Steve Jobs and Friends Play Apple's New Tune

iTunes, iPods, iPhone software updated

Steve Jobs is back. But better than ever?

At a San Francisco event unveiling a series of updates to Apple's music offerings, the company's iconic CEO took the stage to vigorous applause -- but he didn't stay in the spotlight long.

Instead, he let a host of other Apple executives unveil new features, from a new version of its iTunes Music Store to updates to its iPhone software to new games for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Apple also dropped the price on an entry-level iPod Touch to $199.

Along with the understated announcements came a soft-spoken Jobs, who returned towards the end of the event to unveil the sexiest part of today's program: The unveiling of new gadgets, as always the heart of a gathering of Apple idolators.

Jobs unveiled new iPod Shuffles and new iPod Nanos with built-in cameras, which he compared to Cisco's popular Flip handheld videocameras at $149. At the same price, the new Nano has twice the capacity at 8 GB of storage -- though some of that will go to holding one's music collection, something Jobs neglected to mention.

It's classic Jobsian bravado, if delivered with less force than in the past.

Scott Budman Tweets Live From the Floor

"Steve’s voice seems a little bit softer than we remember, a little bit of a hoarse whisper, but all in all he seems able-bodied (if still skinny)," writes Jason Chen, editor of the gadget blog Gizmodo, on his site's liveblog.

Wednesday's event marks Jobs's first return to the stage since he took a six-month medical leave to undergo a liver transplant earlier this year. That procedure is believed to be related to aftereffects from the surgery Jobs underwent for pancreatic cancer in 2004. After that surgery, he took a month off work.

At the beginning of the event, Jobs addressed the transplant head-on, telling the crowd of journalists that he has "the liver of someone who died in a car crash" and urged listeners to sign up to become an organ donor.

Jobs's return inevitably overshadowed Apple's announcements, mostly a series of minor improvements to Apple's existing offerings.

Yet these incremental tweaks are what has let Apple stay at the top of the digital-music market for more than five years. Its iPod line still has three-fourths of the standalone MP3 player market.

Scott Budman Qiks Live From the Floor

That business has been eroded by music-playing smartphones. Apple's iPhone is a strong contender there, though its market share is still relatively small compared to other cell-phone brands.

The event closed with Norah Jones, a songstress beloved of old people. And even the bloggers left feeling a shade of Jobs's fatigue. Gizmodo's Chen complained, "My knee hurts like a mofo from sitting so long. I am officially an old man."

As is Jobs. And as is the iPod -- born nearly eight years ago, in another Jobs-led showcase in what seems like another era. But old's not that bad a thing to be.

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