I brought a new iPod Nano to lunch the other day, partly to see how well it carries and, yes, partly to show off..
I brought a new iPod Nano to lunch the other day, partly to see how well it carries and, yes, partly to show off.
The new fourth-generation model, announced this week, returns the iPod Nano to its design roots: unlike the squat design of the previous incarnation, this one is tall and thin, with a rectangular screen that occupies more than half of the front of the device.
The body is curved aluminum, and it’s very thin and very light — after putting it in my pocket, I almost forgot it was there.
The Nano is available in two configurations: 8 GB of storage for $149 or 16 GB for $199. Both models come in eight colors.
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But the looks weren’t necessarily the attraction at lunch. Now that Apple owns 73.4 percent of the music-player market, I wondered: Are people still interested in yet another device that plays music and video? Has iPod fatigue finally set in?
Apparently not. When I played a movie on the iPod Nano’s incredibly sharp screen — rotated 90 degrees to take advantage of the widescreen aspect ratio, thanks to the Nano’s new built-in accelerometer — I saw that familiar sense of wonder and curiosity that accompanied the introduction of the original iPod.
The accelerometer, which is also present in the iPhone and iPod Touch, adds several capabilities to the iPod Nano. It lets you view your music library in Cover Flow mode (as if you’re flipping through the panels of an old jukebox).
It displays horizontal photos full screen when the device is held sideways. Videos automatically play in the widescreen orientation.
Having the accelerometer also provides the capability to take advantage of motion actions; the included Maze game relies on tipping the iPod every which way to guide a marble through a maze.
(Oddly, when playing a game in the widescreen orientation, the click wheel’s functions are also rotated: pressing the Menu button performs the actions of the Previous button, the Next button acts as the Menu button, and so on. That behavior only seems to apply to game playing.)
The Nano has other tricks up its sleeve, too. Shake the device while music is playing and it switches to shuffle mode to play songs randomly. (When the screen is inactive or the hold button is enabled, shake-to-shuffle is disabled, so your music isn’t randomized as you dash for the bus.)
A preference in iTunes activates spoken menus on the iPod Nano, so people with vision difficulties can navigate the menus. It also supports Apple’s new Genius playlists (which I’ll get to in a moment).
iPod Touch: Also announced this week was an updated iPod Touch, which I’ve decided that I deeply resent because it makes my svelte first-generation iPhone look chunky.
It’s available in three configurations: 8 GB ($229), 16 GB ($299) and 32 GB ($399).
This model isn’t much different from the previous one. It adds the Genius feature (really, I’m almost there) and built-in support for the Nike + iPod exercise system: The iPod Touch includes the radio that communicates with the shoe sensor that tracks your pace, removing the need for a bulky plug-in adapter.
It also ships with version 2.1 of the iPhone Touch software. Owners of existing iPod Touch models can upgrade from version 2.0 to 2.1 for free; upgrading from version 1.0 to 2.1 costs $9.95.
iTunes 8: The other major announcement was iTunes 8, a free download for Mac and Windows. In addition to support for the new iPods, iTunes features Genius, an intelligent music-recommendation tool.
When you select a song in your library and click the new Genius button, iTunes builds a playlist of songs it believes play well together. In my testing, Genius did pretty well, with a few odd picks.
Building a playlist around José González’s “Heartbeats,” a song featuring vocals over acoustic guitar, brought up a playlist that included the more rocking “I’ll Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” by the Arctic Monkeys, for example.
You must first enable Genius, which compiles and uploads information about your library (but not any personal identifying information) to Apple, where the data is matched with millions of other users’ data.
Once a week new algorithms — Apple calls them Genius Results — are downloaded to your computer to help improve the intelligence of the service.
The iPod Nano and iPod touch each contain a new Genius menu that can build a Genius playlist on the fly without connecting to iTunes.
A separate Genius Sidebar (which can be shown or hidden) provides a similar service, but uses the selected song to bring up suggestions at the iTunes Store.
Last, iTunes 8 heralds the introduction of high-definition versions of television shows, including shows from the prodigal network NBC, who pulled out of the iTunes Store last year allegedly over a pricing dispute.
Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.