Yesterday in San Fransisco, Apple [NASDAQ:AAPL] announced a slew of music-related device and software updates for the iPod and Macintosh. Some are big and some are small, but as a collective whole, the updates are an effective reiteration of why Apple is so strong in the personal music space.
First off: the software stuff. A new iTunes 8 took center-stage for a while as Steve Jobs iterated its numerous new features, including the return of video purchaes from NBC to the iTunes Store after a year hiatus. Not only that, but NBC's shows -- and others -- can now be purchased in HD for $3. What that will do to download speeds has yet to be seen, but most viewers would likely wait another few minutes for their purchase to finish if it means they get to watch Alec Baldwin's beautiful, statuesque face on 30 Rock in HD.
Also on the docket were Genius Playlists, also known as shuffle with brains. The feature lets iTunes peruse your music and get a feel for its sound and structure, which in turn can drive iTunes recommendations and create custom playlists you might like.
There's also a new "grid view" for browsing your music library that makes the concept of "cover flow" an actually-useful feature. Not that it was totally superflous before, but... it was totally superfluous before. Apple has also brought in a new visualizer called Magnetosphere, which is rumored to sync up perfectly with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And any other album you play on iTunes.
Hardware-wise, there was iPod news aplenty, starting with the downgrading/pricebreaking of the iPod Classic. The 160GB version is no more, sadly and mysteriously, but the version below it -- which was once 80GB for $250 -- has been boosted to 120GB for the same price.
Then there was the new Nano. It ditched the squat form factor of last year's model and regains its tall, svelte look, and borrowing the curved backplate from the iPhone. The screen is larger, and the UI has been revised so that album art now appears on the bottom side of the screen while the user is operating the menus. It's available in a whopping nine colors, which I won't list here, for fear that I will drool on my keyboard and electrocute myself. The 8GB model will be $150 and the 16GB will be $200, and Apple has added headphones with a line-in mini-mic to allow for voice recording. It's also added an accelerometer that lets you view everything horizontal, ala iPod Touch, and get this: if you want to play in shuffle mode, you can just shake it. Battery life hasn't changed much from the last generation: 24 hours of music and four hours of video, but green gred has improved; there is apparently no arsenic, BFR, mercury or PVC in the new model. You can eat it, too!
There was also a new iPod touch on display, with a curved, chrome backplate and new external volume controls. The best part of the update: integrated Nike+ reception, as well as on-the-fly genius playlist creation (which will also be included in the iPhone 2.1 software update this Friday, along with better battery life, fewer dropped calls, and bug fixes.) The 8GB will now run you $230, the 16GB $300, and the 32GB $400 -- all cheaper than before.
Oh, and one final update: the iPod shuffle, while unchanged, will now come in new colors like its big brother, the Nano.