Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Apple's announcements: iOS News, All-New iPods, New iTunes and Updated Apple TV

Apple made a series of new product announcements in San Francisco earlier today; I'll summarize the ones that are most relevant to regular readers of this blog:

iOS Announcements

Apple's iOS 4.1, which has been in beta test since the release of the iPhone 4, will ship to customers next week. The most important media-related feature is support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos, a capability that has been provided by some third-party apps. iOS devices with cameras will be able to take three pictures in quick succession, one underexposed, one properly exposed and one overexposed, and then digitally merge the three pictures together to bring out additional highlight and shadow details. Both the "properly exposed" and HDR images will be saved.

iOS 4.2, to be released to customers in November, will be the first version of iOS 4 that will run on iPads. It will bring all the functionality of iOS 4.1 to the iPad, and will also introduce two new capabilities for iOS devices:
  • Wireless printing: Printers can be selected and documents can be wirelessly printed from iOS devices.
  • AirPlay (the next generation of AirTunes) will enable audio, video and photos to be streamed between devices over WiFi. For example, content can be streamed from a Mac to an iPad for viewing.
A new iPod touch
    The entire iPod line has been refreshed, except for the "classic" hard disk-based iPods, which remain in the product line. The most important announcement was the next-generation iPod touch, which keeps the same iPhone 3-based design but is thinner. It has a number of major improvements:
    • A Retina Display with the same resoultion as the iPhone 4
    • The same Apple A4 chip as the iPhone 4
    • A three-axis accelerometer
    • A front-facing camera and support for FaceTime over WiFi
    • A rear-facing camera with HD video recording
    You're probably figured out that the new iPod touch is essentially an iPhone 4 without a phone, in a package that looks like a slimmer iPhone 3GS. The iPod touch will ship next week (as will all the new iPods.) Here are the prices (U.S.):
    • 8GB: $229
    • 32GB: $299
    • 64GB: $399
    iTunes 10 and Ping

    Apple also announced the next version of iTunes, Version 10, available for immediate download. The most important new feature in iTunes is called Ping. It's a social network built into iTunes that works on PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPod touches (and presumably will work on the iPad once iOS 4.2 ships.) Ping allows performers and individual users to share song lists, videos and notes.

    Apple TV, Take 2

    As widely expected, Apple introduced its next-generation Apple, one-quarter the size of the existing Apple TV. The new Apple TV, which will ship in four weeks at a price of $99 (U.S.) streams content for viewing on demand, rather than downloading it to an internal hard drive. It has minimal connections: Power, HDMI out (720P, not 1080I or 1080P,) a Toslink optical connector for 5.1 audio out and a wired Ethernet connection. (It also has 802.11N WiFi wireless Ethernet.) The component and composite video outputs on the existing Apple TV have been dropped.

    Apple's business model for the Apple TV is content rental only, not purchases. HD movies that are released day-and-date with their DVD versions will be priced at $4.99 per play, and prices for older movies will be lower. HD television shows will be available for rental at $0.99 per episode. In addition to video, music and images can be streamed to Apple TV from iTunes 10-equipped computers, as well as iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads, using AirPlay (and iOS 4.2.) Apple TV owners will also be able to stream content from Netflix, YouTube, Flickr and Apple's mobileMe. The user interface has been enhanced to include reviews from Rotten Tomatoes and related content.

    There were a few serious disappointments:
    • Apple has only been able to come to agreements with Disney/ABC and Fox to make their movies and television shows available for rental. Warner Bros., CBS, Viacom (Paramount, MTV, Comedy Central, etc.), Sony and NBC Universal have all refused to participate.
    • Contrary to some rumors, it's not an iOS device and it's not open to developers. iOS apps can't be run on the new Apple TV, and it's unclear whether or not it can be hacked to run Boxee or other third-party media management apps.
    • The lack of a component video interface means that owners of older HDTVs and audio receivers won't be able to use the new Apple TV.
    The new Apple TV is a refinement of the original vision of the Apple TV, not an entirely new concept. It doesn't bring the world of iOS apps to the big screen, and it's not a platform for developers. Apple deliberately opted for usability over expandability, so there's going to be room for products like Boxee, Roku and Google TV for more sophisticated customers.

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