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Apple’s big reveal: New iPods, Apple TV, iOS

Apple's fall music event sees a revamp of the iPod product lineup and another crack at Apple TV, including show rentals through iTunes

As expected, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) refreshed its iPod lineup Wednesday, unveiling redesigned versions of its iPod touch, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle music players. But the company didn’t stop there, using its annual fall music event to also announce an update to its iTunes software and an overhaul of its Apple TV set-top box.

The fall music event is an Apple tradition dating back at least six years, in which the company typically rolls out new iPods in advance of the holiday shopping season. This year’s edition took place in San Francisco Wednesday, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs leading a 90-minute run-through of his company’s music plans for the coming months.

New iPod models

Jobs made no bones about it as he introduced an entirely new set of iPods on Wednesday: “It’s the biggest change in the iPod line-up ever,” he said.

The first model Jobs discussed was the iPod shuffle, documenting the different iterations the device has gone through since its inception, culminating in the button-less iPod shuffle that came out last year.

“But people clearly missed the buttons,” said Jobs. So Apple combined elements the second- and third-generation models to create an iPod shuffle with the same circular playback controls that appeared on the second-generation iPod shuffle: Play/Pause, next track, previous track, and volume up and down. The fourth-generation shuffle also includes the third-generation iPod shuffle’s support for multiple playlists and the VoiceOver feature that can announce artists, songs, and albums. Apple’s also added support for Genius playlists and the company says the built-in battery can last for 15 hours of music.

The aluminum exterior of the shuffle comes in five different colors: blue, pink, green, yellow, and silver. Like its predecessors it comes in a single 2G capacity for US$49.

Of course, as Jobs said, the shuffle was not alone in its design revamp. The company also showed off a new design for its iPod nano music player.

“How do we make this better?” Jobs asks. “The iPod nano has been super popular.” The conclusion: Apple eliminated the Click Wheel and instead made the music player touch-based. Like Apple’s other touch devices, it’s capable of multitouch. And for all of that, it’s 46 per cent smaller and 42 per cent lighter than the previous version. “Almost half as small, almost half as light as its predecessor,” Jobs said.

Like the shuffle, the nano has a clip on it, along with physical volume buttons, the same VoiceOver technology. There’s also an FM radio, support for Nike+, a pedometer, VoiceMemos, a Photos app, and support for 29 different languages. According to Apple, the built-in battery can handle 24 hours of audio playback.

Given that the nano’s software is entirely different from that of the previous version, Jobs gave a quick demo, showing off an interface that–if it’s not iOS itself–is certainly reminiscent of iOS devices. The device has multiple Home screens, each capable of holding up to four icons. As on Apple’s iOS devices, you can rearrange the icons by tapping and dragging them. Unlike iOS devices, there’s no Home button–you tap and hold on the screen to return to the Home screen.

While you’re playing back a track, you can tap to bring up the controls as a translucent overlay over the album art. Just in case you clip the nano to your clothes upside down, you can use the two-finger rotate gesture to turn the Home screen.

As with previous versions of the nano, there’s the usual 30-pin dock connector and a headphone jack. However, unlike the fifth-generation iPod nano there appears to be no support for video, either for playback or for recording.

Comes into the same four colors as the new iPod shuffle, plus two additional colors: graphite, silver, pink, blue, green, yellow, and a Product Red version. The new iPod nano will be available in two capacities: a US$149 8GB model, and a 16GB for US$179.

Improved iPod Touch

Among the other goodies showcased, Jobs unveiled the newest iPod Touch, featuring Apple’s Retina display technology, its own A4 chip, and front- and back-facing cameras for FaceTime and video recording.

The iPod touch has gone on yet another diet; it now sports an even slimmer figure than its previous generation while simultaneously getting more powerful innards. In addition to providing more than 40 hours of battery life, the device now sports the same high-pixel-density Retina display and 3-axis gyroscope as the iPhone 4, allowing for faster and cleaner-looking apps and games.

And indeed, the iPod touch as a gaming device was at the forefront of the presentation. Apple says 1.5 billion games have been downloaded from the App Store onto the iPod touch alone, and Jobs even managed to slip in a quick boast noting that the device is outselling both Nintendo and Sony worldwide in the portable gaming market. Furthermore, the newest iPod touch will ship with iOS 4.1 installed, complete with Apple’s new Game Center software that allows for easy multiplayer gaming.

For those not necessarily interested in gaming, the iPod touch also now sports a front-facing VGA camera, making it the second of Apple’s devices with support for its FaceTime video-chatting technology for chatting with both other iPod touch owners and iPhone 4 owners. A second, higher-resolution camera on the back of the device allows for HD video recording and snapping pictures.

The iPod touch comes in three flavors: 8GB for US$229, 32GB for US$299, and 64GB for US$399.

2nd gen Apple TV

Apple announced its second-generation Apple TV during the event, showing off the updated device, which streams movies from the Internet or mobile devices directly to TV sets.

The updated Apple TV will stream HD movies and TV shows purchased from Apple’s iTunes store and can stream movies from Netflix. The device is priced at US$99 and will replace the first-generation Apple TV, which is currently priced at US$229.

Using the new Apple TV, users will also be able to stream multimedia from a computer or a device that runs the iOS operating system to TV sets.

The device, small enough to be held in a user’s hand, will be available in four weeks. Apple is taking orders for the device now.

Apple TV has built-in Wi-Fi capabilities and HDMI output, Jobs said. The company has signed up content providers ABC and Fox, and hopes to reach deals with other content providers.

Sales of wireless and Internet-capable TV sets are increasing and the latest Apple TV device could provide another boost to that highly competitive market. The initial Apple TV service was not considered a success, but the company hopes to succeed with the latest product as Internet and broadcast media continue to merge.

Apple announces iOS 4.1 features, previews 4.2 update

Apple announced it will release an update to its mobile operating system next week that fixes many bugs while introducing several new features to iOS. In addition to the iOS 4.1 update for the iPhones and iPod touch, Apple also previewed another update to its mobile operating system. The iOS 4.2 update will work on all of Apple’s mobile handhelds–including the iPad–when it arrives in November.

Among iOS 4.1’s new features are high dynamic range (HDR) photos, Game Center, uploading full HD videos over Wi-Fi, TV show rentals, and a handful of major bug fixes.

High dynamic range photos are actually three photos shot in rapid succession with different exposure ranges, then combined into one photo featuring the widest color and exposure range possible.

Game Center was first announced when Apple previewed iOS 4 this spring but didn’t appear in the operating system’s June release. It incorporates many of the features of existing third-party iOS gaming networks, allowing users to challenge friends to games, auto-match you with other players “if you don’t have any friends,” compare scores, and discover new games that your friends are playing.

Jobs also announced AirPlay for iOS 4.1, an updated version of Apple’s AirTunes feature that iTunes shares with the AirPort Express. iOS devices will now be able to stream from iTunes, but in addition to audio, AirPlay now allows video and photos to be streamed.

A number of bugs have also been squashed in iOS 4.1. Jobs said the update would address proximity sensor issues with the iPhone 4 as well as problems with Bluetooth connectivity and audio quality. In addition, the iOS 4.1 update should improve sluggish performance on older iPhone 3G models.

A preview of iOS 4.2, which is scheduled to arrive for the iPad in November, also made an appearance. Jobs stated that iOS 4.1 features like Game Center and HDR photos will come to the iPad (despite its current camera-less design), as well as AirPlay and wireless printing–a much requested feature since the iPad first arrived.

Both the iOS 4.1 and 4.2 updates will be free to owners of iOS devices.