I'm following the special "Beat Goes On" event being put on by Apple this morning in San Francisco's Moscone Center. Here are my first reactions....
Do-it-yourself ringtones for the iPhone. Great idea, but I want to be able to do it with any song in my iTunes library, not just songs I've purchased from iTunes. And only 500,000 songs are approved for this usage. And you have to pay an additional $0.99 per ringtone, in addition to buying the song. Kind of a snooze. I've seen people hack together custom ringtones from any sound on their computer.
Fat video Nano. There had been rumors about this. I'm not sure how exciting it is, but it is one way that Apple can get existing iPod owners to add a second model--offer video at the Nano prices, $149 and $199 to be exact. The design looks a bit funny to me, a little short and squatty, but of course I'll have to hold one and test the new UI before I can really judge it. Engadget reports that the CoverFlow interface is much slower than on the iPhone, but that makes sense given that this is a less powerful device.
iPod Classic. Silly name, but makes me think there'll be a touch-screen iPod with a new name announced later. Love the idea of 160GB--if storage keeps increasing at this rate, in a few years we'll be able to listen to uncompressed audio without thinking twice about maxing out capacity. And the promised battery life's amazing: 40 hours of audio, 7 hours of video--enough for an overseas flight.
iPod Touch. And there you go. The iPhone without the phone. It looks amazing--it immediately makes all other portable music players look old-fashioned. Wi-Fi with the Safari browser and a built-in link to YouTube, just like I was hoping for. Storage is only 8 or 16GB, though, so not really built for the hardcore music fan. Archos's Wi-Fi-enabled players start at 30GB. But, of course, they're not an iPod. Which is why Apple can charge $299 for the 8GB, and $399 for the 16GB. You gotta pay to play. Another interesting point: it'll be the first Apple product to go on sale simultaneously overseas and in North America.
iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. Hooray. Apple's not the first to do this--that credit goes to Sandisk and Yahoo Music with the Sansa Connect--but I am willing to bet that this will be a smoother experience. If nothing else, Safari will make it easier to connect to a local Wi-Fi network--one of the biggest problems with the Connect. It's still not the celestial jukebox--it looks like they're sticking with per-song downloads rather than a subscription model--but it at least legitimizes the idea of universal access to music. Why Microsoft didn't launch the Zune with this feature is beyond me--this is exactly what the Wi-Fi should have been used for. Unsurprisingly, they're bringing this to the iPhone as well. Sorry, AT&T--no over-the-air music store for you.
Starbucks partnership. OK, it's fashionable to scoff at Starbucks, but they had one of the first digital music kiosks I've ever seen (although it forced you to burn a CD rather than just download to your iPod). So now, hear a song over the air at Starbucks, purchase it instantly on your iPod Touch or iPhone. Not such a big deal in itself, but Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is right--this is the first step toward a major new distribution model for the music industry. Try to imagine if this model spreads--any song you hear in, say, the Apple Store, or your participating record store, or even on a particular radio station in a public place with a Wi-Fi connection, push a button and you've got it on your iPod. This should be a dream for the music companies--a great way to increase consumption. But Starbucks alone won't do the trick. I want the equivalent apps from Amoeba Records and KEXP. (Side note: for once, something launches in Seattle first--this'll be available on Oct. 2 here and New York, followed by San Francisco in November, LA and Chicago in 2008, and the rest of the U.S. to follow.)
iPhone price cut. That's a big cut--from $599 to $399 for the 8GB model. I guess they got the early adopters, now they need the rest of us. Plus, it's not really worth paying $300 extra (over the 8GB iPod Touch) only for the pleasure of making phone calls and surfing on AT&T's relatively slow data network. It appears they've discontinued the 4GB model.