Hits and Misses from Today’s Apple Announcement

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Apple announced new products today, and like every blog remotely affiliated with technology, we must all pay close, close, close attention and excruciatingly analyze every last detail. Let’s dig in and take a look at some of the hits and misses from today’s announcement.

iOS 4.1

An update to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch operating system is coming next week. It’ll contain several bug fixes—most importantly, it’ll address iPhone 3G performance issues. If you have an iPhone 3G and you updated to iOS 4, you know what I’m talking about. It’s slow and clunky, but that’ll hopefully change when 4.1 becomes available.

The new version will also introduce high dynamic range (HDR) photos. Simply put, when you take a picture with your iPhone, it’ll capture three versions of that photo in rapid succession: one with a normal exposure, one under exposed, and one over exposed. The software will then combine them to make one HDR photo. The system will keep both the regular and HDR photos so you can compare them.

You’ll also be able to upload HD video over Wi-Fi, rent TV shows via iTunes for 99 cents apiece, and use a new multiplayer app called Game Center that will allow you to challenge your friends to multiplayer games or get automatically matched to other players.

Verdict: Hit, especially for iPhone 3G owners.

iOS 4.2

In November, iOS 4.2 will be available for download. Steve Jobs said that it’s all about the iPad, though it’ll be available for the iPhone and iPod touch as well. It’ll bring a lot of iOS 4 features currently found on the iPhone to the iPad—multitasking and folders, for example.

Wireless printing is also coming, though Jobs didn’t go into too much detail about how the communication between your device and your printer will work. It stands to reason that you’ll be able to print to a network enabled printer, but perhaps there will be a piece of software you can install on your computer to enable printing to older printers without network connections.

AirPlay (formerly AirTunes) will also be built into iOS 4.2, allowing media streaming from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to other devices.

Verdict: Hit, especially for AirPlay and wireless printing.

iPods

Redesigned versions of the iPod shuffle, iPod nano, and iPod touch were unveiled. They’re all available for pre-order now and shipping next week.

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The iPod shuffle design looks like a slightly smaller version of the second generation while retaining the features of the third generation–VoiceOver, playlists, Genius Mixes—except this version has actual buttons again. Apparently people didn’t like that the last generation shuffle didn’t have any buttons. Big surprise. The new version will have 2GB of storage, a 15-hour battery, and remain overpriced at $49.

Verdict: Miss. Apple didn’t add anything new and it’s still too expensive.

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The iPod nano ditches the wheel altogether and goes completely touchscreen. It looks like a tiny iPad with a clip on it. It’s about half as small and half as light as the previous version. Features include VoiceOver, FM radio, Nike+, 24-hour battery, and multitouch with two-finger screen rotation. It costs $149 for the 8GB version, and $179 for the 16GB version.

Verdict: Hit. People are going to love the tiny multitouch screen.

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As expected, the iPod touch takes on a lot of the characteristics of the iPhone 4, except it’s much thinner. The new design features Apple’s Retina display, A4 chip, 3-axis gyroscope, iOS 4.1, front-facing camera with FaceTime over Wi-Fi, rear-facing camera with HD video recording, and 40-hour battery life. It’s priced as follows: 8GB for $229, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399. Looks to be a decent option for people who want a lot of the iPhone 4 features without the monthly AT&T bill.

Verdict: Hit. It’s basically an iPhone 4 without AT&T.

iTunes 10

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Will iTunes finally be moving to the cloud? No. But you will get album artwork in list view if you’ve got more than 5 songs from the same album. You’ve also got Ping, a social network for music. It’s Facebook and Twitter meet iTunes, according to Steve Jobs. Do you need another social network? This one may appeal to music junkies first and foremost but for the rest of us, there’s, well, Twitter and Facebook. Ping will also be available on the iPhone and the iPod touch, though there was no mention of the iPad.

As for iTunes 10, it’s available today.

Verdict: Miss. There’s not much new here except for Ping, which is nothing new in and of itself.

Apple TV

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And then there’s the new Apple TV. It’s approximately 1/4th the size of the previous version and features only three plugs: power, HDMI, and Ethernet. There’s a Wi-Fi connection as well that connects using the fast 802.11n standard. Aside from getting HD movies and TV shows directly from Apple, you can stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Flickr, MobileMe, and your computer. Best of all, it only costs $99. Nice, eh?

Now for the bad news. There’s no storage, which means everything is streamed, which means you can only rent TV shows and movies. First-run HD movies will rent for $5 apiece on the same day they’re available on DVD, with older movies renting for less. As for TV show rentals, they’ll cost 99 cents each and the only content available at launch is from Fox and ABC.

Granted, you can stream content from your computer which hopefully means that you’ll still be able to purchase TV shows and movies from iTunes outright and stream them to your Apple TV. But the emphasis on simplicity that this product is trying to portray is lost once you get a computer involved.

What Apple should do, ultimately, is hammer out a deal with the studios to let people pay a fixed monthly rental fee of, say, $20 to watch all the TV shows and movies they want. As it stands right now, people can pay around $10 per month for Netflix streaming and $10 per month for Hulu Plus, which includes TV shows from most of the major networks. That, or knock the per-item rental prices down so low that people don’t care that they’re paying over and over again to watch their favorite episodes and movies.

The AirPlay feature that’s coming with iOS 4.2 in November will allow you to stream video, music, and photo files directly from your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to your Apple TV mid-file. That’ll be a cool feature and will eliminate the need for cables.

Apple TV will be available in four weeks.

Verdict: Miss. If Apple can get all the TV networks on board and either drive down per-episode rental prices or add access to something like Hulu Plus, Apple TV might be a winner. If Apple can convince a massive number of consumers to pay 99 cents to watch a  TV show once, while still holding on to their cable subscriptions and DVR boxes, then it truly is the greatest technology company the universe has ever known.

More on Techland:

Apple’s Fall Event Liveblog

Apple’s 4G iPods: The Specs Sheet

2G Apple TV: The Specs Sheet

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