Ha, I see a lot of glasses on the ground~

So, Steve Jobs proved yet again that any ideas that he reject in public repeatively will become a reality.

The video iPod will be offered in 30 and 60GB models, with battery power at 14 and 20 hours respectively. A 2.5 inch screen and a smaller click wheel will be on the ever-thinner iPod, which is now around half an inch thick only. And it is the same price as the 4th generation iPod: USD299 for 30GB, and USD399 for 60GB. Just in time for the Christmas Season rush. I W.A.N.T one!!!!

On a separate note, iTunes got the second update in one month’s time. The new iTunes will of course support video playback, and will allow customers to buy music video and TV shows from iTMS, Apple’s own legal media download shop. Among the new features, the one I like is the service which allow users to buy a media item (music/video), and then send it to a friend as a gift. It works even if the recipient is not a iTMS user.

Finally, the iMac, not the PowerMac, that got a facelift. It now has build-in Dual-Layer Super Drive on all models, and build in iChat on the monitor. A new software called Front Row will allow users to play music/video away from the computer, using a remote control. This little app is the apparent answer to Windows XP Media edition.

Now, since almost all of the products announced today are aiming at Microsoft, I wonder if the next product before Mactel will be a revival of… Newton? We will see.

延伸閱讀:

MacWorld: New iMac serves as digital entertainment hub
Playlist Magazine: Apple Releases iTunes 6
Playlist Magazine: Apple unveils video iPods

iPod Nano (updated)

Enough said. Apple, you had to see them to believe them, these guys are really amazing. Nevermind Rokr, you were never meant to be the real secret weapon of Apple this time.Spec:

Storage: 2GB or 4GB
Screen: 1.5 inch color LCD with backlight
Battery life: 14 hours (just music); 4 hours (music with slideshow)
Connect to USB through dock connector
Click Wheel
Format support: AAC (16 to 320 Kbps), Protected AAC (from iTunes Music Store), MP3 (16 to 320 Kbps), MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3 and 4), Apple Lossless, WAV, AIFF
Photo support: Syncs iPod-viewable photos in JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, PSD (Mac only) and PNG formats
Weight: 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams) [about 2 iPod Shuffles]

BTW, I just worked out a cost by GB comparison of the whole iPod family here. As you can see, the price/GB for Nano is actually not too bad when comparing with the mini, which has no photo support and no color screen. However, this comparison is only true for the 4GB model; the 2GB model is not going to be a great buy, faring almost as bad as a 1GB shuffle on cost/GB.

So, who is the Nano targeting for? I guess it can become the 2nd iPod of choice, replacing the shuffle. Also, Nano is the lightweight iPod of choice for anyone who does not want a full size iPod, now that the mini is gone. Beyond that, I can imagine a big maybe for phasing out the shuffle in the no-so-near future. This will go well with the slim product line that Jobs & Co. like, and will be beneficial to the overall brand, if the so-called V-Pod were introduced in the near future.

(Update: the iPod mini is not completely phase-out yet, you can still find it on Apple’s online store for Hong Kong.)

Updated :
1016hrs Sept 7th. with additional commentary

iPod Shuffle初哥下海記

寫在前面:先此聲明,筆者以前有用過Apple的產品,一早己被Apple的halo effect所迷倒,故本文不求持平,但求對準買家有指導作用,如有錯漏,請多多指教。

iPod Shuffle:最抵買的iPod?

iPod 在近年成功擊退MD、MP3等音樂播放機,成為隨身聽的王者,蘋果電腦集合優良而追上潮流的設計、與iTunes的整合、易用等優點,令iPod 大賣特賣,更進而取代walkman成為新一代潮流文化標誌。然而,蘋果在定價一直高企,iPod又比一般亞洲廠商的MP3播放機笨重,故此,雖然 iPod mini 的推出在一定程度上成功在中價市場上打出名堂,但前面的因素始終令iPod在日本以外的亞洲市場發展比歐美為慢。有見及此,今年一月蘋果終於祭出它的必殺 一擊 – iPod Shuffle – 一部在精密計算下誕生,針對低價市場的iPod。

為達致低價的定位,蘋果在Shuffle的策略上作出多項大膽的嘗試:棄用螢幕、把功能減至最基本的播放、機體外形亦大幅減磅。結果出人意表地有趣:機身 比一排香口膠更小,輕如無物,設計極盡簡約之能事。再加上flash memory功能,令其已經極有競爭力的定價更吸引。(當買一張512M flash drive已是三、四百之時,同容量的Shuffle只是七百八十,播放機功能其實只售三百元左右。)

好,看到這裏,大家應該會問:好用/抵買嗎?筆者會如此答:好用,但抵買與否取決於你對一部音樂播放機的要求。

易用?當然!

易用和美觀的外形,是iPod賴以成功的特色。作為iPod家族的小弟,Shuffle當然亳不遜色。界面只有五個按鈕和一個推制;推制是開關/模式選 擇,而基本功能如播放/暫停、音量控制、向前/後跳軌、fast forward/reverse都在正面的五個按鈕上。按鈕的排列和iPod的click wheel相似,加上iPod招牌”易花”白膠外殼,雖然沒有click wheel,但仍十分醒目易認。除了剛開始用的時候推制有點緊和對位比較難以外,其他按鈕的反應都極佳,而且十分就手,只用觸覺操作絕無難度。電量方面, 官方數字為十二小時,個人無責任測試時Shuffle輕鬆達標。

iPod Shuffle有兩個播放模式:順序播放和Shuffle。順序播放顧名思義、Shuffle則是一般播放機都會有的random play。功能其實很一般,但慣用一般CD/MD/MP3播放機的用家可能需要較多時間適應,例如沒有螢幕,選曲會比較困難。

軟件方面,如其他iPod一樣,附送的iTunes是為Shuffle抄歌的唯一辦法。雖然別無選擇,但用家可以自建playlist, 亦可用iTunes的Autofill功能,以歌曲的播放次數/用家評分/音軌種類等原素隨機選曲並抄入playlist,和Shuffle之名有異曲同 弓之妙。另一方面,iTunes可以快捷地把CD轉錄成MP3檔或AAC檔(註1),慣聽CD的用家可以輕易把自己的CD轉錄並抄上Shuffle,極為 方便。由於Shuffle使用USB2.0介面,故此抄歌速度快極有限,但正因為容量較小,抄滿一部1GB的Shuffle只需要5-10分鐘,可以接 受。

在音色上,梗看Shuffle短小精捍,其實音色極佳,低音強勁有力,高音亦清脆琍落,音量輸出更是出奇地強,推至七成己是極大聲, 最高更絕對可以打壞耳 機兼震聾耳朶。匹配Sennheiser MX500己經有極佳表現,用上筆者的Audio Technica ATH-EM7 SV,音色更是滑如絲綢。另外,網上有人曾把Shuffle與其他iPod及MP3播放機比較,結果竟然是Shuffle大勝(註2),可見 Shuffle並未因平價而在用料上減省,其講究可見一班。

iPod Shuffle適合你嗎?正如筆者開始時所講,每人用隨身聽的習慣不同,Shuffle的簡約不一定適合。它的容量小,自然可放的歌不會多(1GB的話, 320kbps的歌一百首左右),沒有螢幕或其他功能(收音機、錄音等)亦可能令部分買家卻步。然而,如果把它當作一部只播放你喜歡的歌曲的收音機,它其 實是十分稱職的。因為輕如無物,Shuffle十分適合運動時使用,用附送的頸繩掛在頸上極為輕便,用armband(須另購)亦可,唯一要注意的可能是 給搶掉吧。(由於頸繩是連在USB插上的蓋子上,其實很容易被搶掉的。)

體貼的設計+超低售價+品牌=成功要素?

行筆至 此,大家可能會認為Shuffle在功能上並不特出,要在亞洲區各大MP3廠商手上分一杯羹並不容易。﹔無疑,Shuffle推出只有三個月,要推 測這小傢伙對MP3市場中長期的影響並不容易。只是,蘋果聲稱在上年十二月至本年二月(即Shuffle推出後一個月),iPod在全球flash memory播放機市場的佔有率竟然由0%直跳至43%(註3);由於iPod糸列只有Shuffle是用flash memory,故此Shuffle的銷量直接反映在佔有率上,即Shuffle已在某情度上已攻破flash memory播放機市場。而在三月前,Shuffle在全球各地一直賣斷市,需求大得驚人。iPod家的小弟,實力可不容忽視。而事實上,就筆者所見,近 日在街上用iPod的人漸多,相信大部份會是Shuffle用家。(當然,某寬頻供應商送Shuffle會是其中一大原因。) 新加坡大廠Creative本星期公佈業績倒退時,矛頭便直指蘋果大割價令他們必須跟隨,利錢大減(註4)。

iPod Shuffle為甚麼能一嗚驚人?售價自然是其中一大原因,但蘋果不斷追求優良的”使用經驗”(即洋文所謂user experience,或是中文所謂的”好用”)的努力,以至iPod追上潮流的設計功勞亦不少。例子:筆者經常把Shuffle放在衣袋中,然後直接透 過衣服作簡單操作(fast forward/reverse之類),一切全靠觸覺,正因為介面和模式簡單。雖然其他播放機都可能操作簡便,然而他們卻沒有其他的優勢,如價錢、體貼而 入時的設計、iPod的品牌效應等。蘋果只是以短短一季的時間,便以Shuffle再一次証明市場觸覺加上設計和合理的定價才是在consumer electronics市場的致勝之道。深明此道的蘋果,不發達才怪!

註:

1/ 以320K壓縮(MP3/AAC最低值,音質最佳),五分鐘的音樂轉MP3只需半分鐘,轉AAC亦只是需要一分半鐘左右。

2/ 詳見: Bill Machrone寫的Quantifying Digital Audio Player Performance, (http://home.comcast.net/~machrone/playertest/playertest.htm) 及 Shuffle’s got a Secret, (http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1777890,00.asp)

3/ 詳見: PiperJaffray: iPod shuffle, Mac mini sales well ahead of expectations, (http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1000)

4/ 詳見: MP3 player sales drive Creative to record Q3, (http://playlistmag.com/news/2005/04/22/creative/index.php)