Apple upgrades, cuts prices of iPod family; no widescreen model yet

With trademark fanfare, Apple today unveiled the next generation of iPods, significantly upgrading and reducing the price of every model of the current lineup, but stopping short of announcing a new widescreen, video-specific version of the megapopular music player. The most dramatic change is to the iPod shuffle, whose entire form factor has morphed from a white slab shaped like a stick of gum to a smaller silver slab with a built-in clasp for easy clipping to a shirt pocket. It's available in just one capacity, 1 GB, for $79 (the 512-MB version has apparently been discontinued, and will not be missed).

The iPod nano also got a makeover, now available in multiple colors (just like its predecessor, the iPod mini): silver, pink, green, and blue — but only if you get the 4-GB version (now just $199). If you opt for 2 GB ($149), your choices are silver and silver. Apple also added an 8-GB nano to the lineup for $249, available in black only. And nano battery life jumped up to 24 hours.

As for the flagship iPod, there are still two models, but the top-shelf one gets an increase in capacity from 60 to 80 GB and a reduction in price to $349. Impressive. The smaller model stays at 30 GB but also gets a $50 price drop, to $249 (yep, same as the 8-gig ninja nano). The screens on the new models are said to be 40% brighter, too — so much the better for watching those new movies from the iTunes "music" store. And yes, the oft-criticized battery life has been improved, with the 30-GB model clocking in at 3½ hours for video and the 80-gigger lasting 5½ (for music, it's 14 and 20 hours, respectively). Still just black and white for the iPod, though.

And what of the heavily rumored, widescreen, touchscreen, crystal-clear, nirvana-bestowing Video iPod? Fictional, at least for now. Maybe it'll come next year when Apple officially releases its "iTV" gadget for streaming you PC/Mac media to your TV. Stay tuned.