Apple's iPod and TV Updates Are Just Great. Again.

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New iPods on display at Apple's Special Event in San Francisco on Sept. 1. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Is there a company on earth, in any industry, that is as restless and innovative as Apple? I don't think so. On Sept. 1, it introduced a batch of new iPods, a completely overhauled Apple TV device, a new version of iTunes with a cool social-networking feature, and an update to the operating system that powers its mobile devices—the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Apple CEO Steve Jobs also gave a sneak peek of the next iteration of that mobile OS, which ships in November and will let you zap movies, music, and photos over the air from one device to another. This barrage of stuff was even more impressive considering that it's been only four months since the iPad shipped and two months since the iPhone 4 arrived. And yet, by Apple's standards, this was a pretty low-key, even humdrum, affair.

The event served to demonstrate why Apple has been on such a roll for the past decade. Because honestly, who else cranks out so much new stuff so frequently? What other company so constantly tinkers with its products, even the successful ones? Who else, in areas where it falls short, so persistently keeps trying new approaches until it finds one that works? Apple right now may be the most incredible invention lab in the history of Silicon Valley.

I often wonder what the world would be like if more companies were like Apple. What if the Big Three automakers made products that were simple and easy to use—imagine a car with a user interface made by Apple—while also constantly trying to push the state of the art? What if they constantly sought out new technologies and ideas, and incorporated them into their products?

Take Apple TV. It's a great product—I have two of them—but it has never been a big seller. In the past, Jobs has referred to it as "a hobby." So now Apple has (a) admitted failure and (b) completely overhauled the product. Instead of pushing a device with a big hard drive that can store lots of movies and music (and costs $229), Apple will try a much smaller version that simply streams content, including movies from Netflix, and costs only $99. Will it work? Who knows? But Jobs recognizes that people would rather let everything be stored up on some "cloud" in the Internet than in their homes. The lower price point may also be key to gaining wider acceptance.

At the same event, Apple similarly admitted a mistake in the design of its tiniest iPod, the Shuffle, and introduced a new product that fixes that error. Apparently customers didn't grok the current version of the Shuffle because it didn't have any buttons for playing songs—all the controls were in the earbud cord. Earlier versions of the Shuffle had control buttons on the device itself. Apple listened to its customers' feedback and returned to the design of the earlier device.

Call me a fanboy, but I think that the ability to admit a mistake and fix it is partly what makes Apple successful. Skeptics will point out that Apple made no such admission about the goofy external antenna design in its latest iPhone, and instead stonewalled and insisted that all mobile phones suffered the same signal degradation when held a certain way. I expect that when the next iPhone model arrives, we'll see a new design and a tacit admission that the iPhone 4 really did have a less-than-ideal antenna setup.

Fixing mistakes is one thing. Apple's bigger strength has been its ability to keep improving hit products. The best example of this from the latest event is the new iPod Touch. It has really taken off as a device for playing videogames, something Apple didn't intend at first. Apple claims the iPod Touch now has 50 percent of the market for portable game devices, selling more units than Nintendo and Sony combined.

The iPod Touch is basically an iPhone with the phone part taken out, which is fine—since making calls is the one thing that the iPhone doesn't actually do very well. The new version incorporates the cool high-resolution "Retina Display" from the iPhone 4, plus front-and-back cameras, the ability to record HD video, and Apple's new FaceTime video chat software. If this isn't the killer holiday gift of 2010, I don't know what is. Apple has also tried something adventurous with the new version of its tiny iPod Nano, which is about 1.5 inches square and yet has a touchscreen display. Whether that one will catch fire with customers remains to be seen. But it almost doesn't matter. Because before you know it, Apple will be rolling out more. And more. And more. How can anyone keep up with these guys?