A Few Quick Thoughts on the New iPods.

I haven’t had time to parse everything, and I’ll play with iTunes and give my thoughts on it later, but here are a few things that struck me — in no particular order — from today’s announcement:

Genius

Lots of radio channels, music clubs, online music stores, etc., do this sort of thing, so it really made sense to bring it to the iPod. I’ll have to play with it, of course, but in my experience as a serious music listener these things never really get it right. Any time they say that since you like [artist name here] you’ll also like [another artist name here], it’s “wrong” as often as it’s right.

Like I said, a good and obvious feature to add, and making playlists out of it is a nice variation, but I don’t get too excited about canned recommendations. The demos they gave didn’t seem very good at recommending things any differently that what I’ve seen before.

Classic

Makes sense to save a few $$ and discontinue all but one model. With 120GB they’re at a point where they can pretty much satisfy the high-end user. My 80GB unit is almost full, so this will be where I go next.

In Macworld’s live blogging event one of them wondered if this would be the last Classic update ever. I hope not. I see no reason why they cannot keep a hard-drive player in the lineup for at least one more round of updates. Some people need the room.

[UPDATE:] While the Genius feature is on the classic, I notice that the new center popup menu is not. Not installing an accelerometer on a hard-drive based model might make sense (don’t want it shaken so much), so I don’t bemoan the lack of “shake to shuffle”, but not implementing the center popup seems silly. In fact, that lack of effort makes me wonder if indeed this is the classic’s last year. By next year I think the touch will realistically only be at 64GB, which would put Apple’s highest capacity player below 2005 levels. Ouch! I’m curious to see where Apple goes with the classic…

Shuffle

I thought they’d kill the 1GB model. I have a shuffle and really like it, so I’m glad they still start at $49. The new colors are the best yet, in my opinion.

Nano

I had no problem with the older generation, but I do admit to preferring the taller model. This thing looks beautiful. I like the colors as well.

Landscape on the 2-inch screen is great, and I think this thing is going to be as big a hit as ever.

I wanted shake to shuffle so bad, but now am disappointed. Those who think exercising or jogging will “trigger” the shuffle are not giving enough credit to just how “violent” an action shaking is. It’s trivial for the accelerometer to know the difference between a shake and any exercise you’d care to perform with one of these things strapped to your body. I’m disappointed, though, because I assumed the shake would turn shuffle on/off. Instead, it appears to instigate a shuffle every time. I’m completely spoiled by the ease with which I can toggle shuffle with the iPhone, and wanted something as easy on the nano. Bummer.

Touch

Though not as “brand new” as the nano, this is the killer upgrade in the lineup. Adding the speaker is a HUGE improvement! You also get a microphone using one of a couple new pairs of Apple headphones (more below). Outside volume controls were also badly needed, and they’ve dropped prices $70, $100, and $100 for the three models.I don’t believe Apple does loss-leader stuff, but they are really coming down to get these things off shelves for Christmas.

Some people wanted GPS, etc, but I really think they put in by far the most important hardware improvements and lowered the price significantly. This is a great update.

It’s also the most important update of the day, in my opinion, because Apple wants OS X mobile in as many hands as possible.

New Interface

Better cover flow in the nano is nice. Love the center button popup menu, but why the heck isn’t Search one of the options? Arrrgggh! Am I the only one who actually gets a song in his head and wants to hear it without having to browse to the darn thing? I can search on the nano, but it’s kind of clumsy and a shortcut to get there would have helped greatly.

iTunes 8

Again, Genius doesn’t impress me much but I’ll have to wait to see if it’s any better than the myriad recommendations scheme I’ve seen before. Grid view appeals to me greatly, and I’m really interested in trying it. But it looks like they removed the old “list with album art” view. If true, that could be a shame because it’s the view I use most often.

HD TV

I’m not a TV guy, but there’s no denying it improves the value proposition for the iTunes Store. Further, since it’s a buck more per show (which I think is reasonable for now) it also got NBC back, which is a biggie as well. Good move all-around, I’d say.

As a bonus, in addition to NBC it adds other NBC stations such as the USA Network, NBC Sports, etc. Further, NBC is kicking in $0.99 episodes (not HD, of course) of some “classic” TV shows.

This is really a win-win for everybody.

New Headphones

Adding the mic and play/volume controls to the nano, classic and touch is GREAT! However, I think the feeling during the event was that these ‘phones came with the new iPods. I do not think that’s the case. Their special features are only compatible with the new models, yet they sell for $29 at the Store. I think you just get the same ol’ headphones with the new models, and have to pony up if you want the remote controls.

Apple’s value for the new models is excellent, so I suppose they just couldn’t swallow the new ‘phones as a freebie as well. Still, it’s kind of a shame.

Oh, and I like the in-ear ‘phones with remote for $79. Better quality with the remote capability. I use expensive over the ear ‘phones for serious listening, but for more casual stuff I can see me getting these when I get a compatible iPod.

2.1 Software

Not available until Friday so there’s not much to say. Steve says it’s bug fixes and stability. If it speeds up my iPhone and backups I’ll be a happy camper.

Conclusion

All in all these are solid announcements. And it’s a great iPod lineup for the holidays. A new iPod nano at 8GB for just $149, and the much-improved touch at the same capacity for just $80 more. Wow!

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6 thoughts on “A Few Quick Thoughts on the New iPods.

  1. To add to wade Jade said, I really think the Genius function is pretty good. Think of it like some between shuffle and… having a DJ. The iTMS recommendations may be alright but I don’t care too much about that (just rebranding a third thing “Genius”). But the Genius playlist feature, with a large library of music (or on the go without iTunes on one of the new iPods) is, I think, better “than totally random shuffle”. That’s the magic of Genius and cause to celebrate: others have said this, but if you have a large collection, it’s like having your radio station.. based on a specific song… on a whim… but better because you can skip or branch off on a new “station” when you hear a song with a different mood. Or you can listen to a whole album, or whatever you like. I’m constantly shocked at both the variety and the consistency of the results the Genius feature picks. It’s a good balance of hits, obscure things, favorites, and just healthy randomness. Once again it’s more than recommendations, it clever “shuffleness” using Netflix-like algorithms. But not just to recommend something, but to make a playlist of songs that “go together.”

  2. You know, I too was a little wary of the Genius function. But I have to admit that in my first tests it’s pretty impressive. Here’s a couple of samples from a list generated with Elliott Smith’s song “everything means nothing to me”:
    Piano fire – Sparklehorse
    Sea song – Robert Wyatt
    Barcelona – Rufus Wainright
    Lazy Flies – Beck
    Angelene – PJ Harvey
    Vancouver – Jeff Buckley
    Mysteries – Beth Gibbons
    Terrapin – Syd Barrett
    Alice – Tom Waits

    There’s also some Wilco, Broken Social Scene and even Velvet Underground in there. And the mood is really pretty much on the money. What’s odd is that certain songs that produce an error message (Genius doesn’t know this song) still get included – correctly – in other playlists.

    The “list with album art” view you mention is still there but it’s now part of the main list view. There’s a small disclosure triangle to the left of the first column that opens an Artwork column that looks exactly like the old album view.

    I’m with you on the rest of your review btw. My thoughts exactly.

  3. is anyone else amazed that the touch still has the stupid corner cutout for wifi reception?? i was sure they’d do a one piece plastic back like the iphone

  4. Rus,

    The fatty provided “wide screen” video without the need to rotate, which was not a bad idea. Some made fun of its rumors, but when it arrived the reviews were positive. I thought it was tiny and well done. Customers seemed to have agreed as iPod sales were still 10-11 million each quarter (and over 21 million that holiday quarter).

    As for looking like the Zune, I’m sure Thurrott and other MS apologists may say so, but the fact is the Zune was just a copy of the then-current nano at the time. Apple is simply going back to the form they perfected.

  5. “I had no problem with the older generation, but I do admit to preferring the taller model.”

    I can’t for the life of me understand the nano fatty model change. I agree with preferring the tall model. Only problem is now it looks like the Zune Flash.

  6. quote:
    “2.1 Software
    Not available until Friday …”

    So Apple learned the [iPhone 3G/Update 2.0/MobileMe] lesson… Not to release all the things on the same day!

    (Dammit, why did we criticized them… Now we have to wait… three full days!!!!!)

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