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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The new ipods

The iPod family: an improved big
one, the new Nano and the tiny Shuffle.

New at Apple: Smaller iPods, Bigger Ideas

Published: September 14, 2006

APPLE, these days, is an innovation factory. The company releases so many products, so often, you get the idea that everyone there just runs around yelling ideas. If this is Thursday, there must be a new iPod.

But this summer, the company was unusually quiet. Apple watchers online concluded that something really, really big must be in the works. A wide-screen iPod! An iPhone! A hovercar!

At a media event in San Francisco on Tuesday, Apple finally spilled the beans. It hadn’t been working on one big thing, but on four medium-size developments that lay the groundwork for some ambitious bigger ones down the road.

New iPods

The iPod family already makes up 75 percent of all music player sales. So where does Apple take them from there? Pretty much the only way they can go: smaller, cheaper and tougher, with better batteries and greater capacity. The least expensive iPod, the Shuffle (the one without a screen), is now a one-inch aluminum square, barely large enough to contain its quarter-size control dial. There’s no room for a U.S.B. jack, so the Shuffle comes with an even tinier recharging-synching dock that connects to your computer.

The entire back is a spring-loaded clip, suitable for attaching to your clothing or backpack strap. Even the spring is smooth and satisfying, with precisely the right amount of grip — a typical touch from the company that patented the electronics-as-jewelry culture. The Shuffle arrives next month for $80 (one gigabyte, which holds about 240 songs).

The iPod Nano has been refined, too. The original model was shiny and gorgeous. But its high-gloss surface was so delicate, pocket lint could scratch it.

That won’t be a problem with the new Nano. Its body is now wrapped in high-luster, textured aluminum, like the old iPod Mini. It’s even a hair smaller and lighter than the old Nano (3.5 by 1.6 by 0.3 inches), and comes in a choice of five colors: silver, blue, pink, green or black. Prices range from $150 (2 gigabytes, silver only) to $250 (8 gigabytes, black only). The battery now plays music for at least 24 hours, which ought to cover your morning jog.

The Nano looks, feels and sounds fantastic, and it’s a huge relief not to have to worry about nicking its precious skin anymore. Note, however, that the Nano’s new streamlined packaging is too small for a CD with the iTunes software; you’re supposed to download your own copy from Apple’s Web site.

The “big” iPod, the one containing a hard drive and capable of playing videos, got a smaller upgrade. It comes in two models, for $250 or $350 (30 or 80 gigabytes), which is $50 off the previous models (30 and 60 gigabytes). You can crank the screen 60 percent brighter than before. And Apple now sells nine slick iPod video games for $5 each (Pac-Man lives!).

The big iPod’s battery can play music for 20 hours, or, more significantly, play video for 6.5 hours. That’s enough juice to play three movies, all the way across the country on a plane. You’d be hard-pressed to find another video or DVD player or laptop that can manage that, at least without add-on batteries.

On all of the iPods, Apple has done away with those easy-to-lose foam-rubber earbud mittens. Now the earbuds are ringed with rubber, which is supposed to form a better seal with your ear. Most people will find that the new earbuds sound better as a result. (Audiophiles will continue to sniff disdainfully.)

posted by Steve @ 12:23:00 AM

12:23:00 AM

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