Apple updates iPod lineup and adds social networking to iTunes

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Apple's updated iPod lineup

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Apple’s September 1 event saw the announcement of updates to the entire iPod line with the sole exception of the iPod Classic. The iPod touch gains the same high resolution Retina display and A4 chip found on the iPhone 4, along with FaceTime video calling, HD video recording, 3-axis gyro and iOS 4.1, all packed into a new slimmer, lighter form factor. There’s also a completely redesigned square-shaped iPod nano with a multi-touch interface and a redesigned iPod shuffle that sees the reintroduction of clickable “ring” buttons.

iPod touch

Apple’s iPhone without the phone includes most of the features introduced on the
iPhone 4, including Apple’s A4 chip, 960 x 640 pixel Retina display, front-facing camera and mic for making FaceTime calls over Wi-Fi to fellow iPod touch or iPhone 4 users, HD video recording, 3-axis gyro and iOS 4.1. The only major difference hardware-wise – aside from the phone functionality – is a lower resolution still camera – 960 x 720 pixels to the iPhone 4’s 5-megapixels.

Recognizing the touch’s popularity as a games console Apple has introduced Game Center, which lets users challenge and play friends or be matched automatically with new opponents. Gamers can also showcase their scores and achievements and check out which games their friends are playing.

The new touch is smaller and lighter than previous models and the iPhone 4, measuring 4.4 x 2.4 x 0.28 inches (111 x 58.9 x 7.2mm) H x W x D, and weighing 3.56 ounces (101g). A single charge will provide up to 40 hours of music playback or seven hours of video playback. It will be available from next week in 8, 16 and 32GB capacities priced at US$229, $299 and $399, respectively.

iPod nano

The new iPod nano sees a new square design that is nearly half the size and weight of the previous generation. Featuring a polished aluminum and glass enclosure with built-in clip the nano is now only slightly larger than the iPod shuffle with the front surface dominated by a new multi-touch display replacing the previous models’ click wheel.

Users can access their songs, artists, albums and playlists with a tap or swipe of their finger on the display, while holding down a finger returns the user to the Home screen. If the nano is clipped onto clothing upside down users can use two fingers to rotate the screen and set it right again. The Home screen can also be customized by dragging icons from other screens onto it.

In addition to Genius mixes there’s also a built-in FM radio with live pause and a built-in pedometer that supports Nike + iPod for tracking runs and workouts.

The iPod nano comes in 8 and 16GB capacities for US$149 and $179, respectively. They’ll also be available from next week.

iPod shuffle

The third iPod model to get a makeover is the shuffle, which sees the reintroduction of clickable “ring” buttons complementing Apple’s VoiceOver technology for navigating music and playlists without looking at the device. The new VoiceOver button on top of iPod shuffle allows users to hear the name of the currently playing song and to switch between songs, playlists or Genius Mixes, which the shuffle now supports. It speaks over 25 languages and also alerts users when the battery needs charging.

The shuffle’s all-aluminum enclosure with built-in clip comes in silver, blue, green, orange and pink and the device boasts nearly 50 percent more battery life than its predecessor, providing over 15 hours of music playback on a single charge. It measures 1.14 x 1.24 x 0.34 inches (29 x 31.6 x 8.7) H x W x D and weighs 0.44 ounces (12.5g).

The iPod shuffle offers 2GB of storage and will be available from next week for US$49.

iTunes 10 with Ping

In addition to the hardware updates, Apple also introduced iTunes 10 with Ping, a new music-oriented social network feature that lets users create a profile to post their opinions, favorite albums and songs and music they’ve download. It also lets fans follow their favorite artists, checking out photos and videos they’ve posted, their tour dates and read comments about other artists and albums they’re listening to.

“iTunes is the number one music community in the world, with over 160 million iTunes users in 23 countries, and now we’re adding social networking with Ping,” said Steve Jobs. “With Ping you can follow your favorite artists and friends and join a worldwide conversation with music’s most passionate fans.”

A Recent Activity feed shows posts from friends what they’re listening to and concerts they’ve attended, while a consolidated Top 10 displays a list of the songs and albums your friends and the artists you follow are downloading from iTunes. In addition to using Ping on a computer, it can also be accessed on an iPhone or iPod touch.

Apple’s Airplay wireless music playback feature that lets users listen to music on remote speakers now works with Apple Airport Express.

iTunes 10 is available now as a free download from Apple.

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