Apple launches new products

Josh King

“It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but we like it.”

That was slide one at Apple’s latest special event, and for the most part that was true. Sure, CEO Steve Jobs may have started the event with talk of his liver transplant before encouraging everyone to follow in the generous example of his donor by becoming organ donors. And he may have followed it up with talk about the iPhone and the App Store, but other than that it was all music, mostly.

In typical Jobs fashion, the numbers came first, the more astounding the better. He announced that Apple has sold 30 million iPhones and that the App Store is overflowing with more than 75,000 titles that users have downloaded a remarkable 1.8 billion times. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than 4 million app downloads each day.

On the docket Wednesday was the release of new iPhone software available as a free download through iTunes for iPhone users and iPod touch owners running iPhone OS 3.0. The 3.1 version of the software fixes bugs and adds a few new features including pre-made ringtones (iPhone users have been able to make their own in iTunes before now) and App Store Genius.

“Wouldn’t it be great if the App Store could make recommendations of apps to you, just like Genius is making recommendations of songs,” said Jobs while describing the new feature. “And that’s what it does. It’s really nice.”

The feature shows up on the iPhone or iPod touch’s App Store and provides the user with recommendations based on the apps currently installed. Recommended apps can be removed with a quick swipe of a finger, which Jobs said will make the Genius even smarter in the future.

Up next, it was time for the rock ‘n’ roll talk, and there was plenty to talk about. Touted first was new iTunes software. Notably, the new software includes a completely redesigned store bringing a sleeker layout and a tip of the hat to social networking. Not only can a user buy and gift songs, they can now share them on Twitter or Facebook with just a few clicks.

Synching to iPods and iPhones (sorry Palm Pre, your synching hack is broken again) now has more finely-tuned options, giving users more control of what lives on their portable devices. And with Home Sharing, new in iTunes 9, that content can come from up to five computers in the household as songs, movies, TV shows, even apps are shared seamlessly across Macs and PCs.

Other new features include the ability to organize apps from within iTunes, Genius Mixes and Jobs’ personal favorite — iTunes LP, which bundles albums with the extra content that was lost with the adoption of digital music.

But as nice as the new iTunes looked, what everyone had really showed up for was new iPods. Rumors had been flying for months for this event and people wanted new hardware.

“If you haven’t heard, the iPod has been a big hit,” said Phil Schiller, senior vice president of worldwide product marketing as he announced that more than 220 million iPods have been sold. “Customers love the iPod.”

Twenty million of those 220 million were the iPod touch, deemed the funnest iPod ever. Wednesday brought minor price drops (the eight gigabyte model now sells for $199 rather than $249), expanded storage, now up to 64 GB and faster processing. Surprisingly, updates didn’t include the oft-rumored camera. Though rumors say production issues gave the camera-enabled touch the boot, Jobs told New York Times writer David Pogue that Apple sees the iPod touch as the lowest price entry to the App Store.

“So what we were focused on is just reducing the price to $199,” said Jobs. “We don’t need to add new stuff. We need to get the price down where everyone can afford it.”

What they did decide to add new stuff to was the iPod nano. The nano, available now in nine colors and eight and 16 GB sizes, picked up a bigger screen, an FM radio capable of pausing live radio broadcasts for up to 15 minutes, a pedometer and a teeny tiny video camera.

Also updated were the iPod classic, from 120 GB to 160 GB at the same $249 and the buttonless iPod shuffle now available in two and four GB varieties at $59 and $79.

Yet to be honest, the event which purported to be all about music, turned out to be mostly about Steve Jobs. Yeah, he was only on stage about half the time and he deflected the spotlight as much as Jobs ever does, but it didn’t matter. He was there.

For the first time in 11 long months, Jobs was on stage. He had gone through a medical leave of absence, had a liver transplant and looked as thin as he ever had, but he was there, and the crowd loved it almost as much as he did.

“So, I’m vertical,” said Jobs. “I’m back at Apple. Loving every day of it. And I’m getting to work with our incredibly talented teams to come up with some great new products for you all in the future. It’s really wonderful.”