Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs returned to the showman role that has helped define his company leadership, taking the stage on Sept. 9 for the first time since his medical leave to announce new products. And while a long-rumored Apple tablet computer wasn’t among them, one new product in particular — an iPod Nano that records video — has captured the attention of educators.
Jobs, who had a liver transplant this spring, got a vigorous standing ovation from many in the audience.
Looking thin and speaking quietly and with a scratchy voice, the 54-year-old CEO urged everyone to become organ donors. "I wouldn’t be here without such generosity," he said.
Jobs had not appeared at such a product launch event since last October. He bowed out of his usual keynote at the year’s largest Mac trade show in January and went on leave shortly thereafter for nearly six months.
At an event for journalists, bloggers, and software partners, Jobs announced updates to Apple’s iTunes and iPhone software and unveiled a new iPod Nano with a built-in video camera.
Phil Schiller, Apple’s top marketing executive, also took the stage to announce price cuts and storage boosts to existing iPod Touch models.
Few chief executives are considered as critical to their companies’ success as Jobs has been to Apple’s since 1997, when he returned to the company after a 12-year hiatus, and Apple’s stock has soared and plunged on news and rumors of his health.
Jobs, whose medical problems began more than five years ago and included treatment for a rare form of pancreatic cancer, seemed happy to be back in the spotlight, saying, "I’m vertical, I’m back at Apple and loving every day of it."
As was expected, Apple’s announcements were mainly tied to music players and the iTunes software, though Jobs spoke briefly about the iPhone and said 30 million of the devices had been sold so far.
Apple compared the new video-camera Nano to Cisco Systems’ Flip Mino, a tiny, simple video recorder that sells for $149, just like the basic, eight-gigabyte version of the overhauled Nano (the 16 GB Nano costs $179). The new Nano–the smallest iPod that has a screen–also has a microphone, a pedometer, a 2.2-inch display, and an FM radio tuner.
"The new iPod Nano presents a very nicely packaged personal electronic device that can be utilized for high-quality video capture in the classroom or the field," said David Mulford, director of instructional technology at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. "Before cell phone cameras were widely available, people often had those ‘I wish I had a camera’ moments. Now, everybody seems to be carrying around at least some kind of small, portable imaging device. The new Nano affords the same kind of convenience in a multifunction device, but with much higher video quality than most cell phone cameras can provide. I must say, I also like the addition of an FM radio."
Faculty and students at Roanoke College use video cameras on a regular basis to analyze human motion, capture lecture notes, create small movie productions for class projects, grab videos of themselves speaking or student teaching for later review and analysis, and record scientific observations in the field, Mulford said. He added: "Having a small and easily accessible video recording device, like the Nano, will only serve to increase ease of performing these tasks for students and faculty."
Jeff Ritchie, an associate professor of digital communications at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., agreed.
"This addition of a video camera is great news," Ritchie said. "We regularly have students use video as part of applied ethnography assignments. I’m quite excited at the prospect of such an inexpensive and unobtrusive tool being so readily available."
Curtis J. Bonk, who teaches at Indiana University’s School of Education, listed several possible educational applications of the technology. For instance, students who practice their speeches using the iPod or iPod Nano to record and play them back now can see video of themselves as well. "Now they can focus on delivery," Bonk said.
Meanwhile, the new version of iTunes, known as iTunes 9, gives people more control over what content gets loaded onto iPods and iPhones. It lets five computers on the same network share–by streaming or copying–music, video, and other content, a departure from the strict copy protection Apple insisted on in the past.
Michael Gartenberg, a technology analyst with the Interpret market-research firm, said Apple met "reasonable expectations" with its announcements.
"If you were expecting an Apple jetpack or an Apple hovercraft, or even an Apple tablet, you didn’t get that," Gartenberg said, referring to speculation that Apple was producing a tablet-style device resembling a giant iPod Touch.
Another highlights from the event include:
• The 8 GB model of the iPod Touch–basically an iPhone without the phone capabilities–now costs $199, or $30 less. Apple kept prices constant for its larger models, but doubled the storage space; a 32 GB version now goes for $299 and a 64 GB model for $399.
• The tiny $79, 4 GB Shuffle now comes in silver, black, pink, blue, and green. A smaller, less expensive version was added–$59 for a 2 GB model, also in multiple colors.
• The traditional iPod model now has a 160 GB hard drive for the existing $249 price–a 40 GB boost in storage.