iTunes 9 and iPhone 3.1

This week Mr. Jobs made his return to the stage as Apple announced iPhone OS 3.1, iTunes 9 and a slew of iPod updates. Good to see he’s feeling better.

Lets start with the iPod changes, which I think are imporatant ones. Well, at least some of them are. The exception is the announcement of third party headphones for the iPod Shuffle. I mean, think about the size of the iPod shuffle. It’s about as big as a piece of Trident gum. Now, think about the size of the Apple headphone’s inline iPod controls. Now glue them together and what do you get? A (still) really small iPod that can be used with any headphones because… and this is the critical part…

it has built in controls! Sorry but I don’t get the shuffle. I do understand it’s price point, and the desire for a really small MP3 player, but an iPod that relies on in-line controls is wrong on many levels. One being that headphones don’t last. I do like the new stainless one though.

The iPod touch line was expanded with the addition of a 64 GB model while existing models saw price cuts. The 8 GB Touch is now less than $200. The 32 and 64 GB models are said to be up to 50% faster and will now support Open GL ES 2.0. Really, think about that for a minute. Now we have a great handheld computer, video system & game system all in one, and at very nice prices. And don’t underestimate the move to get the 8 GB touch below $200. Apple is positioning these as game systems. I still think most average people can live with 8 GB iPod, either because it’s all they need, or by using smart syncing technology like smart playlists. So what’s next? Well, with that power and those features, what this platform needs to seal the deal as a ‘computer’ is some sort of office software. This of course goes to the iPhone as well, but lacking a good office solution now, Apple should create an iWork Touch Edition. Imagine a student buying a Mac during the Apple Back-to-School free iPod deal, and using that iPod to edit their homework. For file storage there are a few options. If it used local storage it could save files to the Touch and share those files in a fashion similar to apps like AirSharing. With option 2 it could save data to the cloud. Can anyone say iDisk? That would tie in the iDisk app, and allow syncing to a desktop for editing in the full iWork suite.

The iPod Nano was the big winner. At $149, for 8 GB, you can now get a video playback capable iPod, with enough storage for an average music or audio book user, that has a video camera, a microphone and a speaker built-in! It has a slightly bigger screen and an FM radio too. Well worth it. An interesting side note is that the Touch did not get a camera. It’s a different market it seems. In this post on Mac Rumors they reference David Pogue interviewing Steve Jobs and his question regarding the lack of a camera in the iPod Touch:

Mr. Jobs reiterated what Phil Schiller, the marketing vice president, had said earlier in the onstage presentation: that Apple is really pitching the iPod Touch as a game machine these days. And to do that, you have to make it as inexpensive as possible.

Sounds logical to me on the cost point, but wouldn’t a camera help it stand above the gaming competition even more?. Is there another game device with a camera?

The iPhone OS update to 3.1 held some nice bits. It’s a huge list but here are a few that I like:

Voice control over Bluetooth (why the heck was this not there already?)
Gift card redemption
Support for iTunes 9
Save video from Mail and MMS into Camera Roll
More control over syncing
Genius for Apps
Direct download of Ringtones

I don’t think I’m a candidate for the Genius for apps or $1.29 ringtones. I make my own ringtones and I won’t pay the cost of a entire song just to get a 30 second clip. Still, I will say that compared to many other services that is cheap. Now, as I said about the Touch, I think Apple should release an iWork Touch Edition.

iTunes 9 was a major change. Revamped store UI, Home Sharing, iTunes LP and lots of new iPhone sync features. That last one is nice. The freedom to move iPhone home screen pages or icons from within iTunes is nice but not perfect. Can’t select multiple icons without doing so one at a time. iPhoto syncing finally works like it always should have. You can sync based on a selection of Albums, Events or Faces. Yes, you can sync based on faces! This would be great except my dog appears in with my moon photos. Maybe it is the dog in the moon? Or, maybe my dog was mooning me? On iTunes LP, It will be interesting to see if the feature takes off. I am old enough to remember and miss liner notes in albums. I think it is a great idea, but wonder if the MP3 generation will get it.

So, how do these updates rate?

The iTunes UI took some getting used to but the more I use it, the more I like. Clean and easy to navigate. The new drop-down navigation bar at the top is great! I still wish I could see ratings sooner in the flow. To have the ratings listed in the top charts lists would help. In fact to have a list based on ratings would be great.

Home Sharing, designed to let you copy content to other home machines, was a disappointment. It is not that it does not work, because it does. It’s the implementation. I could have made all music, and application, purchases through my account and copied those purchases to my wife and son’s Macs, but I did not. We each have our own account. We are authorized on each others Macs, but app updates require logging in as the user that originally purchased the app. Not a big deal and it allows my son to keep his own balance with gift cards etc. The Home Sharing setup requires that you enter an iTunes account on one of the machines, and then enter that same account on each participating machine. Use different accounts and copying is blocked, just as though it had never been enabled. If I setup Home Sharing between my wife’s MacBook and my MacBook Pro using my son’s iTunes account we can copy our content, and use it. I assume that is because once it’s copied iTunes knows the machine is authorized. Audible audio books showed as part of the library but didn’t copy. I think each user should log into Home Sharing on their machine with their own iTunes account. I don’t want to tell my son my account credentials, and if I had 4 kids I would have to setup all the machines instead of them being able to join the system on their own. I will be using my son’s account for all three machines. The system does work however.

Syncing with my iPhone is much better. Seems faster too. I mentioned syncing photos by event or faces earlier but now you can also sync music with more granular control. You can now sync music by playlist, artist and genre.

There are a lot of features in these updates I have not mentioned, and there have been some issues. One issue affects users of Microsoft Exchange email systems that connect using an iPod Touch or an older iPhone model. Specifically if the Exchange server’s ActiveSync Policy is set to require encryption, a connection can fail. Really this a feature and not a bug. iPhone OS 3.1 now properly enforces this policy which is great, except that only the iPhone 3GS supports this encryption. The fix is to turn off the requirement, or of course to upgrade the device to a 3GS. You can read the Apple support document here.

Even MobileMe benefitted from the updates. I like that the Find My iPhone feature now has the “ability to remotely set a passcode lock for an iPhone/iPod touch” as documented in this Apple support document.

Bottom line… upgrade.

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