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Apple’s Show (And Tell) Time

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We've been here before. Every time Apple – and Mr Jobs – schedules one of their big events, we, the faithful, dutifully line up with our browsers, and hang on every word. Prior to the event we've discussed, blogged, and flamed about rumours, hopes, and desires.

And do they live up to our expectations any more? Perhaps more accurately: Are our expectations somewhat tarnished by the countless promise of "one more thing"?

Maybe the stakes are higher than they once were. Back when the iPod wasn't "hip" and digital music was the domain of hardcore geeks and techies, these events weren't so high profile. These days, they're important.

And none of Apple's recent events have been more important than this one. With mounting speculation suggesting that the iPod bubble was about to burst, Microsoft's competing device on the horizon, and the holiday season approaching, Apple needed to reveal something big.

And I think they did. Not big in a "hardcore, techie geek way", but big in a "continued dominance in the MP3 market" way. And I suppose, these days, that's what counts for Apple. And what's this big thing I think they've revealed? Coloured Nanos – that's what.

The Nano is, as Jobs mentioned, the most popular MP3 player in the world. The best way for Apple to make it more popular is to introduce new colours – check – and to improve the range of sizes to suit a wider range of budgets – check. The new – and let's not forget scratch resistant – Nanos are sure to be a big hit for Apple this holiday season, assuming they can meet the demand. I suspect the new Nanos are the shot in the arm required to carry the iPod line up to the true video iPod.

And what of the Video iPod? Sadly, unsurprisingly, and inevitably there was no sign of such a device. Instead, we're treated to an updated 5G line of iPods – the iPod With Video. The new line of 5gs (so 5.5gs?) sport a brighter screen, improved battery life, and slightly tweaked hard disk sizes.

And games. And we're not just talking about the classic Brick-Parachute-Solitaire combo that has graced previous iPods, oh no — Apple has opened the door onto something potentially huge. Downloaded games that play on your iPod and top up Apple's coffers by $5 every time you're tempted. And tempted you will be, I'm sure. How well these things will play on the touchwheel – a genius of interface design for music playback, but which was never really conceived with games in mind – remains to be seen.

It's a concept Microsoft has proved with Xbox Live – microtransactions are tempting enough to spirit away those tiny amounts, without you feeling noticeably light of pocket. And yet, before Microsoft could roll out their Zune and Live Anywhere double team, Apple has nipped in and stolen their thunder. I wonder if the first generation Zune is still not going to include games…

Let's not forget the new Shuffle, though. Redesigned so it's the same size as the Apple remote – which is surely a bad comparison as few people will actually know what the Apple remote looks like, since Apple stopped bundling it with their players – the shuffle is one of the most minimalist MP3 players I've ever seen. It's cute, but like the multi-coloured Nanos, not cute enough to coax a wad of cash out of most hardened techies. Unless, of course, you're a hardened techie that enjoys the gym (and, perhaps, that harbours a secret penchant for pink MP3 players).

With the much needed iPod refresh out of the way, Steve turned his attention to iTunes 7 – a central component in his plan to take over the world's living rooms. I can't offer any real impressions on it yet; after installation, it handily and annoyingly started a process of "determining gapless playback information" on my entire collection. I'm not sure why, and I didn't get a choice – it just did. Since then I've only had time for a quick play.

It looks nice, though. It's got a new yet very familiar interface that's cleaner, more elegant, more open. Dare I say, its use of icons and clean space makes it look a bit more "web 2.0" – whatever that means. The iPod now has its own section of iTunes – a selection of tabs allow you to control most elements of synchronisation. And there's a handy, colour-coded graph to tell you what's taking up all that room (divided into games, videos, music, photos etc). The whole thing works very nicely.

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  • paulrus

    The “Determinine Gapless Playback” is the most annoying feature I’ve ever seen in iTunes. I have over 5000 songs, so at this rate it will take 2 days for it to completely go through all my songs!

  • Ken Edwards

    iTV is a code name. He said that in the keynote.

  • Ken Edwards

    “Determaning Gapless Playback Information” on a rather large library on an external firewire drive is enough to bring the spinning beach ball of death.

    How fun!