Apple’s Steve Jobs Returns, Bearing iPods

Steve Jobs
Apple CEO Steve Jobs speaks at the company’s media event in San Francisco. Source: Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — The audience here at Apple’s media event at the Yerba Buena Center was still getting seated when, with no warning or announcement, Steve Jobs quietly walked on stage.

The crowd, gathered for a company media event, welcomed the public return of Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iconic CEO with a standing ovation that lasted almost a minute.

Jobs then did something really out of character: He got personal.

In January, Jobs took a medical leave of absence but at the time gave few clues as to why. It has since been revealed that Jobs needed a liver transplant, which he received in March. Since June, Jobs has been back at Apple, while keeping out of the public spotlight.

Speaking today more softly than usual, Jobs informed the audience he had received the liver of a person in their 20s who had died in an auto accident.

“I wouldn’t be here without such generosity, so I hope all of us can be as generous and elect to become organ donors,” he said.

He also thanked his Apple staff, in particular singling out Tim Cook, the company’s chief operating officer and its acting CEO while Jobs recovered.

Then it was back to his usually gregarious public persona.

“So, I’m vertical, back at Apple and loving every minute of it,” Jobs said.

iPod overhaul

In addition to ushering Jobs back into the spotlight, the day’s events centered around — as many observers had expected — new additions and enhancements to the company’s iPod lineup, which the company said had sold more than 220 million units to date.

the new iPod Nano
The new iPod Nano
Source: Apple

Many of the changes applied to the iPod Nano, Apple’s best-selling iPod with more than 100 million units sold. A new edition of the model will get a digital camera and a microphone, as well as a larger screen — 2.2 inches in size.

With the microphone, the Nano can now do voice recordings, like the iPhone 3G or 3GS. It also comes with a FM radio and a pedometer, and will be sold in seven bright new colors along with the brushed steel look.

The price is $149 for the 8GB version and $179 for the 16GB version.

Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, took over onstage to introduce the new iPods, but did not divulge the new Nano’s technical specifics, such as resolution.

A second bit of news centered on the venerable iPod Classic, which some industry observers thought may have been headed for the chopping block.

Apple raised the capacity from 120GB to 160GB while retaining its thin design and $249 price point. Apple previously had a 160GB unit but it was much fatter due to the larger hard drive and hadn’t sold well before being discontinued.

Rumors had speculated that the Classic would meet its end as Apple focused more on the iPhone and the iPod Touch, of which the company said it has sold 20 million so far. Earlier this year, Apple executives said they had been seeing an expected slowdown in sales of the Classic as users adopted the more advanced models.

iPod Touch: Fun and games

Clearly, Apple sees more ahead for the Touch. Schiller noted that in addition to being a music player, the iPod Touch is “a great computer” with its support via Safari and e-mail, and “it’s a great portable game player as well.”

This seemed to be where Apple is taking the Touch: squarely into battle against the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS, both handheld game devices.

Apple’s not-so secret weapon is the App Store. Schiller noted the PSP has just 607 games, the DS has 3,680 titles and the Touch/iPhone has 21,178. He brought out three game developers to demo games, including Electronic Arts (NASDAQ: ERTS), which showed off the John Madden line of football games, the top-selling football titles for consoles.

Noting that sales for the earlier iPod Nano had doubled sales when Apple cut its price to $199, Schiller announced that the 8GB Touch would now see a price reduction from $229 to $199, while the 16GB model will be discontinued.

Schiller also introduced a new 32GB unit, which will sell for $299, and a 64GB model, which will run $399.

He also said the new iPod Touch models would be 50 percent faster than previous generations, meaning they are using the speedier ARM processor that Apple introduced in the iPhone 3GS.

The iPod Shuffle received a minor cosmetic makeover, as well as a new low-end model. A 2GB unit has been added to compliment the 4GB unit, and will sell for $59. All Shuffles will be available in five bright new colors as well as a polished stainless steel unit, which will sell for $99.

Next page: Mobile apps, ringtones, and Nora Jones

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OS 3.1, iTunes 9, ringtones

The iPhone wasn’t forgotten during today’s iPod-centric announcements. During his talk, Jobs detailed statistics showing Apple’s continuing prominence in the mobile device space, with the iPhone having passed the 30 million unit mark.

He also said there are now 75,000 iPhone and iPod Touch apps on the App Store, and downloads have passed 1.8 billion units.

Apple event
The scene at the Yerba Buena Center today.
Photo: Andy Patrizio

Something expected by many had been OS 3.1 for the iPhone and iPod Touch, which Jobs confirmed is available now for download from Apple. The list of new features is lengthy, but Jobs focused on just a few items.

Apple is taking its Genius technology, which recommended artists to users based on their music libraries, and applied it to App Store. Now the App Store will look at the kinds of iPhone and iPod Touch apps a user downloads and make recommendations for additional apps they might like.

Apple today also took the wraps off of iTunes 9, introducing a number of enhancements and new features.

For starters, the company struck a deal with all four major record labels to begin today offering ringtones from musicians. iTunes has previously offered the ability to take a song in the library and cut it down for use as a ringtone, but now you won’t have to brew your own any more.

Apple is launching with 30,000 songs/tones, available for $1.29 each.

iTunes’ software also has been given an overhaul, cleaning up the interface and giving artists their own page.

Apple expanded iTunes’ syncing with the iPhone or iPod to now include adding all songs by a particular artist or genre. If you’re a Mac user, you can also sync photos by events and faces.

In addition, iTunes will now manage the apps on the iPhone and iPod Touch: No more press-and-drag on your device with your finger — you can do it all with click-and-drag on the computer using your mouse.

iTunes 9 also adds home sharing, so music can be streamed between up to five authorized computers.

Also making its debut today is iTunes LP, previously codenamed Cocktail,
which adds content like video and liner notes to albums.

As a result, select albums now come in iTunes LP editions that include video, liner notes, artist chronology and more. Artists can get directly involved in creating the content and the labels have all the tools to make extras that go with the album, Apple said.

Jobs wound down the day’s event by introducing a musical guest. Although the show had been themed “It’s only rock and roll but I like it,” and songs from classic rockers like Jimi Hendrix played during the pre-show, the event’s musical guest was the sedate Nora Jones. The singer performed two songs, one of which is on an upcoming album.

Assessing the rumors

Much of what had been speculated for the day’s announcements came to pass, while some predictions did not.

The biggest no-show proved to be the long-rumored Apple tablet PC, which some analysts had speculated might make an appearance at the event.

Another widely speculated change didn’t quite happen: Many Apple blogs and insiders had been betting that the iPod Touch would get the video camera that the iPhone now sports, but that wasn’t to be.

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