Finally, this week we're getting a new iPod model from Apple. (Congrats to Newsweek's Steven Levy -- a former Macworld contributor, I might add -- for breaking the story.) I'm thrilled by this, not because of the presumably increased feature set but because Apple's incorporating the wheel-as-button system introduced on the iPod Mini.
This is great news. The third-generation iPods have a row of four touch-sensitive buttons that look cool but, ultimately, just don't work. It's too easy to press them; you can't touch them for orientation without setting one off. Don't get me started.
However, the system of having buttons (or clickable points of any kind) oriented like the points of a compass has its own drawbacks. My chief complaint: that the Menu button, which moves you "back" (scrolling from right to left) in the iPod interface is at the top. That confuses new users every time. But it doesn't take too long to figure it out, and once you've learned it, it's not a problem anymore. As opposed to the third-generation iPod's buttons, which remain a problem for as long as you own one.
Other good news: Apple has simplified the iPods, base menus, with a "Music" menu at the top level, and a top-level "Shuffle Songs" command to start shuffling through your entire collection. (I never, ever do this -- I prefer to target my shuffles a whole lot more, via artist or playlist -- but I understand that it's popular with lots of iPod users.) You can now build and save multiple "on-the-go" playlists on the fly, and even remove songs from playlists.
Best of all, the prices have come down! The 40GB model now costs $399, with the 20GB model at $299. Presumably there will be a 60GB model eventually, for $499, but Apple's mum on that right now.
So three cheers for the new iPods, which borrow from the Mini in just the right way. When can I get one?