Apple Disappoints with Fall 2009 iPod Announcements

At an iPod announcement yesterday, a noticeably thin Apple CEO Steve Jobs returned to the stage for the first time in almost a year to a rousing ovation. But it was all downhill after that, as Apple succumbed to an increasingly common problem for the event marketing company: Its actual product announcements weren't particularly interesting, and Apple didn't live up to the hype.

Apple introduced only minor evolutions of existing products at the announcement, including four iPods and its iTunes software. The biggest news out of the event, in many ways, was what didn't happen: Apple didn't secure the music catalog of "The Beatles," despite that band's same-day release of its entire remastered body of work. There was no tablet device, as widely hoped-for by the Apple fan base. And the company once again ignored its living room digital media solution, the Apple TV.

As for the actual announcements, most were lackluster, and Apple didn't lower prices across the board as many had hoped. The iPod nano now includes a video camera, microphone, speaker, FM radio, and a slightly larger screen. The iPod touch, meanwhile, just adds extra capacity, and in the case of the most expensive model, the same underlying hardware used in the iPhone 3GS.

Most disconcertingly, the "new" iPod touch appears to be a temporary product: Apple had originally expected to announce a version with an iPod nano-like camera and mic, but had to pull that version at the last minute because of production problems. Presumably that will appear in the months ahead. But Apple had to instead focus on the iPod touch's prowess as a game machine at the event rather than discuss new features. Because there aren't any.

The iPod classic continues forward with just a capacity bump, just like last year. And the iPod shuffle gets some new colors. Meanwhile, Apple's iTunes software has been bumped up to version 9 and appears to have lifted some features from Microsoft's Zune software, including a more attractive online store presentation and PC-to-PC content sharing. The iPhone and iPod touch received minor software upgrades to bring them up to speed with the new iTunes version.

All of the products announced Wednesday are now shipping, but Apple is left in a curious position. Its recent release of Mac OS X Snow Leopard was also met with a collective yawn, given its three-year development time and absolute lack of new end user features. So Apple is now down 0–2 heading into the holidays, perhaps 0–3 if you recall that the company still doesn't have an answer to the netbook.

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