There's a video floating around the Web showing an iPod displaying a new eye-popping feature: Cover Flow. iTunes on the desktop has it, and while it's pretty cool looking, they way they implemented it leaves a lot to be desired (most due to the position of it in iTunes, I find it awkward and bolted-on). The iPod implementation, however, fills the screen and looks great (assuming that this is real and not an elaborate and amazingly well done fake). Video after the jump.
No matter which side of the iPod love/hate fence you fall on, there's no denying that the effect shown is just damn cool. If you're a visual person like I am, that often picks music to listen to based on the album art, this is a very useful way to move through your music. I'm not sure that I buy the usefulness of the scroll-wheel here, but I suppose it's an acquired taste.
How does the Zune measure up? I'm sad to say not all that well. Before this iPod update, the Zune had a more impressive album art story, if only marginally: the iPod was limited to a small cover that sort of floated in the middle of the screen with a big white border. Nothing impressive there. The Zune, on the other hand, used the album art to greater effect, filling the whole screen with it. The dark secret we all learned when we got our Zune is that even if you have fantastic, high-quality album art inside your audio files, the Zune will ignore it and instead serve up the highly-compressed, 240 x 240 JPEGs that can look really bad. I cringe whenever I look at album art on my Zune - the quality just isn't there.
Now that the iPod is getting the Cover Flow feature, the Zune is again on the defensive. iTunes uses nice quality 600 x 600 images for album art now, and I'm willing to bet they keep the resolution the same on the iPod, use nice bicubic scaling, and don't re-save it and crush the quality. Their album art is going to look good, and the Zune's album art...not so much.
Apple, iPod, Cover Flow, Online Video, YouTube