Few if any major surprises emerged from Apple’s press event here Wednesday. The crowd was more or less expecting a new iPod Touch with front and rear cameras and FaceTime video calling that makes it that much more like an iPhone 4 — without the phone part or a wireless contract.
And no one was shocked that Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled a smaller and, at $99, far cheaper version of the Apple TV set-top box that Jobs often has referred to as a “hobby.”
And with “social” the mantra of all things tech nowadays, the appearance of the new music-oriented Ping social network inside iTunes 10 — it borrows elements from Twitter and Facebook— also shouldn’t have come out of left field.
Over the coming weeks, I plan to try out all of Apple’s new offerings. In the meantime, here are some quick thoughts:
The iPod Nano used to be the most popular iPod. That distinction surprisingly now belongs to the more expensive iPod Touch.
Both devices are getting a makeover as is the ever-more-diminutive iPod Shuffle, now just $49 with 2 gigabytes of storage.
Adding a multitouch interface to the Nano is probably the biggest change, a development that let Apple designers take the device to half the size and weight of the previous generation. You’ll have to rely on multitouch, because Apple did away with the click-wheel folks used to use to access songs, artists, albums and playlists.
There’s no home button as there is on the iPhone. Instead, you hold down your finger against the display to return to the Home screen.
Apple also added a clip that lets you wear the Nano on a pocket or lapel, just like on the Shuffle. It also has an FM radio. An 8-GB Nano costs $149. A 16-GB model is $179.
The cameras and FaceTime are the main feature add-ons for the iPod Touch, which will come in three versions: $229 for an 8-GB model, $299 for 32 GB and $399 for 64 GB.
But the strikingly thin Touch shares other traits with iPhone 4, including a handsome so-called Retina Display and a robust and power-efficient A4 chip that helps promise to push battery life for audio to up to 40 hours.
Jobs concedes that Apple TV hasn’t exactly been a best seller, though those of us who own prior versions of this set-top box tend to be fans of it. Dropping the price to $99 — it had been $229 — could attract buyers, though whether it’s elevated beyond hobby status remains to be seen.
The under-4-inch square box is one-fourth the size of the previous generation. On the back are ports for plugging in power, an HDMI cable or an ethernet cable. There’s also built-in Wi-Fi. Unlike earlier Apple TVs, there’s no built-in storage.
And you can’t purchase movies directly from the box — instead it is all about streaming. HD movie rentals from all major studios can be streamed for $4.99 a pop. A selection of HD TV show rentals — from ABC, Fox, Disney Channel and BBC — go for 99 cents each. At this point, Apple TV would seem to compete more against a Roku set-top box then, say, what will emerge from Google TV. You can stream content off Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and Apple’s own MobileMe service. You can also stream music, photos and videos from a PC or Mac, but a computer isn’t otherwise required.
I also would have liked to see Apple’s iOS 4 and the ability to run games or other apps through Apple TV onto your big-screen TV. That didn’t happen.
Want to know which songs your friends are listening to? When you “follow” them through the new Ping social network inside iTunes, you’ll get the skinny on the stuff they’re opining about, listening to and ultimately purchasing.
You’ll even see a consolidated top 10 list of songs downloaded among your circle of friends.
Apple appears to be sensitive to privacy concerns, so you and your friends must give permission to follow or be followed. You can also follow performers such as Lady Gaga, letting you check out videos and concert listings.
Ping works on the iPhone and iPod Touch as well.
At least one pre-event rumor did not come to pass: I’d have liked the ability to store my entire iTunes music collection online in the Internet “cloud” to access anywhere, any time from any compatible computer or device. [via USA Today and Telegraph (UK)]