September 01, 2010, 8:42 PM — After Wednesday's Apple media event, we got to spend a little while in a hands-on area adjacent to the Yerba Buena theater with a few dozen members of the media, analysts, VIPs, and--most importantly--new iPods and Apple TVs. Without any further ado, here's what we spotted.
Fourth-generation iPod shuffle
If you ask us, the second-generation shuffle--the tiny rectangle with circular buttons on its face and a built-in clip--was the pinnacle of iPod shuffle design. The third-generation model, which dropped buttons and forced you control it from a set of headphones, was a step back. Apparently lots of Apple's customers felt that way, too, because Apple has done a rare pivot and gone back in time for the design of the fourth-generation shuffle. It's got the snazzy voiceover features and playlist support of the third-generation model, but it's got that familiar set of buttons on the face.
Though the new shuffle will feel familiar for anyone who's used one of the older models, there are differences--but they're minor. It's a little bit smaller than the second-generation model, and there's a new VoiceOver button that triggers the shuffle's voice-navigated interface. Bottom line: it feels like the old shuffle, but a tad smaller, and with buttons, glorious buttons.
Sixth-generation iPod nano
During its many lives, the iPod nano's design has been all over the place. It was super tall, then it was fat, then it was thin with a bigger screen. Late in the game Apple threw in a video camera, just for kicks. This new nano is unlike any that have come before. In fact, the best way to describe it is like a larger iPod shuffle, but with a touchscreen. It even comes with an integrated clip, so you can stick it just about anywhere.
While it's unclear what operating system is actually driving the new nano, that's a geeky question that loses sight of the most important point: The new nano's touchscreen interface will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever used an iOS device. The device's home screen is no longer a set of menu options, but a set of icons with labels underneath them that you tap on, just like iPhone apps. You swipe your finger from right to left to page through a series of screens.
I was able to pick a nano up and start using it immediately, with very little learning curve. You can tap and hold your finger to go back to the home screen, or just keep swiping back through menus until you reach the top. Scrolling through lists and tapping on options is a natural, iPhone-like experience. When a song is playing, the screen displays cover art, and you can tap to reveal play/pause controls. There are dedicated volume buttons on the side.