After months of frenzied speculation, Apple Computer has unveiled an ultra-thin iPod about half the size of its iPod mini as well as a mobile phone built by Motorola Inc. that features the iTunes music player software. Apple's new iPod nano will feature 4G bytes of capacity for US$249 in a device that is thinner than a #2 pencil, said Steve Jobs, Apple's chief executive officer at a jam-packed media event at San Francisco's Moscone Center.
The iPod nano is 80 percent smaller than Apple's original iPod and 62 percent smaller than the iPod mini, Jobs said. It weighs 1.5 ounces (42 grams) and comes with a color screen. The device is available in some stores as of Wednesday, and stores around the world expected to have the device by the end of the week, he said. Apple will also sell an iPod nano with 2GB of capacity for US$199.
"This is one of the most amazing products Apple has ever created," Jobs said.
The Cupertino, California company also unveiled the Motorola Rokr (pronounced "rocker"). This is a GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) phone that features a button that allows direct access to the iTunes player. Cingular Wireless LLC will be the exclusive North American carrier for the phone, which is expected to be available in stores this weekend, Jobs said.
Cingular plans to charge $249 for the Rokr at its stores in the U.S, Apple and Cingular said in a release. The phone comes with stereo headphones and a USB cable that is required to get songs from a PC or Mac to the phone. The phone shows up like an iPod in the iTunes music player allowing songs to be dragged to the phone's icon from an iTunes playlist, Jobs said.
Analysts and the famously loyal Apple fan base had worked themselves into a fever pitch debating the subject of Wednesday's event since Apple sent out an invitation last week. But Apple and Motorola have been discussing the development of an iTunes phone for more than a year, and Motorola's Chief Executive Officer Ed Zander promised analysts in July the phone was on the way.
Apple needs to continuously expand its distribution model if it wants to stay on top of the digital music market, said Stephen Baker, director of research at NPD Techworld in Reston, Virginia. The Rokr will show whether Apple can take iTunes to devices other than the extremely popular iPod music players, and mobile phones are a natural place to start, he said.
"Cell phones are the most ubiquitous electronic device on the planet. Given the volume of the cell phone business, the distribution imperatives say you have to have a deal there," Baker said.
Even if the user experience on Rokr is not as good as the one provided by an iPod, as long as it is sufficient, users should embrace the combination of a music player and a phone, Baker said.
"Do you get a better experience with a camera phone [than with a digital camera]? No," Baker said. This hasn't stopped phone users from embracing camera-equipped mobile phones, he said.
Some analysts and Mac users had speculated the iTunes phone might allow over-the-air downloads of songs, but digital music lovers, at least in the U.S., aren't quite ready for that yet, said Mike McGuire, a research director at Gartner Inc.
"When it comes to online media, we're a very PC-centric culture," McGuire said. It's just easier for Apple and the industry to convince users to move their PC-based songs to a mobile device, rather than trying to introduce a whole new way of acquiring digital music, he said.
And if Apple didn't release an iTunes phone, a competitor would have surely attempted to erode Apple's dominance of the music player market with a similar device, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. in Wayland, Massachusetts.
The iPod nano will help keep the iPod lineup fresh heading into the fourth-quarter holiday season, Kay said. It helps erase some of the concerns that active iPod users might have had about jostling their hard drive-based iPods by using flash memory, which is more stable than a hard drive because of the lack of moving parts, he said. -- IDG News Service
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