Speculation begins moments before Steve hits the stage. Acoustic guitar as the invite logo, then The Beatles starts playing – interesting choice of songs “We Can Work It Out” – obviously no one is expecting that monumental hurdle to have been addressed yet, but I’m just saying…

The Event today featured only Steve in his trademark jeans and turtleneck talking about the latest and greatest happenings around Apple and the digital media ecosystem they have successfully built.

We’ll touch on the core announcements that everyone is chomping at the bit to know about.

First and foremost, something interesting that shouldn’t be overlooked is the acknowledgement of Jobs to his “partner in crime” Steve Wozniak who was surprisingly in the audience. It was a great facial reaction when Jobs saw Wozniak.

Apple Retail

Apple retail is firing on all cylinders. The images Steve showed of the London and Shanghai stores show throngs of consumers ready to drop their hard earned cash for Apple product. With 300 retail stores to-date, you gotta respect that.

iOS

Even though the focus of the event was iPod and music – you logically can’t update those products and services without an update to the underlying engine. With that iOS 4.1 was announced with the following primary enhancements:

  • Bug fixes [proximity, Bluetooth, iPhone 3G performance]
  • High Dynamic Range photos
  • HD video upload over WiFi – very nice !!
  • TV show rentals
  • Game center

Let’s talk about the HDR photos for  a sec. We iPhone owners know that taking that perfect picture, right out of the box with just the Camera app can sometimes be a challenge; lighting and contrast can be off, shadows are bad, all that…

Enter HDR – when you turn on HDR it takes 3 photos in rapid succession: one normal, one under exposed, and one over exposed. It combines the three with some pretty sophisticated algorithms, and produces a stunning photo.

Below is an example of HDR in action.

Game Center is also new with iOS 4.1. It’s no secret that the iPhone / iPod Touch is a phenomenal mobile gaming platform, both from a gamer perspective and from a game-developer perspective.

Game Center brings multi-player gaming, ability to challenge your friends, comparing of scores and discovering of other new games.

iOS 4.1 will be a free download available next week for both the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Hmmm. I may have to un-jailbreak my iPhone for this – damn !

iPod

All iPods are being refreshed. The Shuffle, the Nano, and the iPod Touch are getting aesthetic updates and significant functionality improvements.

The Shuffle is all about clickable controls and portability.

Starting at $49 and available in an array of “cute” colors (FYI – cute was Steve’s word).

The iPod Nano is completely revamped and probably the most exciting physical change announced today. Gone is the clickwheel, all navigation is via a brilliant touchscreen with multi0touch. There will be 8GB and 16GB models priced at $149 and $179 respectively.

The iPod Classic remains as is with no changes. Read into that what you wish.

The iPod Touch, however is now really the iPhone without a contract (or cellular antenna – again Steve’s joke not mine).

What to look forward to with the new iPod Touch is:

  • Retina Display – similar to that in the new iPhone 4. Increasing the pixels by 4x, 326 ppi and 24-bit color LED
  • The speedy Apple A4 chip
  • 3-axis Gyro
  • iOS 4.1 with Game Center
  • Front-facing camera that now has the ability to use FaceTime. And yes, you can FaceTime with both iPod Touch and iPhone 4 users.
  • HD video recording has been added allowing for usage of high-quality apps like the iMovie mobile app for on-device video editing.

The iPod Touch has been physically slimmed down and comes in 8, 32 and 64GB models with pricing ranging from $229, $299 and $399 respectively.

All iPods are available for pre-order today and will begin shipping next week.

iPad

The iPad had a brief cameo during today’s event. No the next generation iPad isn’t ready yet, but what is coming in the very near future is the new iOS 4.2 firmware for the iPad.

Everything that was in 4.1 for iPhone will be coming to iPad in 4.2. Aside from all the convenient features that iOS 4.x provides (of key note would be multi-tasking), this release for the iPad brings with it wireless printing and AirPlay.

Think of AirPlay (the replacement for AirTunes), as providing full media streaming around your house. You can transfer the viewing of media from an iPhone to an iPad to an Apple TV.

iOS 4.2 for the iPad will be available in November as a free update.

iTunes

iTunes 10 is out with several changes in the UI making the interface design simpler and more elegant. Of primary note is the new hybrid display mode that now recognizes if there are more than 5 songs in an album, it will display the album art to the side, making the list view prettier, and taking up no more space than before.

Along with hybrid display and an updated icon, to represent version 10 – iTunes takes aim at social networking with the introduction of their very own social networking offering called Ping.

The best way to describe Ping is that it is a social network for music. You can follow your favorite artists, follow your favorite music, find out when an artist is performing and even have access to exclusive videos and music selections. All this right in iTunes. Now here’s the interesting part – you can start following your friends and make new friends that are connected via similar likes of music. Interact and share experiences surrounding your common love for music again…right in iTunes.

“Ping is social music discovery,” said Steve. Ping features circles of friends that will allow for you to create rings of associates to share with. Ping has 17,000 concert listings in its database. Ping is open now to everyone with an iTunes account.

One More Thing…

AppleTV is not dead. It is, however, an official hobby. Steve announced that the AppleTV is still a product and guess what, it looks and behaves nothing like the rumors that were circulating around the interweb a few weeks ago.

The new Apple TV is about movies, TV shows, and music. There are no more purchases – everything is rented and streamed now – gone are the storage management and syncing problems that we legacy Apple TV owners have had to deal with.

From a pricing perspective, first run HD movie rentals are $4.99 the day they come out on DVD. That price declines as the movie ages.

Renting HD TV shows has seen a price drop from $2.99 down to a much more manageable 99 cents. As of today ABC and FOX are the only two networks on-board providing their content. We’re all expecting the other networks to jump on the Apple bandwagon before too long.

Hey Netflix subscribers, you can stream Netflix content to your Apple TV. I have three letters for that – FTW !

YouTube, Flikr and MobileMe access/streaming are still integrated in the product.

Pricing is ridiculously good on this new model. I paid $299 for the original 40GB Apple TV, this new model costs a mere $99.

It will ship in 4 weeks but can be pre-ordered now.

Apple iTunes

So what do you think? You updating your iPod? You getting an Apple TV?


Update: looks like this early leak that was posted Tuesday was the only thing that actually panned out:

That being said, AppleInsider reported this evening that Apple has reached an agreement with both News Corp. and Walt Disney to allow 99-cent rentals of Fox and ABC TV shows through iTunes.

The partnership, is ready to be announced Wednesday, according to the The Wall Street Journal. Citing “people familiar with the matter,” the Journal noted Tuesday that while some of the management at Fox was uncomfortable with the pricing, which could jeopardize traditional income avenues, they were willing to go along with the “experiment.”

ABC is generally assumed to have been the first studio on board, as Apple CEO Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest shareholder and a board member. Disney was also the first content provider to agree to sell its TV shows on iTunes in 2005.

Fox has agreed to offer broadcast shows that it “both produces and airs,” such as “Glee,” “Bones,” and “Lie to Me.”

Earlier reports claimed that Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp., was prepared to agree to Apple’s pricing in order to help solidify a relationship with Jobs. This one we can only wait and hope to hear about tomorrow.

To see our predictions for the event check out our earlier post here.

[hat tip to Macgasm and TheNextWeb]