Rating Apple's Annoucements: Great Updates to iPods, iTunes and a Meh Apple TV

Navneet Alang September 2 Apple

Now that the Internet has ever-so-slightly calmed down after another Apple-induced frenzy, it’s time to step back and think about the significance of Apple’s announcements on Wednesday afternoon.

What did Apple bestow upon us from up high? Well, as you probably know by now, we got new iPods and a revamped Apple TV. The iPod Shuffle got its groove – um, I mean buttons – back; the iPod Nano is now basically all screen; the iPod Touch is, once again, just like an iPhone without a phone; and Apple also announced iOS 4.1, and a product you may have heard one or four-hundred rumors about, the Apple TV.

How did they do? Was this a knock your socks off iPad keynote? Or a ‘meh, I guess it’s cool iPhone 3GS launch’? Let’s take a look.

 

iPod Shuffle: Okay…

There’s very little to say about the red-headed stepchild of Apple’s iPod line. This new iteration changes very little, as it essentially reverts to an older Shuffle with some new Genius playlists and the same voice features as the previous model. Most importantly, it does suggest that people like buttons – whether or not Steve Jobs does.

Rating: B. Unexciting, but it’s decent value and by being the perfect MP3 player for the gym, it does exactly what it’s supposed to.

 

iPod Nano: Touchy About Having No Camera or Video ?

Though we in the tech world tend to focus much more on fancy smartphones now, there are still millions of people who buy MP3 players. But that small, mass-market hasn’t gotten multi-touch until now. With its small front being entirely a touch-screen, the Nano is an excellent introduction to the ease and functionality of Apple’s multi-touch display, and we’re sure Apple will sell a fair number of these.

That said, the new form factor of the Nano means it loses two things: video playback and a camera, both of which have been big selling points for the previous couple of Nano iterations. Now, Apple’s most mainstream MP3 player doesn’t have a basic feature that most others do – i.e. video – while it loses any camera functionality. What this means is that Apple is increasingly focusing on the iPod Touch, and the days of a standalone Apple MP3 player with a display may be numbered.

After all, with an iPod Touch only costing another a scant $50 more, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the iPod Touch didn’t cannibalize Nano sales even more. While the prices for equivalent storage are quite significantly different, when you consider the appeal of both video playback, Facetime, a camera and the App Store, it’s difficult not to wonder what Apple was thinking with such a minimalist design.

Rating: C. The multi-touch screen is neat, but the tiny Nano sacrifices too much and is too closely priced to the Touch to remain as compelling as it once was.

 

iPod Touch: If You've Got the $$$, Why Buy Any Other MP3 Player?

This was impressive. Apple have given you an iPhone 4, but with no contract. Sure, you can’t make phone calls – but Facetime isn’t a terrible substitute and you can bet young people in particular will now become accustomed to the idea of video calling. Couple that with the vast variety of other features – HD video, photos, the App Store – and this is one truly compelling, exciting piece of technology.

What’s more, with the same downclocked iPad processor as the iPhone 4, the iPod Touch is now probably as powerful as Nintendo’s 3DS and also likely scoots ahead of Sony’s PSP. So not only do you get a great music player, a camera that shoots HD video and the App Store, you get a solid gaming machine that, while not ideal for hardcore gamers, suffices for everyone else.

Rating: A. Who knew that the long promised future of the all-in-one device that surfs the web, shoots pictures and video and has a huge app selection would arise out of a simple music player? Great stuff, Apple.

 

iOS 4.1: Gamecentre, HDR and a 3G Fix?

Gamecentre is a way bigger deal than a lot of people think. Although Jobs pointed out in his presentation that they sell more iPod Touches than Sony and Nintendo handhelds combine, with Gamecentre, Apple are taking a step into social gaming. As we’ve seen with Xbox Live, when social gaming is executed well and compellingly, it can turn into a huge business. Though Gamecentre is largely derivative of Xbox Live, with its achievements, leaderboards and cross game invites, it’s still the first large mobile social gaming platform to the market, and by getting the head start, Apple may undercut one of the big selling points of Windows 7 Phone.

HDR photos? One of those small, neat additions. If iPods and AppleTVs are Christmas presents, this was the chocolate you get in your stocking.

Finally, if iOS 4.1 fixes the utter disaster that was iOS4 on the iPhone 3G, Apple would have almost-kinda-sorta made up for an inexcusable and sloppy mistake. Though, truth be told, it should never have happened in the first place.

Rating: B+. We’ll have to see it in action, but it looks solid. (If it actually does fix the iPhone 3G, I would personally bump this up to an A.)

 

iTunes and Ping

With iTunes 10, Apple introduced some minor organizational tweaks (that make it look weirdly like Windows Media Player). But their big news, of course, was new social network Ping.

Looking almost exactly like Facebook, Ping’s attempt at social networking is an impressive idea. Though most people said that Last.fm should be worried, I’d be more concerned about Myspace, who used music as a lifeline to stay afloat. Ping allows you to follow the updates of bands and artists that you’re into, which is great, but also has a discovery component, which iTunes desperately needed.

But will it work? It’s hard to say, particularly if Ping stays in its own world. Without connecting to or integrating with Facebook, it may stay within a small, dedicated group of users who are both music nerds and interesting in joining yet another social network. Personally, I’m with Joanne McNeil, who thinks this network will be moderately successful, but stay niche.

Finally though, a practical question: is adding features to iTunes when the software is already bloated and slow a particularly wise move? For a company who pride themselves on their user experience, iTunes evolution into a clunky, unresponsive mess on all but the very fastest, newest systems is a black mark on an otherwise solid track record.

Rating: Social networks always rely on how their user base reacts and functions, so we’ll have to hold off on rating this. We also need to wait to test how these new features work in iTunes 10.

 

Apple TV

AppleTV was probably the most hyped product before the announcement – but I’m not sure it was the home run Apple were hoping for.

First, the details: the box is tiny; it’s streaming only, and it has done away with storage in favor of a rental-only model; rentals are 99 cents for TV shows and $4.99 for first run movies, both in HD (though 720p); it can stream content from computers and from an iOS device; it also has access to Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and MobileMe galleries.

Why am I not enthused? Well, though it’s definitely better than the previous Apple TV, its reliance on the iTunes ecosystem is less than ideal. As far as we can tell, movies rented on Apple TV can only be watched on Apple TV. What’s more, though the 99 cents price point is what I like to call the official “meh, I can’t be bothered to torrent” level, $4.99 for a rental that is significantly lower quality than the offerings on Xbox Live Zune, PSN or, obviously, Blu-Rays, feels a little hard to stomach. To make matters worse, rentals are only available from ABC and Fox, which though a start, is hardly groundbreaking.

Netflix is an excellent proposition. But if you want Netflix, stream from a computer and get access to a movie/music/TV show store, why not go with an HD console? It’s true that Apple’s strength has always been their user experience and integration. But with Netflix and Hulu Plus being very easy to use on the 360 and the PS3 – and with those consoles in tens of millions of homes – it’s hard to see the value proposition in Apple TV unless you are already locked into the iTunes ecosystem.

Worst though, is that Apple’s lesson from iOS – where they offer both their own content and others’ through apps – is largely muted here. By having no App Store available, not only has the Cupertino gang made the Apple TV less exciting, they’ve also ceded innovation to Google TV (which will have Android apps available) and Sony and Microsoft, who have a variety of other apps for use on a TV, like Facebook and Twitter.

Rating: B. It’s cool, and it’s slick – but even at $99, it’s too expensive compared to competition that offer exponentially more functionality for comparatively little more.

What did you think of Apple’s announcements? Will you be upgrading to anything you heard about?


Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang
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Comments
  • alex

    While I can appreciate that apps may seem handy to some. I have a desktop, laptop, iPodTouch, etc, for Facebook and other things I type. Typing with a remote is never a picnic. I have a Samsung Blu-ray that supports all that crap. To be honest though, I hate using it for anything other than Netflix, Pandora, and Blu-ray disks. Setting up those things through a remote is a real pain in the ass. Steve is right about average consumers, they don’t give a crap about apps and junk, though Hulu+ would be a major plus on the AppleTV; it’s really the only thing I can think of that could really be considered ‘missing’ from the device. Hulu+ would have captured USA, NBC, and those other networks that Hulu is made by/for.

    • alex

      Also, the 99cent rentals look to be watchable on any device according to the features list for iTunes 10. And you’re use of the word exponential seems exponentially extreme. Functionality is in they eye of the beholder. It all depends on what it is you are expecting to get out of a device that ultimately should just bring media to you TV for you to view. It’s the whole point of the device. Also, he’s right about what consumers and people who already have them want, and don’t want. I don’t want a computer at my TV if I did, I would hook(one of) my computer(s) to my TV.

      It might be handy if some tech bloggers could take their heads out of the nerd-clouds once in a while and consider things from the average consumers perspective occasionally. Because Joe Consumer’s question when you say “compared to competition” is, “what competition, I’ve never seen anything that does this, or works this easily.”

      As for it’s “reliance” on iTunes; that’s kind of the whole point. Just like the iPods, and iPhone all depend on iTunes to function. The AppleTV is really just a stationary iPod for your TV, centered around enhancing that experience at the TV. Sure, I could go hook my iPod to the TV, and play a movie from it, but if I could just leave a device there that is dedicated to that, then all I need do is switch my receiver.

  • http://tumblr.abhimanyughoshal.com Abhimanyu Ghoshal

    Sure, multi-touch may be the future, but I don’t understand why Apple is ignoring their best product: the iPod Classic. It’s a beautiful device that I still enjoy using after a couple of years simply because it does the few things it does, well. Why don’t they add some features to it and spruce it up a bit? And it’s not as if people’s media collections are shrinking (yeah, yeah, I hear you, rentals. But you know you’ve got more downloaded music and videos than you know what to do with). I’d love to see an updated version of this awesome device.
    I guess it’ll go down the Walkman road – become a no-longer-relevant classic, but be remembered as the one that started it all. Sigh.

    • alex

      I don’t know what they could do to the Classic other than sind a way to eliminate the spinning media but keep the capacity just as high.

      Some companies even make I believe a zif SSD drive in that form factor. Wouldn’t that be great an SSD in the iPod Classic! Oh, and some gorila-glass instead of plastic over the screen, and some liquidmetal for the case. That would do it, i would buy a new classic with those features.

      Beyond that it’s really just perfect, I still have/use my 30gb iPod Video. Great device, and the scroll-wheel is still the ultimate in eye-off control.

  • Glenn

    The new iPod nano is basically a very VERY expensive Shuffle with a screen. Something people have been wanting since the very first Shuffle came out several years ago. I hope they’re happy now, because I will evidently keeping my last year’s nano for many years to come. It is the perfect size to carry in a pocket and listen to podcasts, music, and watch the occasional TV episode, music video, whatever.

    As for the new TV, it is a very big meh for me. I refuse to pay $.99 every time I want to watch a favorite episode of a TV show. My current TV is just fine, stores all my media on it, and my computer in the other room does not have to be on for it to work.

    • alex

      Well if you have an Apple computer it doesn’t matter it can just WOL or WOW. So you don’t actually have to turn it on, it just turns on when it’s needed by the AppleTV. I kind of think it’s strange to store things in multiple places. I get having a backup, but really the computer is on most of the time the TV is on anyway so it really doesn’t come out any different on power. Not to mention Apple devices are pretty energy friendly anyway.

      You can still buy or rent episodes on your computer, they just only rent to the AppleTV. Honestly though, allot of people only want to watch it once, and 99 cents is a reasonable price to pay to watch it once with no commercials. With say 27 episodes in some seasons that comes out the same as some DVD sets. Which works to the networks advantage really.

  • Jon Gold

    Why would you want an iPod Classic in 2010? The click wheel was a great interface in 2004 but isn’t relevant since touch screens.

    Why anyone would want an MP3 player full stop when they could just have Spotify on their iPhone is beyond me, but I’ll leave that one for a few years :p

    • alex

      It is relevant if you don’t want to look at the screen to control the device. I never look at the screen on my classic unless i’m looking at pictures, reading something, playing a game, or watching a video. The music part i just don’t need a screen for, unless i’m specifically looking for something. The touch wheel offers the, for some, necessary tactile interface. I can feel what button i’m on, so why would want to have to look at it?

  • Joel

    I think the iPod Nano has gone a few steps down. They’ve actually included fewer features now. HD video was made such a big deal of last year when they showed how it was better value than the FlipVideo and now they’re dropped it. Also, what happened to the games? It doesn’t look like this is possible anymore. I don’t know how you can play games on it without a wheel as the touch screen is too small.

    As for Apple TV – it’s lacking in so many ways. I have the current Apple TV and love it but at 720p, it doesn’t compare to Blu-ray. I can clearly see the difference when watching a 1080p blu-ray. The lack of the composite also won’t work for me, because I only have 2 HDMI input in my TV (as most do) and already use one for 1080p HD cable and one for Blu-ray. I also like to download the movies and then watch them to ensure there are no Internet interruptions so not having a hard drive is a hindrance.

    • alex

      Well some people like myself, aren’t limited by the TV HDMI ports because we use a receiver for our switching and surround sound.

      I think for 1080p streaming to be more common the internets infrastructure would need some beefing up. The bandwidth difference between 1080p and 720p when streaming can be significant. That will probably just come in time. Though technically there would be little reason to have blu-ray players or make blu-ray media if they streamed at blu-ray quality. So it would render a whole other standard (which Apple is on the board of) and industry entirely unnecessary.

  • Jim Steinbrenner

    I just purchased an iPod Touch a few months ago but plan to upgrade to the new model when they come out. That retina display and cameras are hard to pass up.