Today’s highly anticipated 9/9/09 Apple product announcement brought the return of the Messiah (Steve Jobs) but not the band bigger than Jesus. Alas, the much hoped-for debut of the Beatles in the iTunes music store did not arrive, despite Yoko telling Sky News to the contrary.The really big news today is a second coming of sorts. The new iPod Nano debuts a feature missing from all iPods so far: an FM radio! And not just any radio, but one with what Apple is calling “live-pause,” which is kind of like having a built-in mini TiVo for radio. Now, this isn’t quite a full-on PVR, in that the Nano doesn’t have the ability to schedule a recording. However you can pause the radio for up to fifteen minutes, or rewind back fifteen minutes. Seems like a feature aimed right at the mobile radio listener who might want to pause while taking a phone call, changing commuter trains or some other brief interruption. I can certainly recall many times when I was listening intently to the news or a talk show on my portable radio on public transport and had my sound drowned out by a loud noise or I needed to stop listening for a few seconds so I could hear an announcement. Being able to rewind a minute or so is a great boon for those annoying moments. Not to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but it would be great if the pause and rewind would last for as long as you have memory left to store the audio stream. However, I’m sure the quarter-hour limit is there to keep “home taping” from taking a bite out of Apple’s lucrative Music Store business.
I think the radio in the iPod Nano was today’s biggest surprise since Jobs and other Apple spokespeople have scoffed at the idea in the past. Back in 2005, Apple’s iPod division head told the Apple Expo in Paris that,
in Apple’s experience, customers just don’t want radios on their iPods. “Believe it or not, we don’t get a lot of requests from customers” for a radio, he said. “We’re very hesitant to add new features unless we feel a significant portion of the customer base want it.”
I’ll be curious to hear reviews and reports from radiophiles who get their hands on the new Nano and evaluate how good the reception is. A truly decent portable headphone radio is actually difficult to find. While $150 is a bit much to pay for one–especially one that only has FM–when combined with an 8 GB iPod and a video camera (!), it’s not a bad deal. I just wish Apple would have put the radio in my iPhone 3G, since listening to internet radio over the 3G data network kills my battery in about an hour. By comparison I have a ten-year-old RCA brand pocket radio that runs over 100 hours on two AAAs.
If we see radios with live-pause show up in the next generation iPhone or iPod Touch. Then we can anoint Mr. Jobs as St. Steve, savior of radio.