|Apple CEO Steve Jobs
SAN FRANCISCO — For a man widely rumored to be in poor health, Apple boss Steve Jobs was all jokester.
How did the CEO handle the accidental publication of his obituary last month? By walking on stage, here at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, with the famous Mark Twain quote “Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated” displayed on the screen behind him.
The crowd ate it up — not surprising given the loyalty of Apple’s fans and the large number of its employees in the crowd. Jobs, whose health has garnered far more speculation in recent months than he would probably have liked, looked thin but his voice was strong and he was energetic on stage.
Probably the biggest news of the show was a truce with NBC/Universal, which had a rather loud, public split with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) last year over a dispute over pricing for the shows it sells on its iTunes service. At that time, NBC Universal television programming made up an estimated 40 percent of the video downloads on iTunes.
As a result, shows like “The Office,” “Monk,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “30 Rock” and “Heroes” will begin appearing on iTunes in the coming weeks.
Jobs also said iTunes now features more than 8.5 million songs, more than 125,000 podcasts, 35,000 television shows, 2,600 movies and more than 3,000 applications for the iPod Touch and iPhone, and that it has more than 65 million user accounts.
Equally huge was the revelation that users downloaded more than 100 million applications from App Store, the e-commerce service that sells applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. The App Store launched only 60 days ago.
Jobs also showed off iTunes 8, a significant update to the client software. Apple is adding high-definition content to its library, as well as a recommendation feature called “Genius lists.”
The feature — which appears as a sidebar in iTunes — scours a user’s iTunes library to create playlists of similar music. It also can tell the user about albums they don’t yet own by an artist they like, and also recommend music by similar artists for purchase on iTunes.
The technology is similar to that of Pandora.com, an Internet radio station that plays music based on other artists a visitor likes.
“That Genius bar on the side of iTunes is going to drive a lot of music sales,” Van Baker, a research analyst with Gartner, told InternetNews.com after the event.
One thing not showing up: the rumored iTunes subscription service.
As for the iPod family, the 80GB iPod Classic is being bumped to 120GB in capacity while keeping its thin form factor. It will also sell for $249, the same price as the 80GB product. Meanwhile, the 160GB iPod Classic — the thickest of any iPod model — is being discontinued.
The iPod Nano got the biggest redesign of all products. It has been lengthened noticeably from it solder, square form factor to give it a widescreen display, when turned horizontally. Apple has added voice recorder software and a microphone, so it can be used to make recordings, and it has a unique way of activating random play: just shake it to begin listen to a new song.
This provided another opportunity for Jobs’s stand-up routine: “I really didn’t want to tell you I had Dean Martin on my iPod,” he said, as Dino played.
Jobs called the new Nano the “cleanest, most toxic-free iPods we’ve ever built,” as it is totally free of arsenic, brominated flame retardants, mercury and polyvinyl chloride — making it more fully recyclable. He promised more iPods would be constructed similarly in the future.
The new Nano has improved battery life as well, with 24 hours of music playback or four hours of video playback on a full charge. Prices are $149 for the 8GB version and $199 for the 16GB version. It will come in a full rainbow of colors, plus silver.
The iPod Touch, which looks very much like an iPhone, received its own revamp and is now even skinnier. It now has an integrated volume control button — the No. 1 request from customers, according to Jobs. Battery life has been extended to support 36 hours of music or 6 hours of video on a full charge.
It also will support building a Genius list on the device, so you don’t need iTunes, and will come with App Store built-in.
The iPod Touch will come in three models: the 8GB will retail for $229, a $70 price cut, while the 16GB model will sell for $299. A new, 32GB model, also made its debut and will retail for $399. All three are available today, Jobs said.
Page 2: Gaming, the iPod Touch and iPhone 3G fixes
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The iPod Touch also received a model-specific enhancement: It will include Nike+iPod functionality built-in.
Nike+iPod, an existing product, is designed for people exercising, since iPods are as common at gyms as headbands and water bottles. The system uses an iPod-compatible pedometer to measure workout time and distance. Previously, a user needed the software, a transmitter attached to their sneaker and a receiver on the iPod.
However, the new iPod Touch will not require a receiver, since it now comes built-in.
iPod “Touches” games
Exercise features weren’t the only new focus for the iPod Touch.
During his presentation, Jobs brought out Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide marketing, to demonstrate a handful of games that looked every bit as capable as something seen on a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS Lite handheld gaming console.
Schiller showed off titles including a version of the hotly anticipated Electronics Arts game “Spore”, and a mobile version of “Need For Speed”, another EA title. He also demonstrated the game-controlling capabilities of the iPod Touch’s movement-sensing accelerometer.
Added Jobs afterwards, “The iPod Touch is the best portable device for music. It’s the best for playing video, and now you can make a pretty good argument it’s the best for playing games on.”
Baker said Apple’s focus on games — downloadable through the Touch’s new iTunes Store capabilities — could give it a presence in the booming gaming market, but only slightly.
“There are some people who are not gamers but do like games a little bit, and they might find the iPod Touch gives them all they need, rather than getting a dedicated game console,” he said.
The iPod Touch is getting a software upgrade, which will be free for some users. The 2.1 software update is free to anyone running the 2.0 software, but users already had to pay $9.95 for that upgrade. First-generation iPod Touch users still running the 1.x software will gave to pay $9.95. The upgrade is available today.
The iPod lineup already has more than 5,000 available accessories, Jobs noted. But that didn’t stop Apple from introducing a few more.
First was a new in-ear headphone that has a small remote control on its cable, as well as a built-in microphone to record voices on compatible models. The headphones’ price will be $29 when they ship next month.
Apple also has more advanced in-ear headphones in the works, with a built-in woofer and tweeter for higher-quality sound. They also will include a set of three earpieces to help users find a more comfortable fit. The new headphones are expected to sell for $79.
The last bit of news was for iPhone users, who have been a little cranky lately due to the less-than-smooth launch of the iPhone 3G.
Jobs said Apple would release version 2.1 software on Friday, and promised that the update “fixes lots of bugs [and] will mean fewer dropped calls and significantly improved battery life for most customers.”
He also said that the update would also provide performance enhancements and faster backup to iTunes, a common complaint on iPhone enthusiast sites.
It will be a free update to iPhone users, he added.
Like last year, Jobs closed out the event with a musical guest. This time it was Hawaiian singer Jack Johnson, who Jobs said was the top selling male artist on iTunes this year.
Apple’s big day comes on news from England that Apple had acknowledged it was a British inventor came up with the idea for an iPod in 1979. The patents expired in 1988 and the inventor was unable to renew them.