iPod Update – The Nano 5G

The iPod Nano Color Wheel.This here is the official low-down on all the changes to the iPod Nano for its 5th generation. Apple added a whole lot of functionality to what was once a simple, thin MP3 player and its (Apple) grooming the device to a run at the portable video camera market. With Flip in its sights, Apple hopes the Nano will be the world’s new favorite portable cam.

The body of the Nano 5G is pretty similar to the last model. The screen did get a bump from 2 inches to 2.2 inches, and the finish is a much shinier anodized aluminum. Oh yeah, there’s also that little camera on the back, but more on that later. The new Nano comes in two models, an 8GB and a 16GB, at $149 and $179, respectively.

Within the Nano’s slim and trim body, Apple added all sorts of goodies, the most notable of which is a video camera. It’s that itty bitty lens you see on the bottom-left of the device if you’re looking at the back. The camera is capable of shooting video at a 640×480 resolution, which are then stored as .mp4 files with h.264 video compression and AAC audio. Unfortunately, the cam doesn’t take still photos. The tech is definitely not something to write home about, and as much as Apple would like the addition of a camera to kill the Flip, I just don’t see it happening. The tech is just too far behind the Flip for the current price.

The other problem I see with the Nano is camera placement. I don’t know if Apple hired a bunch of lefty industrial designers, but someone should have changed this. Granted, it’s probably a space issue – the camera and the screen can’t coexist at the top of the device – but every right-handed person that touches one of these things will have the same complaint: my hand is always in the frame. There’s just no way around it. It’s the natural place for a righty to grab a device of that size.

The camera brings us to the next addition: the microphone. Again, awesome to be able to record video with audio on such a tiny device. Again, terrible mic placement. The ability to record voice memos is great, but gets quickly diminished by the sound of my index finger rubbing over the mic as I talk. The bottom of the device is the natural place to put your hand – hell, that’s where the controls are – so why put the mic right where my hand will always be? Stupid.

Among the smarter things Apple did in the update was add a radio. Yes, there’s an iPod with an FM tuner. Crazy, no? The tuner does require a headset to work, but it works well and has some cool features. The radio app retrieves RDS info, allows you to pause and rewind, and you can even tag songs. Plugging the Nano into your computer will take you to the iTunes location for songs you’ve tagged.

Last and certainly least, Apple added a pedometer to the Nano. I don’t know if they’re marketing this at soccer moms or the early 90’s, but it seems like a pretty weak addition. In fact, the whole thing operates like a lite version of the Nike+ campaign, which itself strikes me as incredibly lame.

To wrap it all up, I’m unimpressed. This update is a completely underwhelming attempt to take market away from Pure Digital and the Flip, and I think consumers are going to notice. The camera is bad enough that Apple doesn’t even want you to see the pictures it captures. The video isn’t a whole lot better, and the rest of the features have been on other MP3 players for years. I guess this is what happens when you’re on top and no one else is even close. You get complacent. Really, really complacent.

  

Apple Hosting “Rock And Roll” Media Event September 9th

Apple September invite.Today, Apple sent out invitations to their September media event (if you’re reading this, Apple, you forgot the one with my name on it and that complimentary airfare/hotel stay). This year’s invitation looks like just about every other iPod advert. The invite reads, “It’s only rock and roll, but we like it.” Those aren’t exactly inspiring words for a tablet announcement, but there are plenty of other things Apple could show off this year.

Among those would be the rumored-to-death cameras for the iPod Touch and Nano models, the release of which would set the stage for an iTunes 9 announcement. There’s also the “Cocktail” feature that’s supposedly designed to save the album (can you save what’s dead?). All of those things would be interesting announcements, though I can’t say I’d be excited about the extra bloat coming to iTunes. It’s bad enough as is.