At an invitation-only, packed event in San Jose Tuesday morning, Apple Computers Steve Jobs confirmed widespread rumors of a photo-ready, color, 60 GB version of the iPod music player. There are some unexpected twists to how Apple has implemented the new player, a second new iPod, and the event featured a crowd-pleasing appearance from Bono and The Edge, of U2.
Previous Apple events have featured Bono talking to the audience by videoconference, but the Silicon Valley crowd was clearly wowed when he and The Edge walked out to the front of the stage and chatted amiably with the audience about music and technology.
"I think it is amazing that the recording industry didnt crack the piracy problem," Bono said. "It had to be a technology company," added The Edge, who was identified by Bono as U2s technologist. "That means Im the guy to go to when a printer isnt working," The Edge responded. The two performed two acoustic tracks from their new album, one of which is called "Original of the Species" and features The Edge on piano.
Bono and The Edge were on hand because Apple is introducing another 20GB version of the iPod, called the U2 iPod, and a new form of online music distribution, beginning with a U2 anthology. The new color iPod is a separate offering.
The 20GB U2 iPod—the only special edition iPod from Apple--has black casing with a red scroll wheel and features laser engraved signatures from the band members on the back. It will be available for $349 in mid-November, just before the new U2 album appears.
Apple is also releasing online a set of over 400 U2 tracks called "The Complete U2." It includes the new album and 25 rare recordings from the band. It will go on sale November 23rd, and you can download the entire package with a single click. Its what Jobs refers to as a new spin on "the box set." "It would take over 30 CDs to release this in a box set," he said, "and, yes, broadband is required." Customers who buy the new U2 iPod can get the $149 anthology for $50 off.
The new color iPod is dubbed iPod Photo, and is shipping now. Jobs showed a slide of one of the new Portable Media Center devices (Creatives) and said that Apple had considered doing a portable video player, too, but "these new products are wrong, and we dont think video is where it needs to be."
He said that the new were too large to tote around comfortably and too heavy. He also cited the fact that there are no copyright issues with photos. "We think photos are what to go with, and everybody is archiving digital photo libraries," Jobs said.
The iPod Photo, billed as "25,000 photos in your pocket," comes in a 40GB version for $499 and a 60GB version for $599. It is about the same size -- approximately one millimeter thicker -- than the current 40GB iPod. It comes with cables you can attach to a TV, so that you can show individual photos or slideshows on a television. Alternatively, there is a dock that holds the iPod and connects to a TV via S-video. Slideshows can feature musical accompaniment from songs stored on the same iPod. The new color screen also lends itself to showing color album art, which you can download with songs you buy through the iTunes music service, and the color screen also makes calendars and games look richer.
So how do photos get from a computer to the iPod Photo? You AutoSynch them, as one would for songs, or, on a PC, you can synch with the My Pictures folder and also with Adobe Photoshop Elements. Jobs said that iPod Photo is capable of playing 15 hours of music and five hours of photo slideshows, "which is more than your friends will probably want to see."
Its widely expected that Apples iPod and iTunes store will begin to lose market share this year, as many new models of MP3 players arrive, and many online music stores are taking off. For now, though, Jobs cited NPD research showing that the iPod has 65 percent market share among all digital music players, and 92 percent among hard disk-based ones. He said that six million iPods had sold by the end of last quarter, and that two million of those were sold in the last quarter.