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Apple's 2010 Music Event: Meh

Apple held it's annual music event this week, introducing as expected evolutionary new versions of its iPods, Apple TV, and iTunes. Nothing dramatic, nothing unexpected, and quite a bit less than the rumor mills suggested, as always. In fact, these annual events are getting downright uninteresting in way, since they're so telegraphed in advance.

Note: This isn't getting a lot of play (ahem) for some reason, but it's interesting to me how much of what Apple announced this week isn't actually available, or won't be made available, as expected. For example, iTunes 10 was supposed to be available "immediately" but there's a "Coming Soon" note on the web site now. And even the most delayed of the offerings, the new Apple TV, won't ship with all of its announced features whenever it does turn up: The streaming functionality from iPad that was shown off is "Coming Soon" too. This is curious because Apple's annual music event happens at the same time every year, so Apple knew this stuff was coming and still couldn't get it ready in time. Curious.

Another note: Apple didn't reveal new iPad sales figures as expected. When you combine this with the sudden immediate availability of the devices, you have to assume that means that sales have dropped off significantly. Apple isn't shy about crowing when products are doing well. But they do get curiously silent when things aren't going their way.

So. What did Apple announce? Not much, not if we're being honest about it.

New iPods. Apple didn't actually update its entire product line as advertised, the iPod classic soldiers along, again, with no changes. The iPod shuffle from 2007 is being relaunched as the new version of the iPod shuffle, which is funny when you think about. (But not unprecedented; when Apple disapointed iPod nano fans with the "fat boy" model one in 2007, it went back to the old design a year later too.) This is good news, as the UI-less iPod shuffle from last year was functionally retarded. (I gave it one-star in my mini-review.) The iPad nano picks up an interesting multi-touch display, but is not iOS, which is just weird, and an indication of how Apple's miniaturization at any cost maxims really get in the way. It seems more like an iPod shuffle with a screen, but I'll test it and see what it's like in real life. The iPod touch, as expected, picks up many of the iPhone 4 features that actually work, like the "retina display," Facetime video calling, HD video recording, and so on. This one continues to look strong and, thanks to the App Store support, is still the portable player to beat. It will also ship with Apple's Xbox LIVE ripoff, dubbed Games Center. The new iPods ship next week for some reason.

iTunes 10. Anyone hoping for the very necessary and long overdue iTunes overhaul will be disappointed to see that iTunes 10 is just the same old iTunes with very few additional features, none that look particularly interesting. Several years after Microsoft created the Zune Social (endlessly mocked by Apple fans), Apple is copying them with something called Ping, a "a new music-oriented social network for following your favorite artists and friends to discover what music they’re talking about, listening to and downloading." How innovative. (And I'm sure Apple fans will trip all over themselves telling each other what a great idea this is.) This isn't really an iTunes 10 feature, but Apple is finally switching to a streaming rather than downloading model for video content with TV show rentals (really one-time views) that are much less expensive than typical purchases. (But are only coming from ABC, Fox, and BBC America right now.) Also, AirTunes is being renamed to AirPlay because it now supports the streaming of non-music content, which is required for the new Apple TV (see below). Apple's press release notes that "iTunes 10 is available immediately as a free download at" Which of course it is not.

Apple TV. I've always been a huge fan of the Apple TV and this version may make a big difference in the market. First, at $99, it's cheap, super cheap, compared to the previous version. It gets there by dropping on-device storage and non-HDMI connectivity, and by moving to a completely streaming-based model. I'm A-OK with that: I mostly stream to the current Apple TV anyway. One thing that would make a huge difference is not requiring iTunes to be running on a PC for this to work, as is the case currently, but I'd be surprised if they went there. The Apple TV won't ship until late this month, which is Apple-speak for "October."

Put simply, none of the crazy rumor stuff (Apps on Apple TV with some weird remote-based touch experience, a streaming iTunes service, etc.) was announced. What was announced is just the basic, evolutionary stuff one should expect given how mature these products are. Interesting, because the Apple stuff is both popular and usually pretty good. But not particularly exciting.

I've ordered one of everything for review purposes. The only one I'm really curious about is the new Apple TV. This product has always been excellent but underappreciated.

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