At today's media event Apple refreshed their entire iPod line, introduced some new features of with the forthcoming iOS 4.1 and 4.2 as well as introduced a new version of iTV.
Steve Jobs started the event with self-congratulatory sales figures and quickly moved to discuss the upcoming iOS 4.1 release. The first iOS 4.1 highlight was the bucket of bug fixes to resolve the including the proximity, bluetooth and iPhone 3g speed problems. In addition to bug fixes, Jobs introduced a new iOS 4.1 camera feature called High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photos. While it wouldn't be surprising to find that HDR was originally slated for the initial iPhone product release, it does add a nice capability to manage some awkward lighting conditions. When shot in HDR mode the iPhone actually takes three pictures in rapid succession. According to Jobs the iPhone takes images that are overexposed, normal exposure and overexposed. The HDR algorithm combines elements of the three photos to create a new HDR photo that, depending on the conditions, may provide a preferable, enhanced photo. While Jobs spent most of the time discussing HDR he also mentioned that iOS 4.1 will provide the ability to upload HD Videos over Wi-Fi to YouTube, provide the capability to rent TV shows and introduced the Game Center.
Apple's Game Center, introduced earlier this year, provides an API (Application Programming Interface) for developers to build upon as well as the ability for multiplayer games. With multiplayer games users can challenge their friends as well as be auto-matched to pay again similarly skilled opponents.
Jobs also briefly mentioned iOS 4.2 scheduled for release in November. The 4.2 release will bring features such as folders, multitasking and multi-threaded Email which iPhone users enjoy today but it will also provide wireless printing. While he didn't elaborate on the technical details it looks very promising and has the potential to fill a missing gap in the iOS framework today.
While the annual iPad refresh generally has an update for one or two members of the iPad family, this year all the devices were bumped. The smallest iPod, the iPod shuffle, brought back physical buttons. According to Jobs, customers missed the buttons and now they're back. The new devices still have the VoiceOver functionality, a clip to hang it on your sleeve and reportedly plays 15 hours of music on one battery charge. It runs $49 for the 2GB version.
The ever-morphing iPod Nano has returned to a square-shaped design but now with multi-touch screen. 46% smaller and 42% lighter, the iPod Nano now sports the same multi-touch functionality found on the iPod touch and the iPhone. The Nano has a built-in FM radio, voiceover technology and claims to have 24 hours of audio playback. The device starts at $149 for the base 8GB model.
According to Apple and to the surprise of many the iPod touch is now the #1 portable game player with 50% market share. If that was enough good news they also updated the device as well. In this latest version Apple has incorporated key technologies and features. The new iPod touch includes the same Retina display, Apple A4 Chip, 3 Axis Gyro and Front Facing camera as the iPhone. With the inclusion of Game Center Apple is clearly building a gaming ecosystem and expanding the iPod touch capabilities to take advantage of it. iPod Touch users can use the Front Facing camera for Facetime between iPhones as well as other iPod Touch devices. The specs claim 40 hours of music playback and HD Video capability as well. The basic 8GB model starts at $229.00 with a 32GB at $299 and a 64GB model for $399.
In addition to updating the entire iPod line Apple also updated iTunes to version 10. Version 10 introduces, Ping, a new 'Social Network for Music' functionality that enables iTunes users to 'Follow' friends and artists as well as 'Be Followed'. I downloaded iTunes 10 this evening, enabled ping and it looks like there was a significant number of beta users and a significant amount of active usage. On the U2 Artist profile page there were already 9081 followers and Larry Mullins Jr., a member of U2, had picked 10 albums that he liked. There were continuous comments and users were clearly using it as a forum to comment (and hopefully for some) communicate with the band. In addition to commenting and sharing it also provides a list of concerts. The Ping Social Network for Music is Apple's well designed move enable engagement and ultimately amplify purchases.
As the final delight for the day, Jobs introduced a new version of the Apple TV. The revamped product, approximately 25% of the previous versions size, has moved to a streaming-only/rental-only model. Jobs pointed out that users want to watch movies and have no desire to manage movie storage. Accordingly the new Apple TV simply streams HD rentals, music, Flickr, Netflix, YouTube as well as compatible media from Mac and PC computers.