Super First Look: Apple Computer iPod nano

Super First Look: Apple Computer iPod nano 1

What’s the best way to prepare for the holiday shopping season after designing the world’s most popular digital music player? Sony would lower the price and double its advertising. Apple Computer, of course, would discontinue it.

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That’s just what Apple did with the iPod mini today, touting the product – for the first time on the day of its discontinuation – as the industry’s top-selling music device. Then, Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained, since everyone was trying to copy the iPod mini, the company replaced it. The result is the brand new iPod nano, available today in two colors and two capacities. White and black 2GB versions are available for a price of $199 each, while identically colored 4GB versions are available for $249.

Except in a few arguably irrelevant ways, the iPod nano is so beautifully executed that it cannot help but be a huge success for Apple. It is the thinnest iPod ever released, yet preserves virtually all of the features of a full-sized, color iPod save storage capacity. Similarly, it scales down the classic, iconic acrylic and chrome enclosure design we have loved since the first days of the iPod, rather than further shrinking the anodized aluminum body of the iPod mini. When you look at it, you see an iPod – not an iPod-minus, like the shuffle, or something different, like the iPod mini. It’s 100% cool, only tiny.

How Cool?

As we said in its review, we thought Griffin had just the right “smaller iPod” idea when it created its iFM accessory for the iPod: shrink the iPod mini into a baby version and call it the iPod micro. Or “nano,” a name first pioneered by an iLounge contest entrant last year. When word leaked out that Apple planned to use this name for its device, people reprinted the concept art with claims it would be the new iPod. Other than the name, they couldn’t have been more wrong. There was no anodized aluminum, new shape, or touch-screen controller.

 

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The real iPod nano is a design hybrid of four different iPods. It has the front acrylic face and polished metal back of early (1G/2G) iPods, with thick clear plastic front edges rather than the softer curves pioneered in 3G iPods. It uses a Click Wheel and color screen like today’s color iPods, only with modifications to both to accommodate the nano’s size. Its second body color – black – comes from the U2 iPod, and looks even better thanks to a dark gray Click Wheel (instead of the U2 iPod’s red one). And because it mixes the guts of an iPod shuffle (tiny battery, memory chips) with color iPod-like processors, it’s tiny. Really tiny.

How Tiny?

The pictures tell almost the entire story as to how small the iPod nano is by comparison with all earlier iPods. At .27” thick, it is even thinner than an iPod shuffle (.33”), and though its height and width footprints are a little larger (3.5” x 1.6” versus 3.3 x .98”), it’s still smaller than a business card, and there’s an incredible amount more inside.

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How did Apple pull this miniaturization feat off? It dropped the hard drive, which is the most power-hungry and failure-prone component in any iPod. iPod nano now uses tiny, non-removable flash memory chips instead, and can also afford to use a smaller battery pack and enclosure as a consequence, while preserving the key face features (screen and Click Wheel) people love. The weight is now 1.5 ounces, a bit less than twice the iPod shuffle (.78 ounce), or around 1/4 the weight of a 20GB iPod (5.9 ounces). It’s under half the weight (3.6 ounces) of the iPod mini it replaces, and smaller in every other dimension.

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Apple also pulled some interesting and unexpected tricks. Nano’s headphone port is now on its bottom alongside a standard Dock Connector port, while its top has only one feature – a tiny Hold switch. And the headphone port isn’t what you might expect – gone is the extended part with four metallic pins. That means iPod nano can’t work with iTrip, iTalk, or any of the other top-connecting accessories that draw power from the iPod. Intentionally or inadvertantly, Apple has segmented the iPod market into three categories: complete iPod accessory compatibility (iPod), half iPod accessory compatibility (iPod nano), and no iPod accessory compatibility (iPod shuffle).

What About the Screen?

Unlike the screen-less iPod shuffle, inside the nano’s chassis is a 1.5” color LCD display that mimics the one found in the full-sized iPod – .5” smaller, but still pretty impressive thanks to a 176×132 pixel display. At first glance, you’ll have every reason to believe it’s virtually identical – it displays six lines of large text plus the top menu bar, has full-color icons, and the same general Mac OS X Aqua-inspired interface.

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But if you look carefully, you’ll see that the screen in the full-sized iPod is better. It has more pixels (220×176) and a pure white backlight, which give it a superior ability to clearly display both photographs and thumbnails. Nano’s backlight is described as “blue-white,” which is another way of saying “less expensive.” As with the transition from the 3G iPod’s pure white light to the purplish one on original 4G iPods, there’s a difference, but most people won’t mind. The only real consequences are in how much you can fit on screen, and even that’s not a big issue.

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Instead of 25 thumbnails per page, you now get 12 that are easy to identify, even with the smaller screen. Landscape-orientation (wide) photos still display in full-screen mode, while portrait-orientation (tall) photos appear with significant black bars on their sides. The only semi-bummer is that iPod nano isn’t designed to display any of this on a television screen – there’s no TV Out feature.

Any Other Drawbacks?

iPod nano’s battery is rated for 14 hours, down from the iPod mini’s promised 18 (which delivered 26 in our testing). We’ll let you know the results of our own battery tests when they’re done, but the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg has reported that nano delivers only a hint over 14 hours of continuous play time. It’s unclear whether Apple is becoming less conservative with its estimates, or whether successive tests will yield different results, but it’s clear that iPod nano is not the better-than-color iPod music performer that its predecessor was.

In our initial and admittedly limited testing of the iPod nano using high-end Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro earphones, it did not appear that Apple had made significant improvements to the bass response of the new iPod over that of the color-screened iPod. Stated differently, this iPod is not likely to represent an improvement over its predecessors from an audio standpoint. However, we’re going to want to spend more time testing before we render any final opinions on this issue.

What’s in the Box?

There’s only one big surprise in the box. As with iPod minis, the iPod nano includes a standard set of white earbuds, a USB-to-iPod cable, an iPod, an iTunes (PC/Mac) software disc, and the manuals you’d expect. But Apple’s also included a new addition: the Universal Dock Adapter (UDA), a plastic plate that fits the iPod nano and has no utility directly out of the box.

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UDA is a gift to both iPod accessory manufacturers and consumers – a deliberate attempt to guarantee iPod nano docking compatibility with any future dockable iPod accessory, without forcing you (or companies) to wait for a new iPod plastic adapter to be manufactured and available. Nearly 20 companies are already planning products around the UDA design, which is similar to any one of the plastic plates included with speaker accessories from Altec Lansing, Bose, iHome and JBL.

Any New Features?

iPod nano’s new features are all nice, but none is earthshattering. First up is the new and improved Clock, which has “world clock” functionality and an analog display capability.

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The first thing you’ll notice is a clock pre-set to Cupertino, California time. You can bring up a menu by clicking on it that lets you choose an alarm clock, your preferred city, whether daylight saving time is on or off, and whether you’d like a sleep timer. You can also add more than one clock to the display by choosing “New Clock” from the main Clock screen, then selecting a city from many around the world.

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Once that’s done, you’ll have two (or more) clocks at once running on the iPod, and can scroll through them with ease. Note also that the Pause icon in the upper left of the screen has been updated with a slightly flashier, non-black graphic.

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Then there’s Stopwatch. With a iTunes brushed metal-inspired interface, Stopwatch gives you the ability to keep time for your runs, and easily access a lap timer as well.

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Also built around a metallic interface, Screen Lock lets you prevent your iPod’s contents from being accessed by anyone but you – or the person who guesses the 4-digit code. You use the Click Wheel to enter the code, make sure you haven’t forgotten it, and then lock your iPod. But let’s say you do forget it – what then? Just dock the nano with your computer, and it’s unlocked. Smart thought. All iPods need Screen Lock. Except the shuffle.

Familiar Old Friends?

Amazingly, virtually all of the full-sized iPod’s applications have made their way onto the iPod nano’s smaller screen. Calendar, Contacts, and Notes are all represented – viewable, with a little less free space on each screen, of course. Apple has finally added instant iTunes synchronization for PC users of Calendar and Contacts into version 5.0 of the software, so Microsoft Outlook users no longer need to use other software (or manually sync) for these iPod features.

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And, of course, the iPod nano has color versions of the (ahem, increasingly boring) four games found on all of the recent full-sized iPods, namely Solitaire, Music Quiz, Brick and Parachute. They look essentially just like their full-sized iPod versions.

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Which applications are missing? Voice Memos/Record is now gone. Apple says that iPod nano will not support microphone attachments, and it’s perhaps no coincidence that none of the ones previously designed are even physically capable of connecting to the nano because of its different headphone port. You also cannot use Photo Import on nano: the iPod Camera Connector won’t work, a deliberate limitation on Apple’s part given the nano’s smaller storage capacity.

Accessories!

It wouldn’t be a new iPod without all-new accessories, and Apple has continued its recent trend of attempting to pre-empt a few categories with pre-designed accessories. Here are all of the new ones.

nano Tubes are five-packs of silicone rubber cases, available in clear, blue, purple, green, and pink for $29. They protect the nano’s entire body save its screen and bottom ports, even covering the Click Wheel and Hold switch with thin, easy to use rubber. They’re not flashy, but for the price, they’ll work. And they’re a hell of a lot better than Socks.

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nano Dock is a $29 official Apple Dock that’s smaller than the one for the iPod mini or full-sized iPod. You can charge with FireWire or USB 2.0, but only sync with USB 2.0. Quite a change from older iPods (except, of course, the iPod shuffle). So’s the “variable line-out” on the Dock, which for the first time on an Apple product uses line attenuation to let you dampen the iPod’s natural line-out volume level when you’re using the iPod’s volume control. This feature appeared, with success, in Kensington’s Stereo Dock for full-sized iPods.

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nano Armband is a $29 perforated neoprene nano holster that can be strapped on your arm. Five colors (pink, green, red, blue and gray) are available, and as with earlier Apple armbands, we were not totally blown away by the design – this time, for different reasons. As before, they protect too little of the iPod, but now, they look like big bandaids. Every time Apple releases one of these, it’s the Speck full employment act all over again.

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nano Lanyard Headphones is a $39 combination necklace and lanyard. We never, ever thought we’d see Apple create one of these accessories, and we never, ever thought we’d want to actually wear one in public. We’ll have to play with them more once they’ve been released, but other than the classy mirrored nano-attachment base, which features a Dock Connector-grabber and a headphone port blug, our initial reactions were not too positive. The $39 price point isn’t too much to our liking either.

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Compatible and Incompatible Accessories

If you’re in a rush to accessorize, we’d caution you to wait – iPod nano-specific accessories are not yet available, and won’t be for some time. But here are some of the ones you can use while you’re awaiting new designs.

All headphones we’ve reviewed except for Headbanger Audio’s iPod-specific Earsubs and Mophies iPod shuffle Song Sling, any speaker system with an aux/audio-in port or a male headphone plug, Belkin TuneCast II FM Transmitter, BlueTake i-Phono BT420EX Bluetooth Wireless Headphones, Logitech Wireless Headphones, C. Crane FM Transmitter, Macally BlueWave Bluetooth Stereo and Streaming Headset (with physical modification), Macally PodDuo, Macally PodWave, Monster iCarPlay Cassette Adapter, Monster iSplitter, Mythix iChant, Newer Technology RoadTrip! 87.9FM, Upbeat Audio Boosteroo Revolution, and XtremeMac iPod Headphone Splitter (if physically modified).

More than a handful of older iPod and iPod mini accessories are incompatible with the iPod nano. Here’s a partial list.

ABT iJet, Apple iPod Camera Connector, Belkin Digital Camera Link, Belkin Media Reader, Belkin TuneTalk, Belkin Universal Microphone Adapter, Belkin Voice Recorder, BTI The iPod TuneStir, dvForge JamPod, DLO iDirect, DLO VoiceNote, Engineered Audio RemoteRemote 2, Griffin AirClick/AirClick mini, Griffin iBeam, Griffin iFM, Griffin iTalk, Griffin iTrip (all versions), Macally BlueWave (unless modified), Nyko iTop Button Relocator, PodGear PocketParty (unless physically modified), Targus RemoteTunes, TEN Technology naviPod/naviPro EX, XtremeMac AirPlay, and XtremeMac iPod Headphone Splitter (unless physically modified).

More to Come

Other than the shock of its beautiful design, the iPod nano isn’t too different from what you’d expect: it’s just another color iPod, only smaller, lighter, and lower in both price and capacity. We’ll have more to say in our full review, coming soon.

Links to More iLounge Information on iPod nano, iTunes 5.0, and Related Stories

iLounge’s San Francisco Apple Event Photo Gallery has over 300 photographs from today’s Special Event, including a live performance by Kanye West, pictures from Apple’s new iPod nano commercial, and the Motorola ROKR phone.

The Complete Guide to iTunes 5.0’s New Features shows you all of the big new features found in the latest version of Apple’s free, excellent iTunes Jukebox software.

Backstage at iLounge: What worked, and didn’t, at the Apple event provides an insider’s look at the goings-on at the Apple Special Event where iPod nano was released.

Our Original News Story provides initial details on the iPod nano, and an extensive comments thread.

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85 comments
  1. Lame.

    They’ve gotten small enough, this is rediculouse.

    Rich kids are handing them out as party favors.

    This is pathetic. Mini=Good, Nano=Bad

  2. I ordered a black one that should be arriving soon. I figured it’s about time to use my 3G 15gb iPod for school studies and switch to the nano for workouts. The only concern that I have is the durability of the nano. I’ve rolled over my full-sized iPod when I was asleep a few times, and only once the retaining clip popped out on one side. I fixed it with a guitar pick and nothing more happened to it. But the nano is so thin, I figure it could snap or bend really badly if it was rolled or sat on!

  3. Gosh.I’m very impressed with the nano, but I’m sticking with my mini silver for now. 🙂
    Plus,mini will be a collectible…
    Who knows what Apple will come out in the near future? I don’t want to spend right now…

  4. just got a 4G nano today – very cool but only USB syncing wiht my imac – that sux – no firewire – took me 30 min to fill up the nano from one playlist….

  5. Hey can anybody tell me when the iPod Nano is going to be released in Australia? This is my first iPod buy and i think this is the one for me but i don’t want to buy over the net.

    I think the black would scratch and be more noticible. Though wouldn’t the spotless white become dirty?

    Thanks.

  6. NO FAIR
    ijust bought a mini some time ago and apple come out with this thing .Selling it is out of the question as
    1. No ebay etc where i live (india)
    2. Who wud want a mini with this thing in the market
    apple should have an exchange scheme or sumfin

  7. I’ve never gotten an Ipod before and I’m thinking about getting this one. Does anyone know where you can get music for your Ipod besides the Ipod music store or can you use more than one? I hope I can understand this soon enough 🙁

  8. So does the black nano come with black earbuds/accesories? (I almost bought a mini, glad i waited) Dig the look of the color display against the black frame. Also like the white….sigh. Rock-on.

  9. Exactly, kina seems like an oversight. I would want the bud’s & chargers to be the same. Even with the miss-match factor, its still got alot of MoJo.

  10. Aaron, I tend to agree with you. I like the iPod nano, and there are just too many iPods out there … too many choices. But Melanie does make a good point. The biggest nano (and, yes, I know this is relatively new, but) is 4GB? Come on, wasn’t there an 8GB iPod Mini? They should have waited to unveil this new line until they could have really “replaced” the iPod mini line — with nanos that duplicate the size of the mini line but with the new flashdrives. At least, I think that’s what she’s getting at. I could be wrong.

  11. That is what I mean, yes. I do like my mini, but if I was to replace it – it would be with something that had MORE space. I dont like the bulk of the larger ones and realistically I dont want something with 20GB if its going to be the size of a brick. But I also wouldnt consider replacing a 6GB mini for this thing which to me is a downgrade for the same price. (I also think thee are just too small – design is ok, but too small.)

  12. Jeremy (or anyone else from iLounge),

    do you think nano can fit into the dock with the Apple Tube on… how thin is the material it is made of?

  13. Melanie: The nano IS small, if you compare it against the Mini. But since I’ve never owned a Mini (though my wife has a 1G) I don’t view it as a direct replecement, either. Rather, I see the nano as a BFG upgrade from the Shuffle; it’s what a flash player from Apple SHOULD’VE BEEN in the first place.

    As for price…yes it’s the same as a 6GB Mini, but it’s flash-based storage, and right now there’s no way flash memory is going to as cheap to use as micro hard drives. Considering how my wife’s 1G Mini chews up the charge on her battery (after less than a year it gets at best 4-4 1/2 hrs tops; even new it hardly ever came close to getting 8 hrs of battery life), I’d take flash mem, minimal mechanical moving parts, and the smaller FF anyday. There’s simply no way IMO a Mini will be this unobstrusive in use.

  14. Just got the black 4g. When I opened the box i thought the ipod was a picture on the inside of the box for a split second, I couldn’r beleive it could be that small!! Will stick with my 30g ipod for the car, but this will be great for jogging etc. Also works great with my bose speaker, and I have used one layer of cling film to prevent scratches whilst I wait to get a case!

  15. wait why do i need a nano.Its only a matter of time before apple comes out with sumfin better and well al want that. Then and ill be stuck with a nano which everyone will still be able to buy. but if ive still got my mini itll be collectors and sell for more . and to hink i was going to try to sue apple

  16. I bought mine on Saturday and I have to say its taken the place of my 60gb photo ipod.

    I use the Sony buds with the short cord, and the nano is so small its held in my t-shirt sleve rolled up once. Amkes it a real winner.

    I thought it would be too small capacity wise, but I put all my favourites on to the playlist and still had spare and that out of 30+gb of music

    Well done Apple, although the wife now thinks I have wasted money on the 60, but I did remind her it gets used as a backup drive and to store photos directly from the camera.

  17. Not sure why they think people will want to cover their dock connector (only possible place to connect any accessories), just to wear the Nano around their neck with uncomfortable Apple earbuds.

    I would buy a Nano if I planned to use the player while running or some other strenuous activity (very shock resistant), and could settle only 4 gigs of music. If I’m running, I sure won’t want the player on a neck cord banging against my chest. It’s either an arm holder or a belt pouch.

    Personally, I prefer my year old 20 gig iPod, and I’ll plan on walking with it in a pocket or in a belt pouch.

  18. Umm, still wanting to know if anybody knows the answer to my question–when will the Nano be released in Australia? Pls if anybody knows post it here!

  19. Today according to Myer, but online already. Myer sent a msg saying theyre out on the 11th. Wonder if all current issues will be fixed this time around.

  20. My wife’s white nano has been pretty fun to play with so far. It seems fairly stout even for its thin profile; it’s definitely no worse than the Shuffle. File transfers with USB are fast with our Dell, reasonably scorching on the A64 box; haven’t tried it on the Mac yet but even so I suspect I won’t miss FireWire as much as I initially feared. I’m not completely sold on the headphone jack being located on the bottom of the unit–I don’t see how you can listen to it with cans if it’s on a dock–but at least the contact point on the nano’s body feels very much like metal, rather than the cheapo plastic jack on my 4G. I’ll be glad when I receive my black 4GB from Apple so I can at last have a decent AAC flash player. Shame it doesn’t sound as good as my 4G, but at least there’s no more dealing with that increasingly foul Scuttle…joy of joys.

  21. I got a white 4G nano Friday (Apple store) and i like it. A lot. I’m upgrading from a Shuffle512, and at first, I’m disappointed not being able to use the AUTO-FILL function with the nano. I have way more than 4G in my library, so I’d like to be able to fill more easily. It does seem delicate, but that’s probably because it’s so exquisite. A great machine.

  22. You can fake Autofill functionality in iTunes. Make a Smart Playlist with the following conditions:

    – Uncheck the “Match the following rule” condition at the top, and the Playlist will grab from everything in your library
    – Under that, choose “Limit to 2 gb (or 4 gb)” and “Selected by Random”
    – in iPod preferences, set your ipod to automatically sync with your newly created Autofill playlist.

    You can even fine-tune it if you want: make a set of “Autofill” smart playlists that grab specific genres, or which grab from specific playlists, etc. etc. etc.

  23. flatline response: I agree that the nano isn’t a direct replacement of the iPod mini, and Apple should have been more careful claiming that is. However, in Melanie’s defense, there are plenty of people out there who depend on a Mini as their primary MP3 player. I just got my black nano yesterday and it bridges the gap nicely between my Shuffle and 3G 15GB iPod. So far I’ve been having a better experience with it than when I used my nephew’s 2G 4GB iPod Mini, but I wouldn’t want it as my main player. Also, using the small scroll wheel on the nano did get tiring for my larger hands, so that might be something for bigger guys to consider before buying.

  24. All of this carping is silly.

    It sounds an awful lot like the moaning and groaning about the mini itself when IT first came out.

    I love my mini.

    I bought a nano today. I’m fully expecting to love it even more.

    That said, pissing and moaning about how awful it is is a total waste of time. If you don’t want one, don’t buy one.

    The market reality Apple lives in dictates that it’s only a matter of time before Creative or somebody undercuts them on price and features. Killing the mini in favor of the nano may seem like a harsh move, but the longer Apple remains a moving target, the longer they’ll be the market leader for this category.

    I’m not crazy about it, but I totally understand why they did it. Apple isn’t in a position – even a financially healthy Apple – to get trounced by Creative or Sony or somebody else. Maybe in a couple of years, if the market keeps expanding like it has been, but not right now.

    Bold moves – like killing the mini – are absolutely essential to keeping Apple relevant in this market. Grow up, accept it, move on.

  25. Ive not had a problem with the battery on my mini and its meant to be I think 18hr battery life?

    And to the poster above.. this is a place of opinions.. grow up and learn that people have the right to give them or dont bother posting yours.

  26. I saw the comercial and i was like “i want one of those” i have been researching for 3 days on them. I used to have a 1gb iPod shuffle, but wanted a screen. This will be perfect. I dont have a lot of songs so i would get the 2gb in black. I am concerned though on the scratching. I heard that this device scratches easily, this worries me. Can somebody please elaborate on this or tell me about their nano. Thanks

  27. this message is to m_17_gb regarding free ipods.

    i bothered to go through all the stages, but they ask you email loads of friends before you get free ipod. how many people do you need to tell, and how do they know you referred them?

  28. I’ve been debating wheather to ask for a Nano or a m:robe 100 for christmas. I was originaly going to ask for a Nano, but then my friend got one and it just seems to small to operate smoothly with the tiny click wheel, and the screen at a glance seemed hard to see, especially since I have a small vision impairment. Is it actually extremly easy to see the screen and to operate the hand wheel? Or should I go with the much cheaper m:robe 100?

  29. Lost my mini… well, while procrastinating over whether to fork out for a proper ipod, I’ve ordered a black nano with my citibank reward points, you can do this with Wespac reward points too, think about it… if you’re in oz at least

  30. i just got a nano and its frekin awseomeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. its the greatest i pod. people think that it doesnt hold enough for the money but who really needs 1000 songs. u might have that many in your library but nobody really has 100 songs that you acually listen to on a regular basis. i just delete the songs i dont listen to anymore. plus this little thing hold pictures. its amazing and anyone whos ever had an ipod you should get this because its even better

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