New-look nano highlights Apple’s iPod changes

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Apple revamped its iPod line Tuesday, highlighted by a new version of the iPod nano with a curved aluminum design and built-in accelerometer. The company also introduced several changes to its iPod touch line, while paring down the iPod classic to a single offering.

The changes to Apple’s iPod offerings came as part of the company’s “Let’s Rock” event in San Francisco Tuesday. Fall overhauls of the iPod line have become a staple for Apple in recent years, as the company tries to convince holiday shoppers to load up on its music devices. During the 2007 holiday season, for example, Apple sold more than 22 million iPods from October to December.

If the company is to achieve a repeat performance this year, it will be the iPod nano and iPod touch leading the way. Those two models have undergone the most substantive changes from Apple’s previous offerings.

iPod nano

The new nano ditches the compact size introduced in last year’s third-generation model while retaining that version’s ability to play video as well as music and photo slideshows. The new nano measures in at 3.6-by-1.5-by-0.24 inches compared to 2.75-by-2.06-by-0.26 inches for the previous model. The color display remains the same size, though users can now view content in both portrait and landscape modes.

That capability comes courtesy of the iPod nano’s new accelerometer which, like both the iPod touch and iPhone, senses which direction a user is holding the device. Rotate the nano to a horizontal orientation when listening to music, and the device will switch to the Cover Flow view, displaying album covers. Shake the nano, and it will automatically jump into shuffle mode.

Touted as the thinnest iPod ever, the nano features a curved aluminum and glass design. Because it’s contoured, Apple says, the small music player should fit more comfortable in users’ hands.

Introducing the new nano at Tuesday’s briefing, Jobs touted the redesigned device as more environmentally friendly than past models, using arsenic-free glass, free of BFRs, mercury and PVC, and made of more recyclable materials. “There’s more we’re going to do in the future, but these are the cleanest, toxic-free iPods we’ve ever built,” he said.

The nano incorporates Genius, the automatic playlist-generating feature added to the just-released iTunes 8. Nano users can tap into Genius to automatically create playlists on the go.

Apple says the new nano’s battery life offers up to 24 hours of music playback and four hours of video playback. Music playback is the same as it was with the previous model, but the third-generation nano offered five hours of video playback when it shipped a year ago.

The revamped nano line comes in nine colors—purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, pink, black, and silver. The 8GB nano sells for $149 while the 16GB model sells for $199. Previously, the nano came in 4GB and 8GB capacities for $149 and $199, respectively.

Both fourth-generation iPod nanos are are now shipping.

iPod touch

Apple bills the latest version of its widescreen iPod as lighter than the original touch—4.05 ounces compared to 4.2 ounces. The touch now sports a contoured design with the same tapered back as the iPhone 3G. It also adds integrated volume control buttons and a built-in speaker. “It’s for casual listening,” Jobs said of the latter enhancement.

Like the nano, the new touch works with the iTunes 8 Genius feature for automatically creating on-the-go playlists. Apple also built-in support for the Nike + iPod workout monitor; users just need to tie a $19 Nike + iPod transmitter to their shoe to connect with the software embedded in the touch.

Battery life has improved from the original iPod touch. The new model offers 36 hours of music playback and six hours of video playback, compared to 22 and five hours, respectively, for the first touch models.

Much of the iPod touch demo on Tuesday focused on native applications—games, in particular—available through Apple’s App Store. The emphasis on gaming suggests Apple is positioning the revamped touch as a mobile entertainment device for holiday shoppers.

The remodeled iPod touch adds integrated volume controls, a built-in speaker, and the same tapered back as the iPhone 3G. The 8GB touch costs $229, while the 16GB and 32GB models cost $299 and $399, respectively. All three iPod touch models are now shipping.

Other models

The nano and the touch grabbed most of the focus during Jobs’ presentation, but the hard drive-based iPod classic wasn’t completely left out of the picture. Apple announced a lone version of its storage-focused music player—a 120GB model that costs $249. That’s less capacity than what was previously available with the classic, which topped out at 160GB. However, the new model costs the same as the 80GB classic it replaces.

The tiny iPod shuffle merited no mention at Tuesday’s event, though Apple did make a modest change to the flash-based player. The shuffle now comes in more vibrant shades of the silver, blue, green, red, and purple colors previously available. It continues to ship in 1GB and 2GB capacities for $49 and $69, respectively.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. PT to include iPod touch pricing.
Updated at 11:17 a.m. PT to include environmental information.
Updated at 2:30 p.m. PT to add more information throughout the story and correctly report the size of the nano’s screen.

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