Apple unveils iPod nano, ROKR phone, iTunes 5

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Our live coverage of today’s special music event has concluded. Please visit MacCentral for more coverage.

On Wednesday, at a special event in San Francisco, Apple took the wraps off the long-awaited iTunes phone from Motorola, the ROKR. Apple also updated iTunes to version 5.0 and introduced its replacement for the iPod mini: the iPod nano.

“Thank you all for coming and welcome to our music event today,” Jobs said. “Apple’s leading the digital music revolution, but at its core, it’s all about the music. I just want to recognize a good friend of mine and incredible musician in the audience today, 16-time grammy award winner, the incomparable Yo Yo Ma.”

State of the Union

Jobs told the crowd that Apple has sold more than half a billion songs through its iTunes Music Store to date. “We are selling songs at a rate of 1.8 million songs per day,” he explained. “iTunes has an 82 percent market share here in the US.”

Jobs reiterated an Apple press release offered earlier today that it has 80 percent of the legitimate online music download market in the UK, and said that iTunes is doing “extremely well around the world.” There are iTunes Music Stores in 20 countries, he said, representing 85 percent of the global music market.

Apple recently began supporting podcasts through iTunes, and Jobs told the crowd that the service now feature more than 15,000 podcasts in its directory, growing by 1,000 per week. More than 7 million podcast subscriptions have been made to date. “This phenomenon is just exploding,” he said.

The iTunes Music Store now has more than 2 million songs, said Jobs, the largest online music library in the world. “We’ve never shared [this] with anyone before: How many accounts do we have on itunes? We have just crossed 10 million accounts. And they come with credit cards,” said Jobs.

The average iTunes account holder has purchased 60 songs, said Jobs, and most of them have been added in the past year. “That makes iTunes one of the largest internet stores in the world,” he said.

Jobs spoke about new additions to the iTunes’ audiobook collection: An exclusive digital box set version of the Harry Potter series. He also introduced a collectable iPod engraved with a Hogwarts crest — Hogwarts is the school that fictional magician Harry Potter goes to.

Jobs then introduced famed pop star Madonna in a transcontinental live chat using iChat AV. Connected from London, Madonna explained that she “tried to hold out as long as possible. But I got tired of not being able to download my own music.” Madonna and Steve Jobs announced that all fifteen of her albums will be available for purchase and download through iTunes, by album and by song.

iTunes 5

Jobs then rolled out iTunes 5, an update to the popular software Apple makes available for Mac and Windows users alike. He described the new version’s interface as sporting “a little bit of a refined look.” It’s available today as a free download from Apple’s Web site.

Users can now organize playlists into folders, and new search capabilities have been added. Windows users can now automatically synchronize contact and calendar information using iTunes 5 and Microsoft’s Outlook and Outlook Express software.

A “Smart Shuffle” feature has been added that lets users control how likely they are to hear multiple songs from the same artist or the same album using a preference slider. “We’ve got a lot of people saying our shuffle is not random,” mused Jobs.

Parental controls have also been added to help parents restrict purchases of music that contains explicit lyrics through the iTunes Music Store.

iTunes Phone - Motorola ROKR, exclusive to Cingular

Jobs also used today’s event to unveil the first iTunes-compatible cell phone, the Motorola ROKR. “You’ve probably heard about this,” Jobs said, a reference to the speculation that has run rampant prior to today’s event.

The phone will automatically pause when you get a call, explained Jobs. Songs are transferred through a USB cable.

The ROKR can only hold about 100 songs, according to Jobs. “The way we think of this phone is, it’s really an iPod shuffle on your phone,” he explained. Both devices can shuffle, both can autofill, neither has a click wheel — but the phone has a display.

Madonna and other musicians are also being tapped to shill the new ROKR in a Motorola advertising campaign set to begin later this week, showing them in a phone booth out in the desert. There will also be a billboard campaign from Cingular featuring slogans like “Kiss + tell,” “Smashblabbermouth” and “Matthew Sweet talk,” along with a television ad campaign in both English and Spanish.

“A great phone with an iTunes client is half the story,” said Jobs. “What we’re adding to that is the number one wireless carrier in North America. Cingular will be the exclusive provider of this phone in North America.” Jobs then introduced Ralph de la Vega, Cingular’s Chief Operating Officer.

“We have a vision, working with Apple and Motorola, about convergence between entertainment, computers, and communications, coming together and forming a real product,” said de la Vega. “There have been a lot of rumors about this product, but today, the talk ends and the music begins. You’re going to get your songs on your phone, anywhere you want them, any time you want them, with the world’s best music service, brought to you by Motorola and Cingular.”

The iPod

Following the introduction of the Motorola ROKR, Jobs offered attendees a status update on the iPod. Apple has 74 percent market share for all MP3 players as of July, he said. AT the end of their last quarter, Apple had sold almost 22 million iPods, with 6.2 million sold in the June quarter alone.

“Let me compare it to another successful product, the Sony PSP,” said Jobs, referring to Sony’s handheld gaming system that can also play music. Last quarter the iPod sold 6 million, while the Sony PSP sold 2 million units.”

Four new automotive brands announced iPod connectivity today, according to Jobs: Honda, Honda’s upscale Acura brand, as well as European car makers Audi and Volkswagen.

In 2006, 30 percent of all cars sold in the U.S. are going to offer iPod connectivity as an option, said Jobs.

iPod nano

After summarizing the existing iPod product line, Jobs explained that the iPod mini is what all of Apple’s competitors are aiming for. Apple is “going to do something pretty bold,” he said. Apple is “replacing it with something new.”

Jobs calls the iPod nano “an entirely new ground-up design, that also has 1000 songs in your pocket.” The white device features a color display and can support photos, uses a grey click wheel to navigate, and is 80 percent smaller in volume than the original iPod — thinner than a number two pencil, said Jobs. The iPod nano weighs 1.5 ounces or 42 grams.

Compared to the iPod mini, the iPod nano is half the thickness and 62 percent smaller by volume. It uses a 30-pin dock connector, so the iPod nano plugs in to existing iPod accessories, and can also connect using USB 2.0. It features a 14-hour rechargeable battery. It achieves its small size by eschewing a hard disk drive in favor of flash memory.

The iPod nano also features a new graphical clock, games, stopwatch and lap timer, and a screen lock that uses the click wheel like a combination lock.

“White is our signature color for the iPod … but we decided to so a second color, and we tried it because it looked so cool,” said Jobs, “so we’re doing a black model as well.”

The iPod nano ships today in 2GB and 4GB configurations for US$199 and $249 respectively. Apple is also offering customized iPod nano accessories including a $29 dock, $39 lanyard with built-in headphones, color-coordinated armbands for $29 each, and “nanotubes” — green, purple, blue and pink slipcases, sold in boxes of five, for $29 each.

The event ended with R&B star Kanye West performing his hit songs “All Falls Down” and “Gold Digger” for the crowd. He thanked Jobs for allowing him to perform, and added, “Thank you for making my life much easier. I remember when I had tapes.”

This story, "Apple unveils iPod nano, ROKR phone, iTunes 5" was originally published by PCWorld.

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