Apple squeezes out new iPods

Apple has released four new iPods today. The first one is a special-edition U2-themed black unit with a red click wheel and the signatures of the band engraved on the back. The unit holds 20GB and comes with a couple of U2 goodies—an iTunes Music Store coupon that will get you 50 clams off of the "Complete U2," a "digital box set," as Apple calls it, that will have more than 400 songs with 25+ unreleased recordings. Also in the box is a special U2 poster.

The next two models are a bit more interesting. Both of them have color screens and video-out plugs which will allow Mac users to show off their iPhoto albums. Windows users can use Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 or Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 to organize their photos for display on the new iPod. These iPods are officially called "iPod Photo" and come in 40 and 60GB sizes; both have a two-inch (220x176 pixel, 65,536 color) LCD that will display 25 thumbnails at a time. Incidentally, the unit is smart enough to know if you are viewing on a 4:3 or 16:9 screen and adjust its output accordingly. They are rating the battery at 15 hours, higher than the 12 hours on the non-color-screened versions of the iPod. These units will sell at $499 for the 40GB and $599 for the 60GB unit.

The last model is a 60GB version of the fourth-generation iPod that will sell for $499. The 20GB and 40GB remain with their features and prices unchanged.

My take: It's nice to see the new color-screen models. However, given the prices that iPods sell for, it seems to me that these should have replaced the 40 and 60GB units, not be sold alongside them at a higher cost. With Creative Labs selling the admittedly clunky and less capacious Zen Portable Media Center that can play not only music, but video clips and pictures, all for $499 (and a good bit less if you shop carefully), it seems to me that the iPod is a little overpriced. Not by a whole lot, but certainly at a premium. Additionally, it would have been nice if Apple would have extended the 15-hour battery to the non-color screened units since battery life is still a bit of a sore point for the iPod. Even with the Apple premium, I suspect these models will sell like mad, but I don't think I'll get one. I may just put a new battery in my rapidly dying unit or get one of the 20GB ones and be done with it.

As for the U2-themed unit, well, I guess it will sell. The color scheme is supposed to match the dominant colors of the cover of U2's upcoming album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb". Personally, I don't care about the U2 tie-in; they aren't one of my favorite bands and the color scheme is jarring as hell. I would have preferred an all-black unit, but that's just me.

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