices

[Ten Fake Apple Scandals: Phony Rage About iPhone Price and Profits]

The New WiFi Store
Steve Jobs also demonstrated a new WiFi Store, a custom application that will be released for both the iPod Touch and the iPhone later in the month. Through the new store, you can search for songs, browse popular tracks or by genre, listen to samples and buy songs at the same $.99 price. Downloads are saved to the device and synced up to iTunes for backup.

Wifi Store
Interestingly, Apple doesn’t use mobile networks to download songs; as I had pointed out, WiFi is far faster. Also, there’s no provision for subscription music, keeping the iTunes DRM simple and consistent. No exploding media, and no prohibition from using your own music on CDs.

One thing I thought would be impractical was a mobile iTunes store; Apple’s slick custom app version makes me wrong on that point. ”Will iTunes sales jump if the iPhone gets a more difficult to navigate mobile interface that is slower, more complex, and more restrictive?“ As it turns out, Apple didn’t add any Janus style DRM.

One missing feature on the iPhone and iPod Touch is no Internet streaming music capacity. Even if this was only available over WiFi, it would make a lot of sense–as a feature, certainly not as a way to sell downloads. But since Apple makes its money selling hardware and not on selling music, adding iTunes’ Internet radio features might make sense. The reason for no offering it may be that WiFi streaming would kill the battery too quick.

Iphone Sync
[Using iPhone: File and iTunes Sync Via USB, Wireless, and Over the Air]

Starbucks’ Hot Spots.
Apple announced a partnership with the ubiquitous Starbucks to allow devices running the WiFi Store app–including the iPod Touch, the iPhone, or a laptop running iTunes–to connect at Starbucks locations and download purchased songs at no additional charge. Starbucks will also popup its list of songs being played in the store, you can browse and buy them. The new service is to get rolled out in the thousands of Starbucks stores over the next year.

Missing in the deal was any offer for free WiFi access in general, which is a bit lame. Apple offers free WiFi in its own 200+ retail stores, but it would be great to form a federation of WiFi providers that offer low cost access. Even a cheap subscription service–or free hotspot access with a purchase–would be great.

What’s also interesting is that the WiFi access at Starbucks locations is sold by T-Mobile. Why hasn’t that company jumped to offer low cost WiFi plans for iPhone users? It’s currently trying to sell WiFi VoIP phones; perhaps it should remember that it is a service provider, and offer service to phones, not try to sell more equipment. Offering a $20 HotSpot-only plan would allow T-Mobile to pickup a lot of iPhone–and now iPod Touch–users, customers it would otherwise never gain.

WiFi providers now need to think past just laptop users, and cellular providers with hotspots need to think past cell phone users. While Jobs was in error to call the iPod Touch the first music player with a web browser, it will certainly have far more impact than the existing Archos devices. Jobs demonstrated a custom app for Facebook. Other recent sites geared toward the iPhone version of Safari include a client from WebEx and various third pary games and utilities.

[iPhone Appr]

New Ringtones in iTunes.
Rather than selling static song clips for $2 like the mobile service providers, Apple appeared to ready to add ringtone syncing with the iPhone back in January; screenshots taken during the original iPhone event caught a new Ringtones tab in iTunes. Instead, the tab failed to ever appear and the iTunes contract was revised to say that songs couldn’t be used as ringtones. Clearly, the genius of music executives got involved in the process.

So now, the compromise is revealed. Of a select half million songs on iTunes, users will be able to upgrade a purchased song for an extra $1, and then be able to edit their own section of the song within iTunes for use as an official iPhone ringtone. There are also standalone apps for putting DIY ringtones on the iPhone, but Apple can’t tell you that. Ringtones can also be used to set alarm sounds.

The new version of iTunes is scheduled for availability later today.

What do you think? I really like to hear from readers. Comment in the Forum or email me with your ideas.

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