The iPod Has Landed

Back in January, Apple CEO Steve Jobs first outlined his company's vision for the Mac as the hub of a digital lifestyle. The way Jobs saw it, the Mac would be the centerpiece for a host of digital cameras, MP3 players, and camcorders, providing the applications that brought out the power in those digital devices.

On Tuesday, Apple revealed that it's not satisfied simply making your digital devices work better--it wants to make those devices itself.

The company has developed a palm-sized digital music player dubbed iPod, which is slated to hit stores on November 10. Sporting a 5GB hard drive, the FireWire-enabled iPod can store roughly 1,000 songs at a 160K bit rate in a device not much bigger than a deck of playing cards.

"To have your whole CD library with you at all times is a quantum leap when it comes to music," Jobs said Tuesday. "You can fit your whole music library in your pocket."

Little Package, Big Storage

Encased in stainless steel and featuring a white face similar to the iBook's, the iPod hosts a 1.8-inch hard drive that's less than a quarter-inch thick. It supports the MP3, WAV, and AIFF formats and features 20-minute skip protection. "You can take it mountain-biking, jogging without skipping a beat," Jobs said. (The 20-minute skip protection also works to save battery power. Once MP3s are copied to a large RAM cache, the iPod can turn off its hard drive, making it a lower-power device that's also impervious to shocks.)

Jobs touted iPod as the "first and only music player" with built-in FireWire. That's important because the high-speed connectivity standard lets users quickly download music onto iPod from their Macs. An entire CD of music loads onto iPod in less than 10 seconds; it would take five minutes to do that using USB, Jobs said. In a demonstration following the iPod announcement, it took a little more than two minutes for iPod to download 257 songs from iTunes running on an iBook.

To download songs onto iPod, Mac users simply plug the device into one of the FireWire ports on their Mac. The computer instantly recognizes iPod like it would with any external FireWire drive (In fact, iPod doubles as an external hard drive, allowing you to store documents, photos, and other files in the space not being used for MP3s.)

"You've heard of plug-and-play. This is plug, unplug and play," Jobs said. "It's so simple to use, it's unbelievable."

Play Well With Others

Beyond simplicity, Apple also wanted a device that could work seamlessly with the applications it's been producing as part of the Digital Hub strategy. Applications like iMovie and iTunes can take advantage of digital video cameras and MP3 players, "but there's never been a device built that can take advantage of all these apps," Jobs said. "We decided to build one."

Indeed, iPod works intimately with iTunes, downloading songs and complete playlists the first time you plug the device into your Mac. What if you add songs or albums to iTunes? iPod takes advantage of a new Auto-Sync feature to automatically update its playlists to reflect any changes to your musical library.

"iTunes knows all about iPod, and iPod knows all about iTunes," Jobs said.

Apple cited auto-synching as one of three breakthroughs offered by iPod. The others include:

Portability: iPod is four inches tall, 2.4 inches wide and just over three-quarters of an inch thick. It weighs less than 6.5 ounces--"lighter than most cell phones," Jobs noted. Because it fits easily in a pocket, iPod can go just about anywhere, Apple figures. And with a rechargeable lithium polymer battery that offers 10 hours of musical play, you should be able to take iPod anywhere without the music screeching to a halt. The battery recharges every time you plug it into the FireWire port; the iPod recharges in about an hour, Jobs said.

"An iBook is really portable," he added. "But [the iPod] is ultra-portable."

Ease of Use: iPod sports a black-and-white LCD display with a backlight that activates anytime you hold the menu button down for a few seconds. (Longtime Mac fans will be amused by the fact that the entire iPod interface is in Chicago, the menu bar font of the original Mac.) Besides the menu button, iPod also features buttons that let play, fast-forward, and rewind songs. Those buttons surround a scroll wheel in the center of iPod that allows for quick, one-handed navigation of your playlists. A piezoelectric clicker lets you hear as you scroll though the menu.

"If you're going to have your entire music collection [on an iPod], you have to be able to find music fast," Jobs said.

Priced at $399, the iPod does not come cheaply. But Jobs defended the price by arguing that the iPod's large capacity gives music lovers more bang for their buck. A $150 MP3 player that lets you store 150 songs is costing you $1 per song, Jobs argued. For the iPod and its 1,000-song capacity, the cost per song is closer to 40 cents.

About Those Apps

iPod wasn't the only new product unveiled by Apple Tuesday. The company also introduced the latest update to its iTunes CD ripping and burning software. iTunes 2, which should be available as a free download in early November, will run natively on both Mac OS 9 and OS X. New features include the ability to cross-fade music tracks, a 10-band equalizer, and MP3 CD-burning capability that will let users squeeze more songs onto CDs.

Apple also announced Thursday that iDVD 2.0 will be available in early November. That marks a second shipping delay for the latest version of the DVD authoring software. Announced at July's Macworld Expo trade show, iDVD 2.0 was to originally ship in September. At last month's Seybold Seminars conference, Apple pushed back the release date to October. When it arrives, iDVD 2.0 will add motion menus, background encoding, and the ability to make DVDs with up to 90 minutes of content.

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