September 10, 2009

It's Only Rock and Roll

Yes, it's that time again: another Apple music event. I've watched the on-demand stream once again and I invite you to read my not-live-live-blog where I just post my thoughts as the moments unfold. You won't care for a lot of things, which is why I'm going to post the major news stories separately as well, like last time in WWDC.

Steve Jobs returns to the stage, and to uproarious applause. People actually half-expected Phil Schiller to speak once more, but THANK GOD a grateful Steve Jobs is back on the show floor once more. Citing the source of his new liver, he wants everyone to be organ donors. It's actually genuinely heartfelt... a rare look at Jobs' human side.

But enough about that, let's get into the music.

Oh wait, iPhone segueway first.

30 million of these things have been sold, and one of the reasons why is the app store. 1.8 billion downloads for 35,000 apps. He also introduces 3.1 for the iPhone and iPod touch which incorporates the Genius feature into the App Store, meaning that the App Store will recommend apps that you might like based on what you own. It's actually quite interesting to see how much coverage a few obscure apps can get. Less interesting are the ringtones incorporated into the iTunes Store. $1.29. Yawn.

Steve goes on to cover iTunes, citing that it is currently the #1 music retailer with 100 million accounts and 8.5 billion purchased songs. iTunes 9 gets introduced, per the rumors as it introduces a very good clean-up of the online iTunes Store.

New features of the new release include Genius Mixes which builds upon the Genius technology first introduced in iTunes 8. "Imagine a 'genius' DJ that plays endless mixes of songs from your library that go great together, like FM radio." A particularly pretty interface, but I still don't really get it.

It also includes "Improved Syncing", and it sounds quite promising, actually. More granular control of your playlists, as you can also sync not only one playlist, but also a particular artist or genre, which is nice. It also applies to Photos, Movies and, get ready: Apps. Now you can organize apps right from iTunes, which quite frankly is a life-saver.

Home Sharing must've been Apple's answer to Windows 7's similar feature. It lets you copy music, songs, TV shows, etc., throughout your house, but you can only authorize for up to 5 computers in the home network.

Cocktail, err, iTunes LP is now being introduced. "Some of us were actually old enough to be able to buy an LP. You got great photography, liner notes, essays... unfortunately, all that stuff left us when we went to CD's and digital music, but that shouldn't be the case." They actually look like DVD menu's of a concert CD, and I'll never really use them because there is no freaking iTunes Store for the Philippines!

Well, anyway, a demo of iTunes 9. Looks responsive and intuitive (and yes, you can select more than one at a time). Hopefully, the Windows version won't be very slow, but how about a way to actually create "Smart Pages" or something? You heard it here first, people, if this feature happens, I'll be getting my royalties.

Kidding aside, some guy also demonstrates the pretty simple Home Sharing feature. Again, you can only authorize up to five computers, and you need to input iTunes Store user information. You can also do a little "Sync" throughout computers, meaning that if new content is added in an iTunes library, sharing will instantly happen and the stuff will be shifted immediately.

The redesigned iTunes Store which surprisingly didn't leak out, is actually the redesign I've always imagined. I've always thought that the iTunes Store needed a revamp, and they pull it off. More convenient, more modern, but still quite familiar. You can even share music to Facebook and Twitter, so it confirms the rumor about a semblance of social networking. It's not full-on which may cause a few people to breathe easy, but it's actually quite refreshing to see Apple incorporate these services.

iTunes LP is also demonstrated, and it includes photos, videos, lyrics, etc.. Totally like a DVD menu, totally not exactly compelling. Still, if Harmonix does the iTunes LP for the Beatles remastered edition (which will eventually make its way to the iTunes Store), it would actually be so awesome. And yes, Apple is opening the gates for record labels to do their own iTunes LP's. Movies also have this as well, making it exactly like a DVD menu. Is buying a movie with an iTunes LP cheaper than a DVD? Well, a Blu-ray is surely much more grandiose since it's 1080p.

Anyway, iTunes 9, as always, is free and available for download through either the Apple site or Software Update.

OK, iPod refresh time.

Phil Schiller is called in, and they announce that 235 million iPods have been sold. Holy crap, iPod makes up 73.8% of the market share. They'll surely make a hit at Microsoft. Oh, there it is. 1.1% market share. Roll eyes. Let's see your Mac market share, Apple. Bashful?

Anyway, it's surprising that more than 50 percent of people are new to the iPod. WTF.

Now, Schiller says that 20 million iPod touches have been sold. Obviously, a new generation will be announced. Hopeful for a camera! A camera on the iPod touch would own the Zune HD terribly.

3.1 firmware introduces Genius Mixes to the iPod and iPhones, and now I figure out that it's actually simply a near endless Genius mix that randomly picks a song to base Genius on and just play.

Schiller says that consumers think that the iPod touch is a great internet device-- a statement I strongly agree upon. "It's a computer that fits on your pocket, unlike someone else's," and a Dell laptop being put in a pocket is displayed. LOL.

Of course, the marketing moniker for "funnest iPod ever" is not let go. "It's a great gaming experience," and for the first time ever, Schiller cites the "inconvenience" of the PSP and the DS, and yes they are mentioned by name. It's like an ad made up of Schiller's cracking voice. While I use my iPod touch more, the DS has better games.

A demo reel of great iPod games is shown. Reminds me of the Sony E3 conference, LOL. Obviously, some developers will be exhibiting hot new apps. New iPod touch later.

A Ubisoft rep is called to the stage to demonstrate, yes, Assassin's Creed II. With the success of the port of the DS Assassin's Creed, it's not much of a surprise. Still, it seems that it will be an Ezio-tic adventure built from the ground up. It looks much faster than the old one, thanks to the new OpenGL standard, but it's quite weird that the d-pad is not an actual d-pad, but an app that sort of scrolls left and right. Subtitled Discovery, Assassin's Creed 2 will be released on the same day as its big brothers-- a release window rarely seen even on the DS or the PSP.

Next is one of my favorite iPhone developers, Tapulous. They introduce a racing-rhtyhm hybrid called Riddim Ribbon. Despite the stupid name, it looks like a mix between Audiosurf and Amplitude. Boom Boom Pow is a featured track. Looks very good. The objective is to tilt the device and go through hoops to keep the music going. Otherwise... ouch. My ears. Comes out on October.

Gameloft is next. Wait, isn't Gameloft owned by Ubisoft? Well, anyway, a rep introduces an app called Nova-- a shooter that possesses some pretty nice graphics. Still, it features the same dual analog control in Brothers in Arms. The control method works, but not as good as, say, Wolfenstein 3D, which is ironic. It looks really Halo-ish.

A frequent visitor, EA, goes back on stage with a new game. Apparently, Madden. I personally do not have any interest in football, or for the politically correct name, rugby. A custom kick gameplay mechanic is present, and it features the titular announcer's voice. Strategizing the play is actually very easy, and it's actually pretty cool. You can manipulate the gameplay so that it even goes slow-mo. Crowds particularly like the intuitive strategy drawing thingy.

A whopping 20,000 game titles are present. But then again, 98% of this stuff is bad, lol.

Schiller references the iPod mini. When it was lowered down to $199, people were crazy about it. The 8GB iPod touch gets the same treatment. Yay!

32GB, you can for just $299, and SIXTY FOUR GIGABYTES for $399. Condition is that the 32 and 64 GB versions possess the same processor and Open GL/ES compatibility that the iPhone 3GS has. So is the iPod touch basically last year's model, with 3.1 and not even a slight cosmetic refresh like the second-gen?

A new ad is presented in the usual manner, and it actually demonstrates the multiplayer capabilities of the thing.

iPod classic. Meh, same $249, but with 160GB again.

iPod shuffle. Well, Apple acknowledges the outrage that came with the introduction of proprietary headphones, so Apple is working with more headphone makers to make it a bit more of a viable purchase. Seriously, the default earphones hurt my ears bad. Schiller also introduces 3 new colors aside from black and white, as well as a $59 price point for a 2GB model, the same $79 for the 4GB model. Apple will also release a special edition release in stainless steel which actually looks alluring.

One more thing...

A video camera.

That's right, a video camera to the iPod nano. Stupid, for me. Come on, it's not exactly an HD camera like the Flip, so you can't exactly cry "MORE VALUE!". True, it's still thin as ever, but how about that freaking video quality?

...Just barely decent.

At least there's a built-in external speaker and microphone for voice memos.

Oh wait a sec, more features?

Genius Mixes, FM Radio(!), a revamped Voice recorder, and yes, a Pedometer that syncs to Nike Plus. Obviously, the accelerometer enables the pedometer, duh.

It still looks pretty damn good though, I have to admit. Newer colors made of adonized aluminum are to be introduced as well. 8GB still for $150, and 16GB for just 20 dollars more. They're available today.

The ad's pretty nice too. People in different colors match the colors of the new iPod.

Again, the environmental checklist... OK, we know, check it all.

All of these iPods, despite rumors of production issues, are available today. Norah Jones takes the stage and brings the keynote to a close.

Oh, and the Grammy-winning singer has an iTunes LP, as well as a new album. And what's with all this talk about secret passages?

Closing Thoughts
Now that Apple is willing to adopt much-requested features like FM radio, even if it's only on the iPod nano, it's not that big of a stretch if the Apple TV would get DVR capabilities, or maybe even compatibility to the iTunes LP's since they look like they're meant to be played on an HDTV more than anything.

Frankly, the iPod touch upgrade was just underwhelming despite the addition of a 64GB model and extremely irresistible prices (take that, Zune HD!), and the video camera on the new nano isn't a particularly big draw. The classic isn't particularly of much focus, so it's death may just be imminent in the next two years. Weirdly enough, even an announcement of the Beatles was non-existent, and it would've really been apt because of the event's name and date, but not everyone cares much about it since they can just buy the newly released remastered versions of Beatles songs through their music retailer and rip these higher-quality files onto iTunes.

iTunes LP isn't also terribly exciting, and Apple fans may have to wait another year for a 64-bit iTunes to arrive to match Quicktime X. Still, the novelty of seeing Steve Jobs on the stage again is a pretty good reason to watch, even if the products aren't all that compelling. Hell, I'm even more excited for the third-party apps they had on display!

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