Apple’s New Entertainment Offerings

AppleIt was bound to happen before the big holiday buying season. Yesterday at a special “It’s Showtime” event, Apple announced a collection of upgrades and new products related to the iPod and iTunes.

iPod Video
The specs were bumped on the standard iPod Video to include a brighter screen (60% brighter), longer battery life (from 2 hours to 3.5 hours) and of course more storage (30GB and 80GB). They’ve also added gapless playback, and games which can be purchased in the iTunes Music Store for $4.99 each. These updates really weren’t unexpected. There isn’t really anything groundbreaking here, and there’s still no sign of the rumored touch widescreen ipod.

iPod Nano
A 2nd generation iPod Nano was also released yesterday. Apple has changed the form factor to look more like a small version the iPod Minis that were discontinued when the Nano came out. They’ve changed the case to aluminum and added multiple color options for the players. And similar to the video updates, they’ve improved battery life (24hrs) and upped storage (2GB, 4GB, 8GB).

iPod Shuffle
The Shuffle is probably the most radically changed iPod announced yesterday. It’s now silver and instead of looking like a pack of gum like the previous version, it now has a built-in clip for portability. It comes in 1GB size and now comes with a dock for charging and syncing.

iTunes 7
iTunes has been upgraded to version 7. The most notable new feature in this version is layout and organization. It’s now got a much cleaner, more intuitive interface. There are a good number of added bells and whistles including a new slick “cover view” which shows album covers more easily. You say you don’t have album covers? iTunes now downloads them automatically if you’ve got an account.

Movie Downloads and iTV
The rumors of Apple finally selling movies happened. Apple now offers movie downloads from all of Disney’s movie companies for $14.99 new releases and $9.99 older releases. They’ve also upped the resolution from 320×240 to 640×480 on all of their video download which includes TV shows that they’ve been selling for a while now and the new movies. It’s still not DVD resolution, but I guess is a step in the right direction. I don’t know if I see any added value outside of the convenience making it worth the price. I can run to the local Wal-Mart and have a higher resolution DVD that I can play on any computer/DVD player that includes a case and DVD extras for just about the same price (or less) and not have to deal with the DRM and lack of real portability. Plus, I’m not a big fan of watching movies in front of my computer screen.

Apple has somewhat addressed the video to TV issue with a sneak peek of a new product they say will be available in Q1 2007 called iTV. iTV is a little box that pulls content from iTunes (movies, TV, video podcasts, photos, music) for display on your TV. It includes HD out (HDMI and Component). The interface is very similar to Front Row that comes standard with most macs. It looks like a promising piece of equipment. I still would like to see Apple get into the DVR business though which this little box doesn’t address. I really think they could clean up in that area if they were to produce a somewhat inexpensive box that does what a Tivo does plus all their other entertainment goodies. If this thing had built-in Tivo capabilities, I’d be all over it. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what features make it into the iTV between now and then.

One other thing I noticed with these new iPods is that Apple doesn’t seem to be offering their standard educational discount on them any more. Normally Apple provides somewhere around 10% off from their educational sites. The discounts still show up for other items, yet the iPods are the same price as in the regular Apple store.

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