Apple hasn't been resting, and shortly after our last newsletter in which we recapped some of their recent product updates, Steve Jobs held a press conference to introduce another slate of new products and updates. Here they are!
To us, this is Apple's most interesting announcement. Since the AppleTV was introduced, it has always been something of a curio in the product line, with Steve Jobs even referring to it as a company "hobby." It served both as a conduit between the visual stuff on your Mac (photos, videos), and also allowed you to purchase shows and movies which would be stored on its hard drive. At $299 (later $229), it sold modestly, and while it did what it was supposed to, it never topped anyone's lists of favorite Apple products.
The new AppleTV might change that. Unlike most products which add features over time, the new AppleTV has been radically minimized and simplified: they took out the hard drive. Now it costs $99 and is physically tiny, a home entertainment accessory rather than a mini-computer, a bridge connecting both your Mac(s) and the internet to your TV, and nothing more.
What can you do with it? Rent stuff. You can't "purchase" movies anymore. TV shows are now $0.99 per show, and movies are $2.99-$4.99. Better still, NetFlix subscribers can watch all the NetFlix streaming content they want at no additional cost, pretty much making the Roku obsolete. And straight from your TV you can stream content from YouTube, flickr, MobileMe, podcasts, internet radio, or your computer. You can also see Rotten Tomatoes movie reviews.
We think AppleTV might have matured by simplifying. It now has clarity of purpose and the right price. $99 and 15 minutes of hookup turns your TV into an easy-to-use, on-demand content hub. Videophiles take note: AppleTV outputs 720p, not 1080i or 1080p, for its HD content.
New iPod touch
Apple's "iPhone without the phone" now has the supersharp "retina" display and zippy performance of the iPhone 4G, becomes supermodel thin, adds a camera on the back (finally!) for both stills and quasi-HD video, adds a camera on the front for FaceTime video chat, and adds a microphone for voice notes. $229 for 16GB, $299 for 32 GB, $399 for 64 GB. I kind of want one.
New iPod shuffle
Last time out, Apple really went bonkers with their cheapest iPod, taking "smaller is better" to an absurd extreme -- it didn't even have buttons. That minimalist extremity has been corrected, bringing back the elegant design of the second-generation model, only making it even smaller. It's now a perfectly attractive little square with an integrated clip, for $49. It comes in five colors, four of which Caroline thinks are too girly (and the fifth is silver -- boring).
New iPod nano
Well, Apple went bonkers again -- it's the nano which gets the less-is-less treatment this time out. The nearly ubiquitous compact iPod -- which arguably didn't need improvement -- has been shrunk further still to a small square covered by a multi-touch screen. The circular wheel is gone. It's hardly larger than the shuffle, and has the same integrated clip. It's quite remarkable looking. Too bad you no longer can play video, take pictures, or skip a track by feeling where the button is while the device is in your pocket. $149 for 8 GB and $179 for 16 GB.
On-the-go archivists will be happy to know that the venerable iPod Classic remains in the lineup, offering 160 GB for $249.
The latest version of Apple's operating system for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch gets a new feature called GameCenter which lets you play against other players across the internet. It also does something clever with light analysis to prevent photos you take from having washed-out parts or coming out too light or dark. It fixes the performance problems which nagged some iPhone 3G users who upgraded to 4.0, and various other issues. (It doesn't fix the battery problems second-generation iPod Touch users have had since upgrading, however.) Coming later is iOS 4.2, which will bring all the swell new iOS 4 features to the iPad.
iTunes gets some new features, the most significant of which is "Ping," which you might view as Apple's foray into social networking. You and your friends can all follow each other, Facebook and Twitter style, but in the service of sharing knowledge about what you're listening to and buying so that you can form communities around shared taste and discover new music. It actually looks like a pretty good idea, even for a Facebook-hater. You'll be able to do it from your iOS 4.1 devices, too.
Just joking. Inexplicably, Apple's lightest laptop hasn't received a meaningful update in almost two years. Hey Apple, can we at least get 4 GB of RAM in this thing?