Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs didn't dazzle us with a new product on Wednesday, but he did show off a sweeping line-up of revamped items to breathe new life into the ubiquitous iPod while creating buzz for Apple's slow-to-catch-on TV service.
Apple's foray into TV has been called a "hobby" by Jobs, but it looks like it is poised to become a far more serious endeavor. A new version of Apple TV will offer Hollywood blockbusters for $4.99 the day they are released or popular TV shows for 99 cents. The TV shows will be provided by Fox and ABC initially. Also, Jobs announced a partnership with Netflix to stream an older catalog of movies and TV shows.
The new Apple TV box will sell for $99, a drastic cut from the $229 the previous version sold for, and it is about a quarter of the size. Jobs, Apple's iconic CEO, held the Apple TV box in the palm of his hand to dramatically display its more compact form. It will be available in about 4 weeks, Jobs said Tuesday.
Next week, however, Apple's new iPod line-up will launch. The legendary iPod, introduced only a decade ago, revolutionized the portable music market and helped lead Apple to a dramatic comeback from a 1990's tailspin. Yet the iPod has shown signs of age and has not been selling as well for Apple as the iPad or iPhone. Still, Apple has sold "275 million iPods" since they were introduced in 2001, Jobs said during a presentation in San Francisco Wednesday, as he announced "our biggest change in the iPod line-up, ever."
A rundown of the new iPods
-- The iPod touch: The revised iPod touch is slightly thinner the current model, yet it takes on even more iPhone-like features. For one, it can access Apple's FaceTime program, a video-enabled calling system introduced over the summer for the iPhone. Hence, these iPods have what Apple calls retina display and front- and rear-facing cameras. Now, iPhone owners and iPod touch users can have video chats over either hand-held device. Thanks to the rear-facing camera, users can shoot and edit video right from the device.
The slimmer iPod touch will go on sale next week, starting at $229 for an 8GB model. A 64GB model will sell for $399 while a a 32GB model will cost $299.
-- The iPod nano, which was once Apple's hottest project thanks to its appeal with teenage girls, now becomes a smaller touch-screen device. To do so, Apple removed the bottom half of the device where the controls where. Now the device is about half the size of its predecessor and has a squarish shape. Uers can easily manipulate the touch screen to put their favorite iPod controls in front. Like the iPod shuffle, this iPod is so small it comes with a clip, so users can wear during workouts. It is offered in 7 colors, including one for Project Red, and sells for $149 (8GB) or $179 (16 GB).
-- The iPod shuffle got a bit nostalgic, as Apple added a scroll-wheel on the device. That made it bigger than its predessor, which was controlled only by voice or through controls built into the headphones. Now, the shuffle can be controlled by voice or scroll wheel. It sells for $49, $10 less than the previous shuffle, and comes in 5 different colors.
-- Missing from the new line-up is the iPod classic. The classic was previously Apple's biggest iPod at 160GB and sold for $249. It was designed for music fans who wanted to store a ton of music. Now, the biggest iPod appears to be the 64GB iPod touch, which sells for $399.
As for iTunes, an udate called iTunes 10 is available now. The most notable change is the inclusion of Twitter-like social features. People can follow regular iTunes users or celebrities, and then learn the types of music they like or are listening to. You can approve followers, who can also follow you. This "social music discovery service," as Jobs called it, is named Ping and is built right into iTunes. Ping can be accessed from a computer or the iPod touch and iPhone.
Apple's revamped TV streaming and rental service will allow the company to compete with several other firms that are bringing streaming services into the living room. Netflix already has partnerships with Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft to stream movies over those companies' video game consoles, while numerous Blu-ray players also offer streaming through Netflix (NFLX). Netflix offers the service as part of its basic $8.99 monthly service. For that, customers can rent one DVD (delivered through the mail) but stream as many movies or TV shows as they like per month.
Apple is not the only tech company making a renewed push into pay or rental TV services. Google (GOOG) will make its Google TV service available soon on Internet-connected TVs or through a separate set-top box. The service will allow users to search for TV programs, record favorites through a DVR-like service and include a Web browser to find video content across the web. Also, Amazon is said to be looking at a new subscription service while Hulu, which already offers free TV shows and movies through the computer, is preparing to launch a premium service for $10 per month.
Netflix already offers an app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch that allows users to stream movies from Netflix straight to those touch-screen devices. With Apple TV, Jobs said "this is by far the best implentation of Netflix."
The Apple TV service will be built around a rental model, Jobs said. The service, which works via home Wi-Fi, will connect to iTunes straight from a TV screen. There, users can manipulate a simple menu to choose between new movie releases, older titles (which will rent for less than $4.99), Internet video services like YouTube, or Netflix.
The Apple TV service will act like a home media server as well, as users can stream music or display photo slideshows through the box.