Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Showtime or Schmo-Time?

Apple had its big Showtime event last week (12 Sept). Those of us in Japan had the pleasure of staying up from 2-3AM to catch details of it from Engadget (erratic feed) and MacRumors (text only). I think most folks were impressed by the offerings at the time, but now that the dust has settled let's look a bit at what was announced.

New iPods
Apple bumped up the capacity of its standard iPods to 80GB, with a smaller 30GB model as a lower capacity option. Screens are supposed to be 60% brighter, and video playback time is extended. Interface has been improved to provide searching and gapless playback. Games available for download.

The Good: Improved features are a good thing, and the higher capacity means you can hold more video content, along with other data. Price per GB is also a bit better.

The Bad: No real change in basic stats or form factor. Battery life overall still sucks.

The Ugly: Brighter screen or not, this screen is still TOO SMALL for decent video playback.

New iPod Nanos

Apple revamped the nano (2G?) considerably and now offers 2, 4, and 8GB capacity. The new iPods have a scratch resistant aluminum shell (ala the iPod mini), 40% brighter screen, thinner/lighter body (42->40grams), up to 24h battery life, and available in 5 colors. The new Nano is already being raved about by Mac media as well as PC magazine.

The Good: More capacity and 2 grams lighter. iPod Mini maniacs can get their fix with the new nano. Scratch haters (like myself) now have a more rugged nano.

The Bad: Can't play the new iPod games on these. Color choices limited on lower capacity models.

The Ugly: These new players are ugly. I kind of liked the old style nano, and am not impressed with either the colors or the aluminum finish. I'll admit this is a personal preference though. I guess I hoped they'd use the old form factor and improve the acrylic finish. The new aluminum finish may also have issues, as some early adopters are complaining about blemishes on their new nanos. Maybe Apple has cut too many corners on these players.

New Shuffle
Apple also announced a new Shuffle in just 1Gb size, with a new form factor. It comes in grey finish, with a built in clip, and a small dock. Apple claims this is the the smallest music player on the market.

The Good: Finally the Shuffle looks as sexy as other non-Apple players on the market. Though I dislike the lack of any screen, this is a slick looking product, great for exercising.

The Bad: No screen.

The Ugly: Only grey? Hmmm....

iTunes 7 & iTunes Store
Apple revamped the iTunes interface and made changes to accomodate new content at the iTunes Store. New views for connected iPods, new icons in left panel navigation bar, two new cover views for main window, and rearrangements of UI elements are some of the notable changes. iTunes now incorporates technology from Coverflow, that allows you to browse your library by CD Cover. You can now download any album art from songs in the iTunes store for your music in iTunes. There is also no all-encompassing "Library" view - all content is separated into Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, & Radio. Songs in the same album can be set for "gapless play" by your choice or according to the iTunes store database. Downloading has been improved with some sort of 'download manager' allowing you to decide timing of downloads.

The Good: iTunes was in dire need of revamping, and many of the new features are welcome improvements. Many people really like the new CD cover views, and Apple did the right thing by buying Coverflow from its developers, rather than steal the idea (ala Konfabulator) before incorporating it into iTunes. You can also move content BACK to iTunes from you iPod via iTunes - a great feature to recover lost music. Playlists and library elements now have individual views. So, you can sort your "Blues" playlist by album and keep in coverview, "Exercise" list by artist and list view, and your Music by list-with-cover view. The Browser for music is nice, allowing you to sort by different things quickly to find your music.

The Bad: Podcasting got left in the dark for this release. You still cannot determine updating & longevity of podcast feeds individually - all or none. If your CD or other music is not sold by the iTunes store, you'll have to get your covers yourself from other sources or with other apps. There is some inconsistence in the use of the word 'update' for iPod. In the past when you wanted to get the lastest stuff/changes on your ipod you went under the Edit menu and selected "Update Joe's iPod". Now it says "Sync Joe's iPod" instead, but the progress bar says "updating". This is inconsistent. The Summary Tab for your iPod uses "Update" for getting the latest firmware. Looks like Apple didn't make the complete transition in terminology here. Many users report problems with updating iTunes from v6 to v7, and the general consensus is that iTunes 7 was rushed out the door.

The Ugly: This is a VERY ugly app. If this is a preview of what Leopard will look like, I'm gonna puke. Don't tell me this 'monochrome bruise' color scheme is an improvement. It's not. The app icon is ugly with a blue note instead of green, but for some reason the old green note icon is still used in my doc and the Apple+Tab view. The navigation window icons are too sharp, too contrasty in color shade - absolutely butt-ugly. They look like something from a Windoze app and I can barely see the symbols when icons are set to small view. The entire UI is kludgy, with elements moved around unnecessarily. For example, the little circle in the upper right hand corner to update podcasts has now been moved to the lower right hand corner as a rectangular button with "Refresh" tattooed on it. Yuck! Hard to find and nondescript. Also, the Podcast Directory and Report a Problem links are very small and hard to see, as they don't contrast much with the background. Coverflow view is nice, but looks ugly when a large portion of your music has no CD cover. When I flip through the entire navigation panel - there seems to be no overall theme for windows. The iPod window (though improved) clashes with the other views. C'mon Apple - this is not a finished product! BTW - Apparently "experts" like David Pogue think the new iPods and iTunes are perfect. I used to think Pogue was very spot-on with his analyses. However, I now put Pogue on my list of MacSheep because of his utter lack of objectivity.

Apple pre-announced a TV box, with the tentative name "iTV", that would allow you to play iTunes movies and content WIRELESSLY to your TV from your computer. However, this won't come out until sometime in 2007. It also doesn't include any hard drive or way to get TV content from TV to Mac. So I guess it's kind of like a wireless reverse EyeTV box. I was initially skeptical, then excited about this product. Now I'm skeptical. You'll need an HD TV to see the content at its finest, and frankly I'm not a big TV fan. I watch news and sports and that's about it. If I want to watch a movie - I'll do it on my 21" iMac. So, while this product has a hook, it's wasted on me and perhaps many others.

No comments: