Summary of today's Apple announcements (no iPod phone)

I'm sitting here in my home office in northern Massachusetts trying to find out what Steve Jobs is saying at his product roll-out (taking place right now) and my first choice of sites to visit was Engadget.  But I'm apparently not the only one who thinks Engadget is going to have the best blow-by-blow coverage.

I'm sitting here in my home office in northern Massachusetts trying to find out what Steve Jobs is saying at his product roll-out (taking place right now) and my first choice of sites to visit was Engadget.  But I'm apparently not the only one who thinks Engadget is going to have the best blow-by-blow coverage. The site is so overwhelmed with traffic, I haven't been able to successfully load one page.  So, now, I'm trying to hit Engadget (really good pictures), MacWorld, and CNET Reviews for details. Keep hitting refresh for changes to the following capsule summary.

Update: OK, I've finally got a page here.  So far, it looks like enhancements to the iPod line up with brighter displays, better earphones, and what Jobs is referring to as gapless playback (where there's no dead space between songs).  Then, the iPod is also going to be a handheld gaming system with games that are designed to take advantage of the wheel.  Initial games will be Zuma, Texas Hold 'Em, Mini Golf, Cubis 2, PacMan, Tetris! and Mah-jong and they can be purchased at the iTunes Music Store. Jobs claims that the new iPods will have 75 percent more battery life (key for playing videos on those long flights) and the entry level price is being dropped to $249. The Nano is getting thinner and it too will have a brighter display and longer battery life and will be packaged more efficiently in an effort to make it more Earth-friendly.  There's a new Shuttle that Jobs has claimed to be the world's smallest MP3 player.

Jobs has gone on to remind his audience of about 300 or so people that the iTunes Music Store (iTMS) controls about 88 percent of the legal downloads market in the US (in my estimation, that's a monopoly the remedy to which should be the untying of iPods to the iTunes Music Store by way of Apple's proprietary digital rights management technology known as FairPlay). Incidentally, the iTMS was shut down for update leading up to this announcement.  Jobs introduced a new version of the iTunes software (iTunes 7) that Engadget says looks like flipping through your CD rack.

In addition to the 220 shows from the over 40 TV networks that iTMS customers have access too, the NFL Network is being added at $1.99 per game or $24.99 for a season pass and video encoding is being bumped from a resolution of 320x240 to 640x480 (that 2x across 2 dimensions for a total of a 4x improvement in resolution).

One cool new feature (for people who complained bigtime about what happens if a computer crashes) is that iTMS purchase content now flow backward from an iPod to a computer.  So, the net net is that if your computer crashes and you decide to buy a new one, you iPod acts like a digital locker for all the content you're authorized to have and once you install and authorize iTunes on the new computer, all that content will synch from the iPod to the computer.  Nice.  Although what Apple should really be doing is keeping a record of everything you've purchased so that you can re-download it if you have to (a feature that the Navio platform has).

As expected, full length movies will be available from the iTMS and they'll be in the 640x480 "near-DVD quality" resolution and Dolby-quality surround sound according to Jobs (although it's not clear from the reports I'm watching if he was comparing to Dolby, or if the technology is actually used). Full length movies can be downloaded in about a 1/2 an hour over a 5 mbps connection and you can start watching the movie about a minute after download starts.  You cannot burn the movies to DVD.  The "movie store" launches with titles from four of Disney's studios (Jobs is on Disney's board):  Disney, Pixar, Touchstone, and Miramax. Going out the door today, there will be more than 75 films available with more to come like Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and Cars. The movie industry appears to be getting its way with variable pricing (the music business was unable to sway Jobs on that same issue).  New releases will be available at a discount ($12.99) when pre-ordered or ordered during the first week they're out.  Prices will go as high as $14.99 after the first week and older titles will cost $9.99.

Disney CEO and president Bob Iger was apparently on stage to help with the movie roll-out and then Jobs moved onto the last big announcement.. or should I say pre-announcement (since the product won't be available until 2007Q1: a system to drive a flat panel that looks like a Mac Mini (a bit fatter according to Engadget, but shorter according to MacWorld... so "stouter") with a code name of iTV. Jobs isn't apparently happy with that name and it will likely change by the time it launches. 

iTV will have integrated wireless networking, USB, wired Ethernet, an High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), and the standard  component video and analog audio interfaces that any consumer video product is expected to have. Somewhat reminiscent of the the way Sonos' gear works with music, iTV can apparently take "delivery" of its content (eg: an iTMS purchased song) from an iTunes-enabled PC via the wired or wireless network and its FrontRow-esque 3D user interface can be controlled with a remote control (so, iTV is sort of a set-top box on steroids).

The iTV doesn't appear to have a tuner (not that it needs one). In my home setup, provided I wanted to use it, I'd just connect the iTV to the receiver  (more like a networking hub these days given all the sources connected to it) at the heart of my home entertainment setup in my family room. Or, you can connect it directly to a big flat panel. One question I have (since you can connect it to your receiver) is whether or not you can alls use that FrontRow-esque interface to browse and playback any music stored in the iTunes-enabled PC (now that would be a dead hit on what Sonos does). Answer: Yes, not just music, but podcasts and photos too. So, to button that up, iTunes software becomes the master organizer of music, photos, podcasts, movies, and TV shows and then handles the delivery of that content into your entire lifestyle (be it in your mobile player, on your computer, or in your living room).  Actually, Jobs buttoned it up with a slide that said Apple is in your den (I guess that would be your PC), your living room (that'd be the iTV), your car (via iPod connectivity that Jobs claim can be had in 70 percent of new cars sold here in the US), and your pocket (iPods).

What's really interesting to me is that while Jobs is in San Francisco attempting to re-invent home entertainment, the entire home entertainment industry will be at it's annual lovefest (CEDIA) in Denver starting tomorrow. Provided the convergence that Jobs demonstrated today gets traction in the market (in other words, if people start buying movies at the iTMS and watching them on iTV driven flat panels), this is largely bad news for the players (everyone from Pioneer to Escient to Integra, etc) in that industry that make components like DVD players, PVRs (eg: TiVo boxes), audio/video servers, amplifiers, and the like. The key to Apple's success here will be it's digital rights management (DRM) technology (FairPlay).  So far, the company isn't licensing that technology which means it's difficult if not impossible for companies like Escient to participate in the ecosystem Apple is trying to create and dominate.