Apple's most compelling new iPods

I knew today's Apple announcement would be big: After all, it's been about two years since Apple had performed a wholesale refresh of its iPod line. Plus, Apple was hosting today's event at San Francisco's Moscone Center - a sizable venue befitting a noteworthy announcement.

But Apple outdid itself this time, not only announcing new pricing, capacities, and physical dimensions, but also introducing the iPod Touch. Here are my first impressions.

New IPod touch - drool city

The iPod Touch is what many people - including me - have been clamoring for. The key reasons:

  • iPhone: It's an iPhone without the phone and that pesky phone service contract (and without e-mail messaging).
  • Screen: You get the 3.5-inch multitouch screen, which was one of the biggest talking points of the iPhone when it came out earlier this year.
  • Touch screen: You enjoy the coolness factor of that pinch-and-squeeze touch-screen interface, which is terrific for watching videos and viewing photos.

Read the official Australian statement from Apple about the new iPod Touch

IPod improvements - more bang for the buck

Also impressive are the substantial changes that have been made to the iPod Classic - the new moniker for the long-standing full-size iPod.

  • Design: The Classic's industrial design is essentially unchanged - the new models are slightly slimmer than before, but not so much so that they will alter your conception of what an iPod looks like. However, the new capacities and pricing are eye-popping. The 80GB model is stickered at A$349 inc GST and the 160GB iPod classic is A$479 inc GST.
  • Size: Apple will offer a whopping 160GB model. That translates into room for up to 40,000 tunes on a single iPod - 40 times the number of tunes the original iPod could hold when it was introduced back in 2002.
  • Interface: The new Classic has the refreshed user interface found on the also-announced Nano (it turns out that all the rumours were correct). The interface is more visual, with previews of the content a menu item will lead you to, and the popular Cover Flow feature for scanning through your albums by artist.

Read the official Australian statement from Apple about the new iPod classic

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IPod Nano: Now With Video

Turns out that those rumors about a completely redesigned and re-engineered Nano were true: The short-and-stout Nano has an intriguing new look, and is pleasingly lightweight and compact to hold in the hand. has an intriguing look, it doesn't strike me as being a revolutionary, market-changing product.

  • Form and Function: I'm thrilled by the lighter weight and how the device fits perfectly in my small hand. Still, I'm not convinced I'd want to watch a two-and-a-half hour movie on it - even if the 2-inch, 320-by-240 resolution display is the same size as that on the iPod Classic carries.
  • Broader Capabilities: The Nano's alterations include adding support for both video playback and casual games (three games come with the unit; more will be available via the iTunes Store). and a lower price (A$199 inc GST for the 4GB model, and A$279 inc GST for the 8GB model).
  • Evolution, not Revolution: All of its innovations aside, the new Nano somehow doesn't strike me as being a revolutionary, market-changing product. The previous, petite Nano is already the most popular iPod Apple makes; these new features and competitive prices will only enhance its appeal. I've seen other compact multimedia devices, though none quite so small or thin as the new Nano. But truly, size is just part of the equation: The bigger hook with the Nano is simply that it's an iPod variation on the concept.

Read the official Australian statement from Apple about the new iPod Nano

The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store

Finally: We can now use a wireless device (other than a laptop PC) to access iTunes while on-the-go, browse the music store, preview tracks, and purchase songs.

  • Downloads at Will: The Wi-Fi Store is an important innovation: It makes buying music so much more impulsive, so much convenient, and even so much more social than before. Imagine being at a party, hearing a song, and thinking you want to own it. Now, you can just whip out the iPod Touch, connect to the iTunes store over Wi-Fi (assuming you have a connection), and buy the song, right on the spot. About time - especially given how so many mobile carriers are now in the game of letting you download music on the fly (too bad the selections tend to be narrow, and the prices sky-high).
  • The Starbucks Connection: Fascinating announcement, that one about the partnership with Starbucks. I'm harsh, though: Considering the deal was in the works for over two years, I'm surprised it's going to take Starbucks as long as it will to roll out the service to its 5,000-some-odd Wi-Fi enabled stores. Given time, once it's up and running full-tilt nationwide by 2009, I can see the Starbucks in-store music identification and purchase ability becoming something of a socio-cultural experience, in the way that Venti lattes are now part of the cultural lexicon.
  • Identifying Music?: The Starbucks deal is fine and great if you're in a Starbucks, but what if you're out and about elsewhere and want to identify and download a track? Happens all the time to me, which is why I love the concept of Gracenote's Mobile MusicID service -- and I was sorry to hear that the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store didn't support this service (or something like it) for locations outside of Starbucks' sphere. Sure, the Touch lacks a microphone so the device can't capture music . . .but what if it could? That would be the ultimate marriage: Taking a service that can identify tracks by their waveform, and then matches you up to the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store so you can buy those tracks. Sigh. Maybe next time 'round we'll get this feature.

Read the official Australian statement from Apple about the new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store

In summary

While the Nano is appealing for its diminutive size and uber-light weight, the iPod Touch and the 160GB iPod Classic both will transform the portable media player market in a way that competing devices can't come close to doing.

These two products are clearly the most compelling announcements of the bunch (though the Wi-Fi Music Store makes waves of its own). Both will help Apple achieve what it needed to do after two years of semi-inertia in hardware design and updates--they will entice existing iPod owners to buy a new device.