It's 09-09-09. And a lot seems to be happening. The Beatles released newly remastered CDs and a Rock Band video game. Obama's speech to Congress on health care reform is coming up. And, oh yes, there was an Apple Event, highlighted by the first public appearance of Steve Jobs since his return to active duty a few months ago.
The event was hyped as focusing on music: iTunes and iPods. And so it was. Here's my quick take on what most impressed me (or disappointed me) about the day's announcements and what is most essential for you to know.
If you were hoping for major upgrades to Apple's iPod lineup, you were mostly disappointed.
The one and only major new hardware was the revamped iPod nano. It is drool-worthy: featuring a video camera, FM radio and a pedometer. The radio is especially cool, featuring an ability to Live Pause music for up to fifteen minutes (sort of a TiVo for radio). It can even identify songs on the radio and conveniently (and profitably for Apple) allow you to purchase them from the iTunes Store. The nano's video camera offers special effects features (such as sepia and X Ray) not available on the iPhone. On the other hand, the iPhone's camera can take still pictures; the nano is limited to video. The nano also adds a version of the iPhone's Voice Memos.
And the new nano should work especially well with Apple's new in-ear headphones, which includes a remote and microphone.
And that's it for major new hardware. As for the rest of the iPod line-up, there were improvements in drive capacities and some drops in pricing, but little else of consequence.
For those that have megatons of music and video, and insist on having all of it on their iPod, there remains the iPod Classic, now with a 160GB capacity. For anyone else, the Classic is a tough model to justify. Both the iPod touch and the new nano offer far more features (and, in their smaller capacity sizes, for less money). I am still waiting for the Classic to die, but it looks like it will hang around for at least another year. Certainly, when flash media can match hard drives for price and capacity, the Classic will be history.
As for the iPod touch, where's the camera, dude? The iPhone has a camera; the nano now has a camera, but not the touch? I found this to be the oddest and most disappointing development of the day. I've heard rumors that the camera was dropped at last minute due to hardware glitches still to be resolved. Hard to understand how a camera can work in the other Apple portable devices but not the touch. In any case, it looks like it will be 2010 before we see a touch with a camera.
Meanwhile, based on the attention given at the event, Apple is pushing the iPod touch as the greatest portable game machine in the universe. It's the only portable device that combines a touchscreen interface, inexpensive apps from the App Store and an iPod (for when you tire of playing games). Phil Schiller was the MC for demos of several new games, including Madden NFL 2010! I've already taken the game out for a spin. While it can't mimic the ultra-realism of its full-size sibling, the iPhone version is still an impressive achievement. Sony PSP and Nintendo DS may not be ready for the trash heap yet, but the touch is definitely giving them a run for their money.
Software: Major new features
With my interest in all things iPhone, today's software announcements were the biggest deal of the day: Apple released iTunes 9 as well as 3.1 updates for the iPhone OS and iPod touch OS. [Note: The Web page for the iPod touch update says it costs $4.95. But that's only for people who did not yet update to 3.0. It's free for 3.0 users.]
Among all the new features in these updates, the one that I most welcome is the ability to organize apps in iPhone's Home screens from iTunes. For the first time since the App Store opened, you can now put all your games (or whatever) in one place on your iPhone Home screen — without having to spend half a day juggling individual app icons on the iPhone itself.
I've tried the new organizing feature and it works very well. The iTunes Applications display shows all your iPhone Home screens. You can drag an icon from its present screen to any other. The display shifts to show the receiving screen, allowing you to place the new icon exactly where on the screen you want it. You can even reorder entire Home Screen pages.
For apps not yet installed on your iPhone, you can drag an app from the list on the left to a particular desired location. Having trouble locating the app you want to install? You can find it by entering its name in the Search text box or sort the entire list by name, category, or date. When done, click to Apply and your iPhone is updated with the changes. No doubt about it; Apple did a superb job here.
One minor downside: the iPhone must be connected to iTunes to make any of these home screen changes. I can understand this restriction, as iTunes would otherwise have no way of knowing whether you made changes on the iPhone itself since your last sync. Still, I hope that someday there will be a way to organize apps directly in iTunes Library's Applications section. That way, I could always see and edit my current arrangement, even when the iPhone is not around. Having app folders on the Home screen would be welcome too, but I'm not holding my breath here.
With iTunes 9, you can now sync music by artist or genre, not just by playlist. This is another welcome addition. For the first time, you can get selected music on your iPhone or iPod without having first to create a playlist that contains the music. Similarly, you can now sync photos based on iPhoto events and faces, as well as albums. Cool.
Software: Minor new features and bug fixes
Although the remaining new software features are mostly minor, several are still worth noting. First, focusing on the iPhone:
• You can download ringtones wirelessly from the iTunes Store (although I still prefer to roll my own, thank you).
• You can save videos you receive in Mail (or MMS) to your Camera Roll.
• You can save a trimmed video as a separate clip (so you don't lose the original clip).
• Voice Control now works with Bluetooth headsets. Apple had previously said that 3.0 already supported this if you had a properly updated headset, but apparently it required this OS update as well.
• Via MobileMe, you can remotely lock an iPhone with a passcode, offering additional security if your iPhone gets lost.
As for iTunes 9 and the iTunes Store, my two favorites are:
• The new iTunes Store features LP extras for music, available when you purchase an entire album. There are also "DVD extras" available with movies. I'm especially eager to see how the new movie extras work. If it works well, it could eliminate the last major reason to prefer purchasing a DVD rather than downloading a movie from iTunes. However, I did notice that the extras only work on a Mac or PC (not on an Apple TV).
• If you share an iTunes Library with someone else, you can now directly copy media from their Library to yours (for up to 5 users).
There are also several bug fixes included with the new software. Of particular note for me (as I've covered them before) are:
• The bug that allowed you to locate and view deleted mail, via a Spotlight search on your iPhone, is now partially fixed. I find that Spotlight still lists my deleted mail (even mail deleted from the Trash folder), but when I tap to select the deleted messages, it no longer shows the content.
• The bug where app icons on the iPhone were occasionally displayed incorrectly is now supposedly fixed.