Among the announcements at Steve Jobs’s Macworld Expo keynote in New York was the release of new versions of Apple’s popular iPod MP3 player. The existing 5 GB iPod remains available, though its price drops $100 to $300. Although Jobs said nothing of this, I anticipate that the 5 GB model may not last too much longer, given that it doesn’t share the slightly redesigned case now used by the $400 10 GB model and a newly introduced $500 20 GB model. The new case is about 10 percent thinner, sports a solid-state scroll wheel (much like a trackpad surface), and adds a FireWire port cover. Plus, the iPods now come with an accessory kit that includes a case with a belt clip (though there are numerous other iPod cases that might suit you better), a wired remote, and new headphones. Existing owners can purchase the accessories separately: the case alone sells for rather steep $40, and the remote/headphones bundle also costs $40.
The iPod’s internal software has changed as well, so you can now browse by genre and composer (a feature for classical music fans for whom the artist and the composer are different), support for smart playlists and play counts that synchronize with the equivalent features in iTunes 3, support for the iTunes 3 Sound Check feature for regularizing volume, and support for Audible.com with round-trip bookmarking for spoken word content. (For existing iPod owners, these features require iPod 1.2 software, which Apple says will be available in August.) iTunes 2 is still supported for Mac OS 9 users, though presumably without support for the new features appearing in iTunes 3, which works only in Mac OS X.
Additional changes that start to move the iPod beyond being an MP3 player include an Extras menu that lets you browse through calendar events and contacts synchronized via iSync from iCal and Address Book under the forthcoming Mac OS X 10.2. The Breakout game is also available from the Extras menu, instead of as an Easter egg, as is an option that displays a clock.
Perhaps most notable is that, starting in late August, Apple will sell the same iPod models to Windows users for the same prices. The iPod hardware requires no changes, but the package sold to Windows users includes a six-to-four FireWire cable (for connecting to the four-pin FireWire ports common on PCs) and can synchronize songs with Musicmatch Jukebox Plus, a leading PC MP3 player. I suspect that the PC user experience won’t be quite as good as on the Mac, since four-pin FireWire cables don’t carry power, so PC user will have to use an AC adapter instead of charging the iPod while it’s plugged into the FireWire port. Plus, I’d be surprised if Musicmatch Jukebox Plus offered all the features of iTunes in terms of play counts and smart playlists. And finally, Apple said nothing about there being any synchronization of calendars and contacts for PC users.