As leaves prepare to take color and drop from trees in the Northern hemisphere, so, too, does Apple release its flight of new iPods. This year's revisions settle on one capacity for iPod classic storage, reformulate the iPod nano, and bring new hardware features to the iPod touch. Pricing remains high, in our opinion, showing Apple's confidence in maintaining its large product pricing margins.
Slimming the Classic Line -- Formerly available in 80 GB and 160 GB varieties (the latter of which was packaged in a thicker case), the iPod classic now sports a 120 GB drive and gleams either in silver or black; it's $249. The new iPod classic supports Genius playlists, but is otherwise unchanged from the earlier version.
This may indicate that the iPod classic, and perhaps the hard drive-based iPod in general, is on the way out. 1.8-inch hard drives may be small, but they're less durable and bulkier than flash RAM, and as RAM capacities increase and prices drop, Apple may be looking to move the entire iPod line to RAM-based storage. The problem there lies in the capacity differences; no RAM-based iPod offers more than 32 GB of storage, whereas the iPod classic goes up to 120 GB. No reason was given for dropping the 160 GB iPod classic; perhaps it simply wasn't selling well enough.
(The iPod shuffle, unmentioned at the product launch, remains available in two capacities: 1 GB for $49, and 2 GB for $69. You can choose among silver, blue, green, pink, and awareness-raising (PRODUCT) RED.)
A Snazzier Nano -- The iPod nano, as widely rumored, has returned to a long, skinny form factor to make room for a 2-inch, 320-by-240-pixel screen with LED backlighting. The new glass-and-aluminum case is curvier and thinner than the older designs.
Surprisingly, the iPod nano now includes an accelerometer (much like the iPhone and iPod touch), enabling it to switch from portrait to landscape and back as you change the iPod nano's orientation. You can also shake the iPod nano to shuffle the song selection, a clever feature that drew cheers during Steve Jobs's presentation. Like the other new iPods, the nano can create Genius playlists. Battery life is improved, with Apple claiming 24 hours of music playback and 4 hours of video playback.
The new iPod nano supports voice recording via a new set of headphones with a built-in microphone (as well as buttons for play/pause, track skip, and volume control), which is scheduled to ship in October 2008 for $29. Also coming in October are an armband for the nano ($29) and redesigned in-ear headphones with dual drivers (a woofer and a tweeter) for $79.
Apple offers the revised iPod nano in two capacities (8 GB for $149, or 16 GB for $199), and in your choice of nine colors - an entire spectrum including silver, black, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, (PRODUCT) RED, and pink. The 8 GB models are available immediately, with the 16 GB models expected to ship within days.
Overall, the new iPod nano seems like a winner. Most people seem happy about the return to the longer, thinner form factor, and the addition of the accelerometer is truly neat. We expect it to sell like the proverbial hot cakes this holiday season.
Touch of Class -- The iPod touch received a significant overhaul as well. Now featuring a stainless steel back, the updated iPod touch is thinner than before, with curves that resemble those of the iPhone 3G. The iPod touch now has a built-in speaker (which, Jobs emphasized, is not intended to replace the headphones for music listening), external volume controls, and connects wirelessly to a $19 Nike+iPod sensor without needing the separate adapter that was formerly required. That's a big win for people who use the iPod while running or walking for fitness; the Nike+iPod adapter messed with the clean lines of the iPod, especially when it came to shoehorning it into armbands or other cases.
The iPod touch is available in 8 GB, 16 GB and 32 GB capacities, priced at $229, $299 and $399, respectively. Those are significant price drops - $70 for the 8 GB model and $100 for the 16 GB and 32 GB models. All three models are now shipping.
In comparing the new iPod touch with the iPhone 3G, the big differences (apart from cellular capabilities, of course) are the iPod touch's lack of a GPS chip and a camera, both of which would be awfully nice to have in an iPod touch. Apple is clearly trying to differentiate the iPhone and iPod touch on more than just the capability to make calls, but the now-subsidized iPhone prices confuse that comparison. An 8 GB iPhone 3G costs $199, or $30 less than an 8 GB iPod touch. The 16 GB iPhone 3G and iPod touch are priced identically at $299, and there is no 32 GB iPhone 3G to compare. Of course, you don't have to factor a $75-per-month (or more) cellular service contract into the iPod touch price.
Another Shade of Green -- Jobs made a point of saying that in addition to the new features, the new iPod nano and iPod touch have become more environmentally friendly by ditching PVC, mercury, and BFR, using arsenic-free glass, and being made with easily recyclable materials. That's good, of course, but we would be remiss if we didn't note that the most environmentally friendly thing you can do with an old iPod is make sure that it stays in use as long as possible even if, horrors, that means holding off on buying one of these hot new models until your old one bites the dust.