With an eye on the holiday selling season, Apple Inc. on Wednesday at the traditional music-themed September media event announced an overhaul of its iconic iPod line of media players, a revamp of its underperforming Apple TV box, and a new social media network, called Ping, in iTunes.
In a widely anticipated announcement, Apple cut the price of Apple TV to $99, down from $229. It will be available in four weeks. The tiny new Apple TV system will only let people rent, not buy, content.
Many companies are looking to bring Internet entertainment to the living room with set-top boxes and other initiatives, including rival Google, which is expected soon to launch Google TV with several partners.
Apple TV, which had offered movies for sale, is now rental only — including first run movies for $4.99, and TV show episodes from ABC, Fox, Disney Channel and BBC America for 99 cents. Cheaper options for streaming video had been available, including Roku’s set-top boxes that start at $60.
The new Apple TV box is dramatically smaller than the previous version, at one fourth the size. By going to a rental model, consumers won’t have to deal with managing the hard drive of the unit, because everything will be streamed.
Consumers “don’t want a computer on their TV; they go to their TVs to be entertained,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at a preview event in San Francisco.
Apple TV has been around since 2007, but it hasn’t caught on with the mainstream. For one thing, it doesn’t record shows the way TiVo and other digital video recorders do.
And the need to sync the box with a computer was too complicated for most consumers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said. “We’ve sold a lot of them, but it’s never been a huge hit,” Jobs said.
The new Apple TV, which will be available within a month, will give people access to the high-definition version of top movies, though Jobs didn’t say which movie studios have agreed to include their titles for streaming. Television episodes also be available, including such hits as “The Simpsons” and “Glee.”
People who watch content from Netflix Inc. streamed over the Internet can also access their “instant” queue through Apple TV. Apple is offering rentals from News Corp.’s Fox, The Walt Disney Co.’s ABC, ABC Family and Disney Channel and BBC America.
Jobs said he hoped other television companies would join once the service gains popularity. Some media companies have raised concerns that the 99-cent television rentals would undercut higher-priced offerings for permanent download, which sell for $1.99 and $2.99.
Meanwhile, in a bid to reinvigorate the iPod line of music players, Jobs said Apple has “gone wild” with new models. He called it “the biggest change ever in our iPod lineup.” The popularity of the iPhone and the new iPad had sent iPod sales tumbling for the last two years.
The entire line of music players has been redesigned, with a buttonless touch-screen iPod Nano that people control with swipes across the screen instead of with buttons, and a new look for the iPod Shuffle and a significant upgrade for the iPod Touch that brings to it many more iPhone-like features.
The new touch-screen iPod Nano will cost $149 for the 8 gigabyte version and $179 for 16 gigabytes. Like previous versions, the Nano has a built-in FM tuner and can display photos.
Apple also updated the iPod Touch, adding video-chat features similar to the newest iPhone. New features include sharper screen resolution and cameras on front and back, which gives it the ability to handle Apple’s FaceTime video chats.
On the iPhone, FaceTime chats work only over Wi-Fi, and the same system is in place for the iPod Touch. A camera on the back can be used for taking snapshots and recording video.
The iPod Touch, which is basically the iPhone without the phone, sells for $229 for 8 GB, 32 GB for $299 and 64 GB for $399. The new iPods will be available next week, with pre-orders beginning today.
The new iPod Touch could be a “game changer” for the company, says analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies. “FaceTime is going to be huge.”
There, Jobs also showed off a new iPod Shuffle, the smallest, least expensive music player in Apple’s line. Like the most recent Shuffle, the new one can speak the names of playlists and songs.
But Apple backtracked from its last design, which did away with physical buttons on the music player. The new $49 device brings back the square shape and buttons of Apple’s second-generation Shuffle.
Apple gave its iTunes software a minor makeover, too, and added some social features to help people discover new music and tap into what friends are listening to.
The feature, called Ping, is likely based on the technology Apple acquired with the purchase of Lala.com last year. The Ping section in iTunes 10 lets people “follow” friends, musicians and others, and see such details as what music they’re buying and what concerts they’re attending.
The information will come in a long stream of updates, similar to the way Facebook and Twitter work. Apple announced additional updates to the software that runs iPhones, the iPod Touch and the iPad.
Next week, iPhone and iPod Touch users can download a free new version, iOS 4.1, that offers the ability to upload high-definition video over Wi-Fi. And when people take photos, the new software will save three slightly different copies that, when combined, make for a sharper image.
The iPad currently runs an older version of iOS than the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch. It doesn’t allow for much multitasking — running more than one program at a time — and it doesn’t have folders for programs.
Jobs said an update coming in November will bring the iPad’s capabilities in line with those of smaller gadgets. It will also add such features as wireless printing to Apple’s tablet computer. Apple had been criticized for making a powerful device but hobbling it by not including any ports for USB devices such as printers or thumb drives.
While there is still no subscription offering within iTunes, its audience is huge. Jobs noted that iTunes has 160 million accounts and that Apple has sold 11.7 billion songs to date.
In other sales data, Jobs said Apple has sold 120 million iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads to date and that there have been 6.5 billion downloads from the App Store — or 200 every second. [Apple via NY Daily News, Reuters, Daily Mail (UK) and CNET]