Apple's New Toys

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Apple boss Steve Jobs made good Tuesday on speculation that his company would offer movie downloads and a movie-ready iPod for the holiday season. During his presentation, at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, he also unveiled an overhaul of the nano line, with flash-memory capacity reaching 8 gigabytes, as anticipated. The only unexpected announcement was a new version of the nearly forgotten iPod shuffle—cutting the size of the 1GB screen-less music player by half, and cutting its price to $79.

The news that Apple's video store had started stocking movies was no surprise to most industry watchers, nor was the fact that the first studio on board would be Disney. Not only did Disney recently purchase Jobs' Pixar animation company in May, but the studio was the first to supply TV shows for Apple's iTunes store last October.

However, the TV shows that Apple sells do not have the quality and resolution to be enjoyed on a standard TV set, let alone a widescreen high-definition TV. Jobs announced that the movies for sale would be "near DVD-quality" with a resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. Pricing will range from $10 for older movies, $13 for recent hits, and $15 for brand-new releases. In a first test, we bought The Incredibles for $13. The 1 hour and 55 minute movie—1.3 GB of digital video—took just under 40 minutes to download using a cable broadband connection. Viewed full screen on a 13-in. MacBook, it looked tolerably good, noticeably better than iTunes TV content, but it's hard to say whether it will look great on a TV.

Since this was the most highly anticipated Apple launch since Jobs' unveiled the first nano and video-capable iPod, Apple fans spent the weeks leading up to it speculating wildly. The movie-friendly iPod doesn't have a widescreen display (even though most movies on iTunes are formatted in theatrical widescreen). It certainly doesn't have a touchscreen covering its entire front, as some hoped. Nor is there any sort of wireless networking capability for downloading songs remotely or streaming music to a receiver. It does, however, answer many concerns. Capacity has been raised to 80GB in order to make room for 1-2GB movies. Battery life on the 80GB iPod ($349) is up to 6.5 hours, guaranteeing the playback of one or two, if not three full-length features. That also means 20 hours of music. The 30GB iPod ($249) has shorter battery life—3.5 hours of video or 14 hours of music—but it manages to outperform its predecessor while being 30% thinner.

The new nano bears a resemblance to the fondly remembered iPod mini—not only does it have the same rounded sides, but on $199 4GB models, its aluminum body comes in silver, pink, green and blue. A black finish is reserved for the 8GB nano, which will sell for $249, competing with SanDisk's recently launched 8GB Sansa flash player. Contrary to some speculation, the new nano does not play video (as the Sansa does), but it will play music for 24 hours on a single battery charge.

After getting out the bulk of the news, Jobs still had more coming, from the new micro-sized iPod shuffle to redesigned earbuds to NFL season highlights on iTunes. The theatrically minded CEO, usually tight-lipped about his next big thing, even teased at a product that will launch in January, code-named iTV. As eagerly anticipated as the movie-download store itself, the iTV looks like a Mac mini, and is intended to connect to your TV set and connect wirelessly to computers to retrieve video and audio content. Other products like this have been on the market for years, but industry watchers think Apple has the charm and design savvy to sell "media servers" to a mainstream audience.

The new iTunes software is already available for download at, and movies are already on sale. The new iPod and iPod nano models are also now on sale, though the new shuffle ships in October. Stay tuned to for in-depth reviews.