No Surprises at Apple Music Event

This week, Apple held its annual music event, announcing new iPod, Apple TV, and iTunes products as expected. There were no surprises, and while the rumor mills furiously pumped out exciting possibilities before the show, none were realized.

In fact, many of Apple's announcements were curiously familiar. Apple announced that it had completely revamped its iPod lineup, but the iPod classic remains unchanged for the third straight year. And the "new" iPod shuffle takes on the look and feel of the model Apple first sold in 2007, abandoning the button-less design it foisted on consumers for the past two years.

Two iPods do look interesting. The iPod touch remains the must-have digital media player and it picks up all of the good features from the iPhone 4—the "retina" display, Facetime video calling, HD video and recording—while neatly sidestepping all of the problems that have plagued Apple's smartphone, including the broken antenna design and faulty proximity sensor. The new iPod nano drops the click wheel interface and goes multi-touch, but doesn't pick up iOS compatibility and thus can't run any iPhone/iPod touch games or apps. It also loses some features from the previous nano model, including the still/video camera.

Apple announced a new version of iTunes, but it's just the same tired old software with a small facelift and exactly one new feature, a Ping social networking service looks and works like a bare-bones version of the Zune Social service that debuted back in 2007 as well. How innovative.

Apple's lackluster Apple TV has been completely retooled to meet market realities. Now, instead of being a stripped-down Mac, the device is a much less expensive (and much less capable) stripped-down iPod that supports only media streaming and HDMI output. At only $99, the new Apple TV may finally find some customers where the previous version could not.

Apple announced two upcoming revisions to the iOS platform that powers its iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad devices, and both will be made available to existing customers for free. The first, iOS 4.1, will ship this month and add Game Center (a copy of Microsoft's Xbox Live service), support for High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos, HD video upload over Wi-Fi, TV show rentals, and a ton of bug fixes. (In fact, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was curiously vocal about the number of bugs in the current version of iOS, v4, which he said were "a lot of bugs, we get mails.") Apple iOS 4.2 will ship in November and finally consolidate the OS into a single version that runs on both iPhone/iPod touch and iPad. This update will add printing, a long-awaited iPad feature, and other new features.

For an Apple event, however, this week's announcements aren't particularly exciting. The iPod lineup, while dominant in the MP3 player market, is getting a bit stale and sales are finally starting to ebb considerably. That's fine for Apple, as its iPhone, iPad, and even the Mac are still growing. And let's face it, it's not like Apple is facing any particular competition in the MP3 space: A company with a product line this dominant can afford to slow down a bit.

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