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Amazon movie service to launch next month; E-tailer drops music plans

Amazon’s video download service will reportedly launch in mid-August, offering a subscription service and a la carte movies and TV shows. Advertising Age reports that because of Apple’s digital music dominance, Amazon chose to drop music and focus on video. “The service, which is referred to as Amazon Digital Video—or Amazon ‘DV’—has evolved over the past year from a music-themed offering to a video-centric one, according to production-studio and TV-network executives briefed on the plans. The reason? Apple already commands such a large share of digital-music sales that Amazon felt it would be too difficult to break into the market.” Amazon’s service will require users to install software to buy videos individually, “likely as part of a download-to-own model, or subscribe to them, like a digital version of Netflix’s rental model.”

Report: Next iPod to offer eBook functionality

Apple’s next iPod could allow users to read eBooks on its widescreen display, according to a report by Engadget. The gadget site claims that two “trustworthy” sources have provided details on Apple’s eBook plans, including the possibility of eBooks being sold on the iTunes Music Store. “According to a source at a major publishing house, they were just ordered to archive all their manuscripts—every single one—and send them over to Apple’s Cupertino HQ,” reports Engadget. “A separate trusted source let us know that the next iPod will have a substantial amount of screen real estate (as we’d all suspected), as well as a book reading mode that pumps up the contrast and drops into monochrome for easy reading.”

Microsoft confirms Zune products

Following months of rumors and speculation, Microsoft has finally confirmed the existence of its “Zune” project, which will spawn products to compete with the iPod and iTunes head-on.

Microsoft executives said today that the company will later this year launch the Zune umbrella brand, which it calls “a family of hardware and software products” targeting various digital entertainment services. As expected, the first Zune offerings will be a portable audio player and a digital music service, both of which will be released before the end of 2006. Microsoft said additional Zune-branded devices will follow, including a portable video player and possibly a portable gaming device. The company also confirmed the rumored Wi-Fi connectivity features.

Microsoft has also launched a new “Coming Zune” website and a new “Zune Insider” blog. The company said it will support the Zune launch later this year with a “massive advertising and marketing campaign expected to be heavily artist-centric, including several live performances nationwide.”

Grado Labs announces iGrado headphones

imageHigh-end headphone maker Grado Labs has announced its new iGrado headphones. The $49 headphones are targeted at iPod users, feature a behind-the-head design and use the same drivers found in the company’s Grado SR60 headphones. The iGrado headphones will be available in September. “Grado, one of the oldest family owned companies in the Audio Industry, has for almost half a century been the leaders in design engineering for the high-end audio and recording industries. Grado is famous for their remarkable headphone and phono cartridge designs and hold over 48 patents.”

Griffin debuts new iPod case lineup

Griffin Technology today announced three new iPod cases—the Trio, Vizor and Tempo—as part of a new lineup of protective accessories. The Trio ($25) is a 3-in-1 case for the iPod nano that comes with two interchangeable covers. Available in five colors in leather and a synthetic gray, the Trio features a snap closure and complete coverage. The Vizor ($25) is a fifth-generation iPod case featuring a front flap, secure closure and clip. The case comes in four leather colors as well as a synthetic gray. The Tempo ($25; shown right) is an iPod armband for the iPod nano and fifth-generation iPod. It features a low-profile design with reflective accents, built-in screen protection, headphone cord wrap, and a one-size-fits-all strap. Hands-on details and photos of all three cases can be found in our First Looks section.

Apple patent filing details iPod touch-screen interface

A new Apple patent application has been made public that details a touch-screen interface for an iPod or tablet-style device. The patent filing, which is titled “Proximity detector in handheld device,” describes and illustrates how the interface would allow users to navigate menus and make selections by moving their finger on the screen. The touch-screen interface would sense when a user’s finger approached and would automatically display a virtual scroll wheel or other interface elements. AppleInsider has a large portion of the patent’s visual diagrams and verbatim descriptions. Apple’s long-rumored “true” video iPod is said to employ a 3.5-inch touch-screen display. The patent can be viewed at the USPTO site with full abstract and images.

Young people warned about iPod hearing damage

A new study found that teens and those in their 20’s are at risk of going deaf up to 30 years earlier than their parents because of listening to music on their iPod at high volume levels. According to the study by Deafness Research UK, more than 50% of those aged 16 to 24 listen to their MP3 players for more than an hour a day, but 68% of the group do not realize that listening to at loud volume can cause permanent damage. “A generation ago we would see people going deaf in their sixties or seventies, but we’re now seeing more people going deaf in their forties, which is very worrying,” said Vivienne Michael, the chief executive of Deafness Research UK. “Many young people are regularly using MP3 players for long periods and are frighteningly unaware of the fact that loud noise can permanently damage your hearing.”

Yahoo eyeing unrestricted MP3 downloads

Yahoo wants to offer music downloads without copy protection, according to recent comments made by company executives. “We’ve been publicly trying to convince record labels that they should be selling MP3s for a while now,” Ian Rogers, a director of product management at Yahoo, said on the official Yahoo Music blog this week. “Our position is simple: DRM (digital rights management) doesn’t add any value for the artist, label (who are selling DRM-free music every day—the Compact Disc), or consumer, the only people it adds value to are the technology companies who are interested in locking consumers to a particular technology platform.” Rogers’ comments on DRM come in an announcement for a new Jessica Simpson song that can be personalized with your own name. The song costs $1.99 and is an unrestricted MP3 file when purchased and downloaded.

Mix: AAPL, Nike+iPod, Taiwan sales, Odd add-ons

Following yesterday’s positive third-quarter financial results, Apple shares surged $6.33, or 12 percent, to $60.43 in early trading Thursday.

The Nike+iPod Sport Kit gets favorable reviews from The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg and USA Today’s Edward Baig. The kit is also Time’s Gadget of the Week.

DigiTimes reports that iPod sales are slow in Taiwan. “The sales volume of Apple’s iPod nano and iPod video players in the Taiwan market has shrunk to below 20,000 units a month since May this year due to strong competition from the latest MP3 players from Samsung and SanDisk.”

BusinessWeek has posted a list of its “10 Oddest iPod Accessories.” “Just when you thought add-ons for Apple’s digital music player couldn’t get more unusual, here’s a look at some doozies,” says the magazine.

iHome debuts new portable iPod speakers

iHome has introduced two new portable iPod speaker systems—the iH31 and iH19. The iH31 ($130) is a boom box style unit that features a built-in iPod dock, FM radio, Aux/MP3 line-in jack, and remote control. It runs on batteries, AC outlet or car adaptor, and comes in silver or white. The iH19 ($80; shown right) is a water-resistant speaker case for iPods and other MP3 players. The zippered case features two stereo speakers, space for storing an iPod, and offers the ability to listen through headphones or the speakers. The iH19B also offers remote control capability, charges an iPod with an included adapter, and comes with brackets to attach the case to a bike, stroller or other equipment.

iPod+iTunes notes from Apple’s Q3 conference call

During Apple’s third quarter conference call with analysts today, company executives discussed a number of iPod and iTunes related topics. Below are highlights from the call. See our previous story for Apple’s third quarter earnings and iPod shipment numbers.

- The iPod accounts for over 75% of the U.S. market for MP3 players.

- The iPod is the top-selling MP3 player in Canada, Australia, the U.K., France, Spain, Italy and Japan, according to the latest data from NPD, GFK and BCN.

- The iTunes Music Store now accounts for 85% of the digital music market, based on data from Nielsen SoundScan.

- The iTunes Music Store now offers over 3 million songs, 9,000 music videos and over 150 TV shows.

- Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer said the company is “investing heavily in iPod and iTunes engineering and is very enthusiastic about products in the pipeline.”

- Apple now has nearly 40,000 distribution points for the iPod worldwide.

- Apple is getting more aggressive with iPod marketing efforts outside the U.S.

- When asked about mobile phones, Oppenheimer said, “We don’t think that the phones that are available today make the best music players. We think the iPod is. But over time, that is likely to change, and we are not sitting around doing nothing.”

- Apple’s “other music products” had revenue of $457 million, up 90% year over year, because of “continued strong sales from the iTunes Music Store and very solid performance for iPod accessories.”

Apple ships 8.1 million iPods in Q3; Jobs ‘excited’ about future iPod products

Along with its quarterly financial results, Apple today announced that it shipped over 8.1 million iPods during the third quarter. Specifically, Apple said it shipped 8,111,000 iPods during the quarter, a 32 percent growth in iPods over last year’s results. Apple’s net profit for the quarter was $472 million, or 54 cents per share, on $4.37 billion in revenue. These results compare to revenue of $3.52 billion and a net profit of $320 million, or 37 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.

Following the financial results, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement that he is very excited about upcoming iPod releases. “The iPod continued to earn a US market share of over 75 percent and we are extremely excited about future iPod products in our pipeline,” Jobs said.

Update: In an SEC filing, Apple said all iPod models accounted for more than $1.4 billion in revenue during the quarter, an increase of 36 percent compared to last year. Apple’s “Other Music Products” category—which includes the iTunes Music Store, iPod related services and accessories—accounted for $457 million of the quarter’s revenue, a 90 percent increase year-over-year.

H2O Audio ships waterproof housing for iPod shuffle

H2O Audio today announced that it has begun shipping its new waterproof housing for the iPod shuffle. The waterproof and impact resistant case offers full control of the shuffle and is submersible up to 10ft. The housing features a SealTight connector and comes with a sport armband. “The new H2O Audio for iPod Shuffle housing provides unique full-function control that gives users ready access to all of the shuffle’s proprietary command functions even when fully submerged in water,” notes the company. The H2O Audio shuffle housing is priced at $40.

iPods to benefit from new Samsung chip

iPods and other gadgets could soon utilize a new 8GB NAND flash memory chip that is now in production at Samsung chip factories. The company said it shrank the chips by about 25 percent from previous designs, while it increased the amount of file storage. “Users should see an increase in the amount of data storage capacity in small devices within the next six months thanks to the chip,” reports IT World. “Samsung said an 8GB NAND flash device can store 2000 MP3 files or 225 minutes of DVD-quality video.” The 8GB chip could also mean that 16GB devices are possible before the end of the year. Apple has been rumored to be introducing 6GB and 8GB iPod nanos in the next few months.

Apple offers free accessories with refurbished iPods

Apple is currently offering a selection of refurbished iPods that come with a free bonus accessory as an added incentive. Apple is selling white and black 2GB iPod nanos for $169 along with the Apple Lanyard Headphones for free. The company is also offering refurbished 512MB iPod shuffles for $49 with either a free Apple iPod shuffle Armband or Apple iPod shuffle External Battery Pack. In addition, Apple is selling 20GB fourth-generation iPods (color screen - $199, monochrome screen - $169) with a free Apple iPod Dock. Apple said that while the iPods are reconditioned, the accessories are brand new.

Report: Nvidia to supply chip in next-generation video iPod

Nvidia has beat out Broadcom to supply the multimedia chip inside the next-generation video iPod, according to a Wall Street analyst. “Based on our analysis, we believe Nvidia is designed into the next-generation vPod socket at the expense of Broadcom,” said American Technology Research analyst Satya Chillara. “We believe the Nvidia chip adds 3D graphics functionality in addition to all of the existing features (such as H.264) that Broadcom supported with the existing vPod.” Apple’s current fifth-generation (video) iPod uses an audio chip from PortalPlayer and a multimedia chip from Broadcom. Apple’s “true” video iPod is rumored to be delayed until the first half of 2007.

New iPod nano, movie rentals rumored; analyst skeptical

Apple will use its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) next month to announce the second-generation iPod nano and full-length iTunes movie rentals, according to report by Think Secret. The website claims that the new nanos will feature increased capacity (6GB and 8GB) and come in multiple colors. Think Secret says Apple has relented to the Hollywood studios and will offer a subscription-based movie download service. Apple has reportedly already made agreements with Disney, Universal, Paramount, and Warner Bros.

Following the Apple news site’s reports, American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu said he doesn’t expect such announcements to come at WWDC. “While we would like to see Apple refresh its nano sooner than later, our analysis continues to indicate a late Sept. to Oct. launch and ramp as more likely,” Wu said in a research note. “There is a first time for everything, but keep in mind WWDC is a Mac event and has not been used in the past for major iPod announcements. We anticipate a separate event to announce new iPod related products.”

iPod software dissection reveals possible new features

References found in the code of the latest iPod firmware update hint at several future features, including phone and messaging options. According to an AppleInsider report, the dissected software has hidden files named “t_feature_app_PHONE_APP” and “t_feature_app_MESSENGER_APP,” as well as variables such as “kPhoneSignalStrength,” “clPhoneCallHistoryModel,” and “prPhoneSettingsMenu.” The code also reportedly has references to an iPod-based search application, an iPod keyboard, and two new games—“Simon” and “Stacker.” AppleInsider says the code also hints at customizable iPod interface themes and other appearance preferences.

Pacific Rim updates Cube Travel Speakers

Pacific Rim Technologies has announced a new version of its Cube Travel Speakers. The new portable speakers now come in black (previously only available in white), have independent volume control, and ship with with an iPod nano docking adapter. The Cube Travel Speakers are regularly priced at $25, but will be on sale for $20 until August 1st, 2006.

CAVS Multimedia debuts multimedia/karaoke device for iPods

CAVS Multimedia has introduced the IPS-11G Karaoke Station, a new device that allows you to access and play back music, photo, video, and karaoke files stored on an iPod or USB storage device. The IPS-11G, which features a built-in iPod dock and USB connectivity, supports MPEG, MPG, AVI, DAT, VOB, MP3, JPEG, MPG, GIF, and MCG-MP3 karaoke format. The multimedia files are played through your home audio-video system and can be controlled with the included remote. “This does not mean that your iPod must be capable of playing the audio video or karaoke files,” explains CAVS. “Simply store the files in your iPod. The IPS-11G will then access your iPod and play the files… and will turn your iPod or into a home theater system to enjoy music, photos, movies, and also karaoke sing along.” [via Gizmodo]

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