Steve Jobs returns to rock and roll us

Apple music event has just wrapped up! I'm on the record as having a hard time being enthused about new music offerings from Apple, but heck, it's a huge chunk of their revenue, so let's give them some love, shall we?

Perhaps the most exciting thing to note was just that Steve Jobs was once again in charge of the company's dog and pony show. He mentioned his liver transplant and gave a plug for organ donation, as well he should.

Then the event itself. It began with the introduction of iPhone 3.1, which was incremental rather than revolutionary. Intriguingly, the Genius functionality is now in the App Store -- it should be interesting to see where that leads. And 30,000 ringtones are available, sold at a "breakthrough price" of $1.29. Wait, are ringtones usually more than this? That ... that sounds like a lot to me. Does this mean the various workarounds for making a ringtone out of an ordinary sound file won't work anymore?

iTunes 9

Next, Jobs unveiled iTunes 9. I admit I'm a sucker, but what really got me kind of interested was the "Genius Mix" -- the Genius Playlist concept applied to a running flow that never ends. "It's like a great radio station," said Jobs -- take that, Pandora!

There's also improved syncing -- by artist and by genre, though not, apparently, by album. (I guess some of us will have to keep creating one-album playlists to get certain things synced.) And you can also manage your iPhone OS apps more effectively in iTunes, arranging your iPhone or iPod home screens right there on your computer. Will "iTunes" eventually become the wrong name for this software?

Home sharing has also been improved. Whereas before you could only stream music from one computer to another, now you can actually copy it, on up to five computers in your home. This is a much slicker implementation of the media-sharing that's already been available. I'm sure all of Apple's big media partners loved seeing the phrase "COPY MUSIC" in huge letters on the screen behind Jobs. Oh, and the iTunes Store has been redesigned to be "cleaner" -- we'll see how that works out.

The final big iTunes announcement is iTunes LP. If you buy certain albums, you get a whole host of extra content -- interviews, high-res art, liner notes, etc. -- of the sort that you used to get in those big LP sleeves back in the day. This has been rumored for a while as Apple and the music industry's way to get you to buy whole albums rather than the three songs you like. It's interesting that all of the albums they used for the examples were (excuse my thirtysomethingness) dinosaur acts -- the Doors, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Nora Jones thrown in for someone "recent." I'm curious as to how many newer acts will be doing this, since their fan bases don't even remember the days of LPs (I barely do myself).

iPods

Phil Schiller came out to talk iPods, and spent a lot of time going over the features of the iPod Touch as if we didn't know what they were. (He did mention that it supported Genius Mixes, which means my iPhone now does too, I assume -- huzzah!) Then he went on to promote the iPod Touch as a gaming platform and talk some smack about the PS2 and Sony's handheld gadget, and brought on some game developers to show off their latest.

Schiller also called the iPod Touch "the most affordable gateway to the App Store," which I think is pretty revealing language. There's some debate as to whether the App Store is supposed to be a moneymaker in and of itself or if it's just a hook to get people to buy pricey iPhones; this formulation, at least, seems to indicate that Apple thinks it's great to get more App Store customers out there. And it just got cheaper, with a 8 GB version now available at $199 (which Schiller called the "magic price point"), and bigger versions (including a 64 GB version, ye cats) for more. And the 32 GB and 64 GB versions will be support OpenGL -- in other words, they have the same processors as the iPhone 3GS; they're the next generation of iPod Touch.

In contrast with some of the rumors, the iPod Classic and iPod Shuffle weren't phased out; the former got bigger (to 160 GB) and the latter got new colors and new headphones; the smallest iPod Shuffle (2 GB) is only $59.

Oh, and then there was that patented Apple "One More Thing" (and Jobs got to deliver it, which must have felt good). It was a video camera/microphone combo -- on the iPod Nano, not on the iPod Touch as widely rumored. And there's a speaker, too. The Nano was now held up in contrast with the popular and cheap Flip camera -- it's thinner and has more memory. And of course you can upload to YouTube with a press of a button, because Apple and Google are still best buds, more or less. The Nano is also getting voiceover, a built-in pedometer, and ... an FM tuner? Hmm, I'd love to have one of those (or an over-the-air TV tuner, even better) on my iPhone. It seems like the Nano is definitely getting its own identity, rather than just being a sort of in-between offering smaller than a Classic and bigger than a Shuffle.

And then Norah Jones came out to smooth-rock the audience into submission. All in all, not a revolutionary bunch of offerings from Apple; but the iPod line, which no longer is where the action is for Apple, is still making plenty of money, and it's good to see it get a refresh. I for one will be Genius DJing my afternoon away; will report back on it soon!

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