Whoa. I just got back from Apple CEO Steve Jobs' media event here in San Francisco, and the mind reels. The rundown of announcements, in descending order of importance/amazingness/freak-out potential:
- A new touch screen iPod, the iPod Touch, which you might describe as an iPhone without a phone. The iPod Touch has Wi-Fi access, the Safari Web browser, YouTube and the same Mac OS X-enabled "multi-touch" user interface as the iPhone. It'll go on sale "later this month": $299 gets you 8GB of storage, $399 wins 16 GB.
- A new iPod Nano that plays video. This is the stouter Nano whose picture leaked online last month. It's got a 2-inch screen -- compared to the bigger video iPod's 2.5-inch screen -- that Jobs says has the highest pixel density of any screen Apple's ever shipped (204 pixels per inch, making for very sharp videos). The Nano, which is shipping immediately, comes in two sizes: a silver 4GB version for $149; and, for $199, an 8GB model available in silver, black, blue, green and (Product) RED (for which Apple will donate money to the Global Fund to fight diseases in Africa).
- A mobile music store, finally. The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store lets you buy songs from the iPod Touch and the iPhone (only through Wi-Fi, not EDGE). The music comes straight to your device, playable immediately; it syncs back to your computer later. The mobile store offers every song available on the standard iTunes store at the same prices.
- A cheaper iPhone. For the holiday season, Jobs knocked down the price of the 8GB iPhone from $599 to $399. It was the main stunner of the show: Apple's on the verge of selling its one millionth iPhone, but the $200 price drop is going to take the thing nuclear. And what about the 4GB iPhone, which had been selling for $499? Looks like that's not long for the world.
- Another iPhone feature: Custom ringtones you make from iTunes songs. The feature is available on more than a million songs on the iTunes store. You can make a ringtone for 99 cents in addition to the price of the song (you don't have to buy the song again if you've already purchased it from iTunes).
- The standard iPod -- the original iPod -- has been renamed the iPod Classic and been refreshed. It's now thinner, dressed up in an all-metal case, and comes with more space -- 80GB or 160GB (40,000 songs, the biggest iPod ever), which sell for $249 and $349 (shipping immediately).
- A new partnership with Starbucks will give all iTunes users -- whether on a Mac or PC, the iPhone or the iPod Touch -- free access to the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store when they're at select Starbucks stores. The system will let you see the song currently playing in the coffee shop (and purchase it). It'll roll out at Starbucks locations in New York and Seattle on Oct. 2, in San Francisco in November, and at other Wi-Fi-enabled Starbucks locations in 2008 and 2009.
Of all these, it's the iPod Touch that stole the show today. Certainly we've seen music players with Wi-Fi before, but a wireless iPod is a different beast. This is an iPhone for the rest of us: A multi-touch OS X device that doesn't tie you to AT&T or any other cell provider, a device that gives you the Internet on the go -- or, at least, wherever Wi-Fi is available -- through the best mobile interface on the market today.
In my brief time playing with it -- Apple set some up in the convention hall -- I found the device just as thrilling as I did the iPhone. Indeed, it was virtually indistinguishable: Browsing the Web on the Touch, you tap and pinch the screen just as you do on your iPhone. It has the same keypad, the same menu system, the same automatic reorientation of the screen when you flip the unit sideways.
Granted it's not a phone. But better to say not yet. Remember, this thing runs Mac OS X. And while, like the iPhone, the device is locked up against outside applications, I'll hazard Apple's got expectations to make this a platform. Since there are no business conflicts -- AT&T has no say what goes in this thing -- why wouldn't Apple let people load Skype on it? Or Firefox? Or whatever else we want?
Like big corporations, I'm wary of providing forward-looking statements. But Apple has just put out the best lineup of consumer electronics products for the holidays in, well ... history, right? They're going to clean up.