We half expected new iPods (an LCD-laden Shuffle, a 6GB Nano--you know the drill), but literally minutes after Steve Jobs opened to a frenetic Apple crowd, we knew that new iPods had to wait. Still, the announcement of the $49 iPod Radio Remote had me an ounce excited, given that the FM radio is the most requested extra feature for iPod users (fan boys included).
The "wee-bit-expensive" iPod Radio Remote connects to the dock connector and works with both the Nano and the iPod. With it and the latest 1.1 iPod software, you can tune into any channel between and inclusive of 87.5 and 107.9 using the iPod's Click Wheel and color LCD. In addition to FM tuning, the accessory works as a convenient remote control (Creative did this a while ago with its Zen Touch) for most audio, video, and photo functions, though you can't jump between playlists. It also ships with a pair of earbuds that have a shorter cord so that you won't have to deal with additional cabling. We love the fact that you can now select Radio from the main menu as well as preset stations and access them via the remote. The old-school radio graphics are fresh, and if you're zeroed in a a station that supports RDS (Radio Data System; available in countries such as France), you can get station and track info. If you're in Japan, you can operate in that country's 76MHz-to-90MHz frequencies.
Your iPod's battery life will be affected since the remote draws power from the main unit. Still, it's an excellent option for those in need of an extra source of media. Griffin's $50 iFM has been around for a bit but despite its usefulness for older iPods, we much prefer seeing the frequency display on the iPod screen itself. We'll report on signal strength, battery drain, and overall performance of the new radio enhancements and hardware as soon as we get our hands on the remote. In ancillary news, new Chrysler Jeeps will be iPod-ready in 2006, the first such American cars to integrate the iconic player.