An overview of iPod, iTunes 2, iDVD2

MacCentral was present today as Steve Jobs hosted a special event at Apple's Cupertino headquarters to flesh out Apple's "Digital Hub" strategy. During the event, Jobs provided details about Apple's forthcoming efforts with iDVD 2, iTunes 2 and its much-speculated-upon new digital device, the iPod.

Jobs and Apple have been pitching the Macintosh this year as the "center of the digital lifestyle," vaunting the Mac's ease of use with applications like iTunes (for digital music), iMovie (for digital movie editing) and iDVD (to record DVDs).

iPod -- Apple's breakthrough digital device

iPod with iBook
iDVD 2 wasn't what the crowd came to see, however -- the crown jewel of this presentation was the introduction of iPod, a diminutive MP3 music player that uses a 5GB FireWire-based hard disk for storage.

The iPod, encased in a stainless steel design that's complementary to Apple's line of desktop and laptop computers, weighs about six and a half ounces and is about the size of a deck of cards -- 2.4 inches wide by 4 inches tall, and only about three quarters of an inch thick.

"iTunes knows all about iPod, and iPod knows all about iTunes," remarked Jobs. The iPod features "Auto-Sync," which will automatically download all of the songs and playlists you've indexed with iTunes, and make sure to keep the info up to date when you plug your iPod into your Mac. And because it uses FireWire to interface to the Mac, it transfers songs up to 30 times faster than a USB-based MP3 player, according to Apple. It takes about 10 seconds to transfer an entire CD onto the iPod; 1,000 songs takes less than 10 minutes. It's also got up to 20 minutes of shock protection.

"To have your whole music library with you at all times is a quantum leap when it comes to music," said Jobs. "And iPod fits in your pocket."

The iPod draws its power from a rechargeable lithium polymer battery, which recharges directly from the FireWire interface every time it's connected. Jobs told the crowd that it takes about an hour to charge the iPod. The iPod also comes with a FireWire-based power adapter.

The device supports MP3, MP3 Variable Bit Rate (VBR), AIFF and WAVE formats, and can support MP3 bit rates up to 320Kbps. The firmware is upgradeable as well, so it'll be able to support future audio formats. And because the iPod is built a FireWire-based hard drive, you can use it for general storage, too.

The iPod features a 160x128 pixel display featuring a white LED backlight that Apple said is easy to see both in daylight and low-light conditions. A scroll-wheel on the face of the iPod enables users to navigate through music collections by playlist, artist or song. You can also customize settings and localize menus in different languages.

Powered by a 60mW amplifier with 20 to 20,000Hz frequency response, the iPod also ships with neodymium magnet-equipped earbud-style headphones.

The device is expected to be available beginning on Saturday, November 10 for US$399 from The Apple Store, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized resellers. The iPod will also ship with iTunes 2 on CD, which is required to use the device.

iTunes 2 coming next month, for free

iTunes 2
iPod users aren't the only folks that will get their hands on the next major revision to iTunes, Apple's immensely popular digital music software. iTunes 2 is coming early next month, and it'll be distributed as a free download from Apple's Web site, in addition to being bundled on a CD distributed with the iPod.

The new version of iTunes will run natively both on Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X, and features the three most-requested features from current iTunes users, according to Jobs: MP3 CD burning, an equalizer and the ability to cross-fade music tracks. iTunes 2 also sports the ability to burn audio CDs up to twice as fast as the current version can.

iTunes 2 is by no means limited to supporting iPod -- like the original, it'll still work with third-party MP3 players. But iPod users will get a boost because of the new device's support for "Auto-Sync," which automatically synchronizes the MP3 library and playlists maintained by iTunes.

Jobs demonstrated the new version of iTunes, which features a 10-band equalizer activated by a button near the burn and eject buttons. The built-in equalizer features more than 20 presets for different styles of music. And when you're creating playlists of your own music, sometimes it's preferable to gracefully transition from one song to another -- that's what the new crossfader is there for.

Apple noted that iTunes 2 would be included on every new Mac system beginning in November, once the product ships. It requires Mac OS 9.2.1 or Mac OS X 10.1 or later.

iDVD 2 coming early November

Jobs said that a new version of iDVD -- iDVD 2 -- will ship "early next month." The software was first unveiled to audiences at Macworld Expo New York this past July. The new version of the DVD authoring software for consumers sports new themes, motion menus, support for soundtracks in slideshows and background encoding. It also enables users to make DVDs with up to 90 minutes of content, compared to 60 minutes for the current version.

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