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9/7/2005
06:18 PM
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Apple Rolls Out iTunes Phone, New Tiny iPod

The Motorola ROKR is the long-anticipated iTunes-capable mobile phone. Apple also introduced a new version of its music software for Windows and Macintosh, iTunes 5, and a new music player, the iPod Nano, which replaces the iPod Mini.

Apple Computer, in partnership with Motorola and Cingular Wireless, on Wednesday revealed the Motorola ROKR, the long-anticipated iTunes-capable mobile phone. Apple also introduced a new version of its music software for Windows and Macintosh, iTunes 5, and a new music player, the iPod Nano, which replaces the iPod Mini.

The announcements were made at San Francisco's Moscone West convention center. The press event was as much a victory lap for Apple as it was a product debut. It was CEO Steve Jobs doing his best to shock and awe.

ITunes 5 features aesthetic refinements, playlist enhancements, a new search bar, Microsoft Outlook contact syncing, and parental controls. It also includes an option to make life less random--its Smart Shuffle feature lets the user reduce the likelihood that random shuffling will play two songs in sequence by the same artist. (Apparently, this feature came about because users complained that randomly shuffled songs didn't seem random when two or more songs by the same artist played one after another.)

The ROKR is a well-designed piece of hardware. It's essentially an iPod Shuffle in a phone. It behaves just like any other iPod when docked and holds a comparable number of songs, 100 recorded at acceptable quality.

The phone's battery life appears to be quite adequate, at least according to Ralph de la Vega, chief operating officer of Cingular. He said he listened to his ROKR on a flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, made some calls upon landing, and left the phone on overnight to find that the battery was still essentially full the following morning.

Last and least--in terms of physical size--comes the iPod Nano. The ad copy for the Nano claims the device is "impossibly small," and that's only a slight exaggeration. Weighing in at 42 grams--less than eight quarters--the Nano is two-thirds to one-half smaller than competing devices. Yet it's fully compatible with existing iPod accessories, can hold 1,000 songs in its 4 Gbytes of flash memory at a cost of $249, and offers a color screen.

"My prediction is this is going to instantly become the highest-volume, most popular iPod in the world," Jobs said. If it does, no one will be surprised.

Jobs opened the show by rattling off some impressive numbers: Apple has sold 500 million songs through its iTunes Music Store and continues to sell them at a rate of 1.8 million a day. It has 82% of the online digital-music market in the United States and 80% in the United Kingdom. Through June, the company had sold 22 million iPods, 6.2 million in the last quarter alone, giving it 74% of the digital-music-player market.

Since Apple made its iTunes software Podcast-aware at the end of June, Jobs said the company has generated 7 million podcast subscriptions. Its podcast directory is growing at a rate of 1,000 podcasts a week. Its iTunes Music Store includes 2 million songs, making it, by Apple's count, the largest digital-music store in the world. And with 10 million registered accounts, the iTunes Music Store is the No. 2 online retailer, in terms of customer base, behind Amazon.com Inc.

For all that, Apple's campaign to make its iPod ubiquitous continues. Jobs said that four more car companies, bringing the total to 15, offer iPod integration as an option: Acura, Audi, Honda, and Volkswagen. He also said that by 2006, 30% of the cars sold in the United States would offer iPod connectivity as an option.

To drive the point home, attendees were treated to slick new commercials for the ROKR and the iPod Nano. Pop star Madonna put in an appearance on the video-projection screen to say that her catalog of albums would be exclusively available on iTunes. "I got tired of not being able to download my own music," she explained.

And in a final barrage of star power, rising rapper Kanye West showed up in person to perform two numbers for what's probably the squarest crowd he's ever entertained.

The underlying message for Microsoft, Sony, Real, and others eyeing the online music market: Abandon all hope ye who enter here. The stars, both musical and celestial, are lined up behind Apple. With the products revealed Wednesday, expect customers to follow.

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