At 10 am today, Apple put the “rock” into “Rock On” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco. Or something like that. Here’s what they introduced, in order of appearance:

iTunes 8 – Apple has once again reworked the UI of iTunes to focus on album art and other cool visual cues. Accessibility is increased, too. The biggest feature, however, is the introduction of the “Genius” sidebar, which suggests songs that you might like based on the song you’re listening to, the other songs in your library, and anonymous data gathered from everyone else using the Genius feature. It’s sort of like Pandora Radio or Last.fm, except you have to buy the songs you want to listen to, and thenceforth can listen to them any time you want.

iTunes Store – iTunes 8 also now supports HD iTunes video, namely TV shows, now available for $2.99 apiece. Also, NBC is back, so if you want to watch The Office, you can get it from Apple, now in glorious high resolution, albeit for a 50% premium.

iPod classic – Apple discontinued the thicker Classic and upgraded the $249 thin version to 120GB of storage. The Genius feature may also be included, but no reference to it in the sources I followed.

iPod nano – So the “iPod fatty” didn’t go off too well on its design. How about the “iPod oval”? Apple flipped the last-gen iPod nano’s screen on its side, bringing back the original iPod nano formfactor. Except this time the music player has a glass sheen covering the screen and a curved front and back, for an oval profile that’s even thinner than before. Color options are many and striking.

Feature-wise, the new nano has an accelerometer so it will reorient photos, put music selection into CoverFlow mode, or play video on glorious widescreen when the device is turned on its side, just like the iPhone. One other, very fun thing: shake the iPod and it shuffles! The nano also has the Genius feature introduced in iTunes.

Pricing for the nano, which gets 24 hours of music playback and 4 hours of video…and is the most environmentally-friendly iPod yet…is $149 for 8GB of music storage or $199 for 16GB.

Headphones – The new iPod nano can do voice recording…if there’s a mic to use with it. Apple to the rescue: $29 buys standard earbuds with built-in playback controls and a microphone, $50 more gets you high-end, dual-driver in-ear units.

iPod touch – Thinner by way of the same beveled edges that set the new iPhone apart from the old, the iPod touch also incorporates a volume rocker on its left side…to control a built-in speaker! Both these features were in the iPhone when it came out, but not in the touch, until now. Also, the new “iTouch” integrates with Nike’s Nike+iPod system (you just need the shoe transmitter now, as opposed to both a transmitter and a receiver). Of course, the Genius feature is included.

The iPod touch now gets access, in a whopping sixty-two countries, to games like Spore “Origins”, GameLoft’s Real Soccer 2009 and the upcoming Need For Speed game, via the iTunes App Store. All these games (over 700 of them) pleace the iPod touch as a direct, albeit more expensive, competitor to Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS handheld consoles. In case you’re wondering, it looks as though the iPod touch\iPhone beat the other two platforms out in terms of graphics quality.

The touch will be available in 8GB, 16GB and 32GB varieties for $229, $299 and $399, respectively.

iPhone\iTouch software – The new iPods come with version 2.1 of Apple’s mobile operating system. This update, which fixes numerous bugs (including one where iPhones take forever to sync), will be available to everyone Friday. iPod touch users who already have the latest software version (the one that includes the App Store) get the update for free, everyone else has to pay $9.99.

In conclusion, Apple’s event was expected but great nonetheless. They continue to innovate and lower the prices of their products to stay ahead of everyone else in the field (iPods make up about three-quarters of the digital music player market) and that’s a good thing. It’s annoying that they haven’t released a laptop update since the minor speedbump in the spring (between then and now Intel has introduced a vastly upgraded line of processors) but, for the purpose of “Rock On”, the September 9th event does an admirable job.

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