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Apple updates iTunes, IOS, Apple TV, iPod, Chris Martin and…Ping

A vaguely considered review of the new Apple updates announced by Steve Jobs minutes ago follows…apologies for the lack of pictures but I’m sure you know what an iPhone looks like.

So I was babysitting today and as I promised myself I’d keep up with all things techie from now on, I attempted to juggle following the update live on my iPhone with In the Night Garden, bath, book and bed.  Martha (18 months) is now fully au fait with the full product range but is a little dubious as to their new foray into social networking.  More on that in a bit; just don’t tell the mrs that I wasn’t paying full attention to the small person.

First thing to note is that the whole thing was streamed live, iPhone compatible, naturally, which is always impressive.  If Apple do one thing very well, it’s pulling the collective geek-strings of the world to create a huge buzz around their new product launches.  Less impressive was the lack of a jump forward button in the timeline so even though I was running a few minutes behind live (Special Agent Oso was on so I couldn’t jump on it straight way) I couldn’t skip the boring bits (no, not Chris Martin, the ads and stuff).

So…the updates.  Gadget reviews aren’t really my thing even though I’m as prone as anyone to new stuff so I’ll keep this brief:  iPods are getting smaller.  Really small, and the Nano is now touch screen.  Presumably surgeons and concert pianists will be fine picking the album they want but the rest of us might struggle.  Oh and the iPod touch is getting even thinnner.  That was one announcement which the assembled audience didn’t bother whooping.  Also, iPhones are getting an update next week which should fix bugs (which is as close to an admittance of fault as you’ll ever get from Apple) and the new iOS 4.1 includes HDR (‘High Dynamic Range’) photo capability.  This latter update sounds interesting although I’m dubious as to how much you can improve your photos when your source is the pretty poor iPhone camera.  It apparently takes 3 photos with 3 different exposures, merges them to collate the ‘best’ image and offers you that as an alternative to your original.  Also included in the free update is GameCenter which apart from being incorrectly spelt opens up your games to live multi-player gameplay.  Beyond that, 4.2 will roll out in November and will mainly concentrate on the iPad, offering wireless printing and AirPlay, an updated version of AirTunes, a wireless music streaming service.

More interesting to me was the news that they’re giving Apple TV another aggressive push.  Accepting that it has never really taken off, Jobs and co and offering the new, 1/4 size box at $99 (or £99 over here, apparently).  It’ll offer HD, streaming content for rental from several major U.S. networks (TV shows for 99c) and first run movies for $4.99 including compatibility with NetFlix.  YouTube will also be supported although apparently still no support for the iPlayer.  At that price it’s going to tempt a whole new market into the possibilities of streaming media on demand.

For me, by far the most exciting news of the day was iTunes v10.  No, not the new icon, the announcement of Ping, Apple’s new social network.  I say ‘exciting’, as that’s with my digital head on, but at the same time I’m really wound up by it.  In a nutshell, it’s a social network run through iTunes where you can connect with friends or artists on a musical level, so share recommendations, leave messages, find out about gigs etc etc.  Fine; I get that.  It’s like…Facebook for music.  Sort of like…MySpace.  What??  Haven’t we been here before?  It’s a new social network to belong to which focuses on one subject (music) and which has no apparent links with the outside world.  Oh, and you have to do it all on iTunes which for all Apple’s worth is clunky at best in my opinion.  Someone on my Twitter feed just said it was like being on a social network in a jail.  I may be wrong; they may open up the API to allow it to link to other social networks but I’m doubting that.  I’ve got a feeling this is Apple’s attempt to suppress the might of Facebook and to a lesser extent, Twitter.  In the spirit of research and digital open-mindedness I’m going to give it a go (apparently the download is available today but not yet, apparently), but if I’ve got to do it through iTunes, and if I can only use it to talk about music, it’s not going to win me over as much as a thinner iPod might.

The Next Big Thing: Facebook Places

Another first in a series, this one’s called ‘The Next Big Thing’ because if you’re even vaguely into your digital media you’ll know how we’re constantly bombarded with new technology which we’re expected not only to embrace but also master.  I love it; part of the reason I’m doing this is because I’m excited by it all, and I’ve learned not to fear change, unlike some people I used to work with who will remain nameless.

Joe Sheephead Worsley fears change

I’m still not naming him.

Change is good.  And once you accept that you don’t have to master every new innovation and you don’t have to add every new app, it can be liberating.

So yeah, Facebook Places; last week’s Next Big Thing (I have been busy you know), or for those who don’t like change but who will remain nameless, ‘not another thing I have to get my head around; why can’t we just talk to people like we used to?’  The world’s tech bloggers have been hard at work debating the pros and cons of the social networking giant’s massive step onto the geolocation map since the launch a few days ago.  For my two penn’orth, I’m excited by it.  I’ve been reading that geolocation is the next big thing for a year or so and I love the idea of the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla, but until they pick up significant traction over here, they’re pretty limited in what they’re going to offer.  If none of my mates are telling me where they are (or maybe there’s a different reason for that), if brands aren’t bothering to offer check-in ‘specials’ or recommendations there’s nothing really ‘social’ about it.  I don’t particularly want to broadcast my location on Twitter for the sake of it because that’s dull for everyone else, but it would be a different matter if I had people in my network who might be interested.  I’m sure it’s a different case in USA where these sites have picked up a lot more traction, but over here at least, we have a way to go before geotagging becomes the norm.  Facebook have the clout and the members to bring this technology to the masses and I’m confident that Places will mark a new shift in the way we communicate.

If you’re not as geeky as me and you don’t know what it’s about, it’s Foursquare for lazy people.  And if you don’t know what Foursquare is about, check it out (and check-in) here.  I’m on there…here.  I have one friend which kind of makes my point about traction.  If you can’t be bothered to do the research, here’s the glossy promo video for Places.  All well and good, we get the idea, it looks nice but have you seen anything as cheesy as this since the 70′s?   The acting and directing are shocking; whoever thought that real, 21st Century tech-savvy Californians behave like this needs to take a long, hard look at themselves.  Check it out at about 30 seconds in.  Have you and your mates ever ‘hung out’ in a park like that, without attracting weird looks from Police Community Support Officers?  And how’s your baby going to benefit from using Facebook Places?

Maybe I’m being unfair.  Anyway, whatever the merit of the promo video, Facebook Places is huge news.  Perhaps predictably, many people chose to focus on the privacy aspects surrounding it but I really can’t be bothered with all that whingeing.  In fact I so can’t be bothered with it, I’m going to write a blog specifically about privacy issues when I get round to it.  And when I find the article I read in Wired about Facebook and privacy.  In a nutshell; get over it.  If you’re a member of social networking sites then I’m sorry but your privacy as you knew it no longer exists.

I was going to watch the footage of the official launch from Facebook’s HQ until I found out that it’s almost an hour long.  I did get about 10 minutes into it and gave up, but if you’ve got time to watch it, it’s here; let me know what it’s like:

Watch live streaming video from facebookinnovations at livestream.com

Aside from the launch itself, one of the interesting things to come out of this was the way the UK side of things was handled.  As usual, the technology has been rolled out in the US before we’re able to get our grubby mitts on it, so Facebook’s UK PR had a job on their hands answering initial questions from keen Facebookers over here.  These were expertly handled in a very modern and supremely efficient way on Twitter by their PR @sophysilver – and I’ve got to thank TNW’s Martin Bryant for bringing that to my attention:

The Next Web – Facebook Places story

Ok so I’ve waffled a bit but I’m new to this blogging thing.  The question is: is Facebook Places the new Facebook or the new Google Wave?  Let the debate begin…