Apple announces all-new designs for its iPod music players


In what seemed like a tacit admission that its iconic iPod, famed for its simplicity and standout design, had strayed off course, Apple released all-new designs for its entire lineup of music players.

The announcement was the first in a press conference staged by CEO Steve Jobs today at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, where Apple frequently holds its fall announcements. The event was the subject of intense speculation, as Apple is viewed as the leader in mobile technology innovation.

Apple has sold 275 million iPods to date, Jobs noted, but said Apple never rests on its laurels. For its fourth-generation iPod Shuffle, Apple reversed course from its previous buttonless design, launching a throwback version with buttons, voice controls, and playlists. It will come in five colors and sell for $49 for 2 gigabytes of storage. It has 15 hours of battery life.

The iPod Nano, which is bigger than the Shuffle, now has a multitouch screen that replaces the click wheel. It is 46 percent smaller and 42 percent lighter than the previous version. It has 24 hours of audio battery life. It comes in six colors. It sells for $149 in 8 gigabyte version and $179 in 16 gigabyte version. What it doesn’t have: the camera installed in the previous version, which Apple touted as a feature which made it competitive with small handheld videocameras like Cisco’s Flip or Kodak’s Z1.

The iPod Touch is the non-phone version of the iPhone. Jobs said it has become the No. 1 portable game player in the world. Some 1.5 billion games have been downloaded to iPod Touch devices. Now the new version will have the iPad’s Apple-made A4 chip; a three-axis gyroscope; a high-resolution screen which Apple, in typical marketing hype, has dubbed the Retina Display; Game Center, a platform for adding social features to games; and FaceTime video conferencing with a front-facing camera. It has a battery life of 40 hours for music playback. The new iPod Touch will be $229 for 8 GB, $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for 64 GB. They are all available next week and available for pre-order today.

In four years, Apple has shipped 120 million devices running iOS, the operating system for its iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. Jobs noted others (Android) are “throwing around a lot of numbers” on activations per day — a figure that mostly applies to mobile devices on a wireless contract. Apple’s equivalent numbers are now at 230,000 per day, not including upgrades. Some 6.5 billion apps have been downloaded to date, or 200 downloaded every second.

Next week, Apple is introducing version 4.1 of iOS. It fixes a lot of bugs and has new features such as high-dynamic range photos, the ability to upload high-definition videos over Wi-Fi, TV show rentals, and Game Center (a previously announced multiplayer gaming social hub for iOS gamers). In November, version 4.2 will bring those features to the iPad, and it will also add the ability to do wireless printing from iOS devices. That makes the devices much more convenient for various productivity tasks. Jobs demoed iOS 4.2 running on an iPad tablet computer.

“We couldn’t be happier with the progress of iOS,” Jobs said.

Apple has 300 stores in 10 countries now and gets as many as a million visitors a day on some days. It teaches 80,000 classes a week and half of the buyers of Macs are new to the Mac. Apple showed off a cool game from Epic Games. Mike Capps, president of Epic, came out on stage to show off a game code-named Project Sword. It is powered by Unreal Engine 3, Epic’s realistic 3D graphics technology. So the game’s 3D graphics of a medieval town, where knights battle each other with big swords, looked gorgeous. Epic will makes its Unreal technology to iOS developers. The Project Sword game will come out this fall.

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