September 12, 2012 at 1:49 pm

New Apple Stuff: What Music Fans Need to Know (Updated)

apple iphone 5 liveblog musicAssuming you still care about today’s Apple announcement after playing this drinking game all day — and you like to listen to music –you’re in luck. Evolver.fm has painstakingly assembled every shard of information of interest to music people from today’s Apple press event.

Here’s what music fans need to know about Apple’s sixth-generation iPhone, the iPhone 5, which will be available on September 21, running the new iOS 6 operating system, which will be available on September 19, and will also run on the iPhone 3GS, 4, and iPhone 4S in addition to the devices announced today.

The cheapest iPhone 5, the 16GB version, will cost $199 (32GB for $299, or 64GB for $399). It’s available for pre-order on Friday, September 14, and ships a week later on September 21. Apple also busted out new versions of iTunes, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, and iPod Shuffle, as well as some new headphones: Apple EarBuds.

This post was originally a liveblog. (See also: WiredGizmodo, Ars Technica, CNET, The New York TimesThe Verge, The Next Web, or just about anywhere else for non-music-specialized coverage.)

  • Any worthwhile music service streams using something called “adaptive bit rate,” meaning that if you have a fast wireless connection, the music gets represented by more data, and so it sounds better. The iPhone 5 is compatible with LTE (short for “Long Term Evolution”) as expected, so  any music streaming service you use should sound cleaner over that connection. Apple says the iPhone 5 can download 100 Megabits per second over LTE, which is is far more than any streaming music codec needs. However, you’ll have to pay more for your data plan in order for that to happen.
  • The new iPhone 5 is 18 percent thinner and 20 percent lighter than the 4S, so you can carry it around more easily. However, it’s also slightly longer to facilitate the larger, four-inch, 16:9-ratio screen, making it harder for those of us who like to put our phones in our pants pockets to carry them.
  • Apple iTunes contains over 700K apps, over 250K of which are now optimized to the iPad. That’s good news for music fans who enjoy that device’s larger screen. However, almost none of them are optimized for the new iPhone 5 (Apple’s own GarageBand being one exception). Music apps that are not optimized for iPhone 5 will run letterboxed, with black screen on either side of the app.
  • The iPhone 5 has a faster processor, called A6. This will make music apps load twice as fast as they did on the iPhone 4S, and will let developers include more intensive graphics without slowing things down. According to Apple senior vice president of marketing Phil Schiller, music apps specifically will load 1.9 times as fast as they do on the iPhone 4S. Nice! We’re sick of waiting for stuff to load.
  • This faster A6 processor will also make the iPhone a much better platform for musical instruments, samplers, and the like, because the lag time between tapping the screen and hearing a note should be chopped approximately in half.
  • A fifth row of apps on the screen means you’ll be able to find your music apps more easily, without resorting to the search feature. (Haven’t found that yet? Swipe left and start typing.) This is crucial, because the average iPhone user has about 100 apps, by Apple’s count. This iOS 6 feature and others will be available to owners of the iPhone 3GS and later.
  • Game Center — Apple’s social network that lets you play games against other iOS users — now includes time-shifting, so if you want to challenge someone to a music game, you no longer have to compete at the same time. This should be a boost for app-based singing contests and the like.
  • The iPhone 5 has longer battery life than the iPhone 4S, even with its faster processor, which is pretty impressive, and is probably due to the longer length of the chassis. More battery = more music.
  • The videocamera auto-detects where faces are within the frame, and lets you tag them. This should be neat for concert videos (tagging performers and attendees alike), but again, you won’t be able to upload those to YouTube unless you have the app installed. It also lets you grab stills, which could be absolutely killer for concert videos.
  • The iPhone 5 has three microphones (one on the front, one on the side, and one on the back). These were included primarily to help cancel outside sounds while making calls, but could have implications for apps that record audio with surround sound.
  • Apple says the iPhone 5 has a better speaker design (natch). You should still use headphones (more on those below) or real speakers.
  • There’s an new hardware dock connector called Lightning, which is going to be a bit of a pain. Your existing accessories and cars docks will not work with the new iPhone — or any of the new iPods, for that matter (more on those below). However, you’ll be able to buy adapters from Apple to solve that problem.
  • Apple’s new Passbook app, which will come with iOS 6, lets you store concert tickets alongside store coupons and the like. We like this one, especially because it’s good for all iPhones from the 3GS onward. However, not everyone owns an iPhone or even a smartphone for that matter, so don’t expect tickets to turn electronic-only overnight.
  • You’ll be able to launch a music app (or any other app) by saying “Launch [such and such] app.” Who is going to be the first band to record a song that launches their band app from within a song when the phone is connected to speakers?
  • Humans have downloaded over 20 billion songs iTunes since it launched nine years ago. The store currently contains over 20 million songs, which appears to be about three million more than any other legal service. Over 435 million people (about 150 percent the population of the United States) have iTunes accounts, which alone means the iTunes music store remains a force to be reckoned with.
  • Apple redesigned the iTunes store for both iPhone and iPad, in part because two thirds of all iTunes purchases now happen via iOS (we truly are living in a post-PC world). If you tap a song for the 90-second preview, it now continues to play as you browse around, rather than cutting out. You can also share the previews easily, because Facebook and Twitter are integrated into every single iTunes product page, including music apps and songs.
  • There’s a new version of iTunes for Mac and PC too, of course, which will be available in late October. It presents music in a graphical, grid-like format (sort of like We Are Hunted). If you click on an album, its art becomes the new theme of iTunes. A new “up next” feature lets you resequence playlists on the fly, as they play. A mini-mode lets you listen to iTunes without taking up your whole screen, with controls that are hidden to save space until you mouse over it. Hopefully, the new iTunes also loads much, much faster, and burns up less RAM.
  • iCloud, which will be built into iTunes, lets you pick up on one device where you left off on another when watching a movie — or, we assume, listening to an album, playlist, or podcast.
  • Apple has sold over 350 million iPods, making it the most popular music player of all time, according to Apple.
  • The new iPod Nano has been improved on several fronts. It has Bluetooth, for starters, so you can use it with a Jambox or other wireless speakers, headphones, and cars. It also has an FM radio that you can pause; plays video (just like the way-older models); and it’s thinner, but also taller — like a miniature version of the iPod Touch, instead of a little square.
  • The new, fifth-generation iPod Touch (32GB for $299; 64GB for $399) is also much thinner, at 6.1 mm. Its battery can play music for 40 hours straight, according to Apple. It has an A5 processor, which makes it twice as fast as the old iPod Touch, but not as fast as the iPhone 5. In return, iPod Touch 5 users will get more battery life, because the processor is more efficient. Still, if you want to play instrument apps or do anything else with music that requires as-low-as-possible latency, the iPhone 5 beats the iPod Touch 5.
  • You’ll still be able to buy the iPod Touch 4 (16GB for $199; 32GB for $249).
  • Like the new iPod Nano, the new iPod Shuffle comes in seven colors. Models start at $49 for 2GB.
  • In the first AirPlay news of the day, from what we can tell, the new iPod Touch is now capable of AirPlay mirroring. If you have an Apple TV, you’ll be able to zap music apps onto the biggest screen in your house — more power to you if you have nice speakers attached to it.
  • This was quite a music-themed announcement, overall. Apple is also releasing new headphones: EarPods. Apple apparently spent three years working on them, and they look like the Eero Arnio Ball Chair. The only form a partial seal with the ear, although they do conform somewhat to the ear canal. According to Apple, the little hole that connects them to the air outside allows the speaker to move back and forth more efficiently, which apparently helps with the bass frequencies. However, we’ve heard fantastic bass from in-ear models that do form a seal, so we’ll have to try this for ourselves before we can pass judgement. The EarBuds ship today, and will ship with every iPhone and iPod Touch.
  • You can buy any of the iPods in red as part of the (RED) campaign, which fights AIDS in Africa.
  • The Foo Fighters are playing live. Tim Cook says they’re one of Apple’s favorite bands (and they’re definitely easier to book than Steve Jobs’ fave, the Beatles).
  • Apple now sells four six devices that run music apps: iPhone 5, iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPod Touch 5, iPod Touch 4, and iPad.
Image adapted by Evolver.fm from the invitation Apple sent to journalists about the event