Getting small

Steve Jobs loves putting on special musical events, if for no other reason than trotting out his celebrity pals to help sell Apple’s new ideas to the public. Today’s event was no exception: Jobs acknowledged cellist Yo-Yo Ma, seated in the audience; took part in a live video iChat with a British-accented Madonna—whose catalog was just added to the iTunes Music Store—from London; and invited Hip-hop/rap artist Kanye West—whose album and song both top the iTMS charts—to sing two songs at the end of the morning (before which West thanked Steve for “still letting him perform,” presumably a reference to some unscripted comments West made criticizing President Bush during NBC’s “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” last week).

But musical cameos aside, Steve had some pretty cool products to unveil. The first, the Motorola ROKR E1 cell phone with iTunes support, was well known to every blogger, rumor site, and major news organization days before the announcement—but that didn’t make it any less cool (nor did meaningless words like “convergence,” “compelling,” and “innovative” used by Motorola and Cingular executives detract from the product itself). At its heart, the ROKR is a Quad-band, Bluetooth-enabled, camera-equipped, stereo-speaker cell phone. But it’s also an iPod with 512MB of memory. There’s a button on the phone to access iTunes, it acts very much like an iPod (without the Click Wheel), shows up in the Source list of the new iTunes 5, and can shuffle songs or play albums and playlists. And at $250 with a 2-year contract with Cingular, not a bad deal for two devices in one.

Like any good showman, however, Steve saved the best for last—the iPod nano. The prefix ‘nano’ means one-billionth. Now I’m not sure what it’s one-billionth of, nor do I enjoy lots of hyperbole, but having gotten my grubby little fingers around one of these after the keynote, I can say that it’s really small. Or to be more accurate, really thin (Jobs compared its thickness to that of a #2 pencil, the very image of which made me shudder thinking about the thousands of bubbles I’d filled in for tests during high school, college, and grad school). But everything about it is small (especially the album art of the nano’s color screen), but the depth is hard to fathom—it almost looks fake. At $249 for 4GB and $199 for 2GB, you get less storage for the money than with the iPod mini models they replace, but what the nano lacks in capacity, it makes up for in coolness. It adds color, uses Flash-memory instead of a hard drive (which accounts for the thinness, and makes it jolt-proof), comes in black or white, and includes some cool features like a stop watch, screen lock, and multiple clocks. The only odd thing is the placement of the headphone jack—on the bottom. But that aside, I think it’s fair to say that Apple is going to sell a ton of these.

Oh yeah, and all the Harry Potter books are now available as audiobooks from the iTunes Music Store, and for a limited time you can buy a Hogwarts Crest-engraved 20GB iPod with The Complete Harry Potter downloads for $548. Considering that the only group of people more fervent than iPod users are Harry Potter fans, Apple will probably sell a goodly number of audiobooks in the coming weeks.

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