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Report: Microsoft planning iPod rival

Microsoft may take on the iPod with a new portable device that combines music, video and gaming, according to BusinessWeek. While the device is still in the planning stages, the software giant has reportedly formed a team to consider the project’s chances.

“After getting trounced for four years in the digital music business by Apple, Microsoft finally seems poised to do something about it,” reports the publication. “BusinessWeek has learned that the software giant is working on plans to develop its own digital media device to rival the iPod, rather than just providing technology to partners. Microsoft hasn’t decided if it will go ahead. But sources inside the company and at its partners say Microsoft has put together a team that’s considering the business end of such an initiative.”

Xbox boss Peter Moore says a Microsoft device would have to do more than music and videos—it needs to leverage the company’s Xbox brand and offer video gaming capabilities. “It can’t just be our version of the iPod,” says Moore. “I think the brand is an opportunity.”

Marware Remote Docking Station announced

imageMarware today announced the availability of its new iPod Remote Docking Station. The $75 accessory allows users to connect an iPod to their home entertainment system and enjoy music, videos and photos. It includes “everything you need to enhance your home theater experience in one affordable package: the docking station, remote control, an A/V cable for use with a television or stereo system, a USB cable for charging and syncing, a power adapter, and S-video compatibility.” The Remote Docking Station works with the 4G and 5G iPod, iPod nano and iPod mini.

MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon now on iTunes

Following iLounge’s report yesterday, MTV Networks and Apple today announced that television programming from MTV, MTV2, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and The N is now available on the iTunes Music Store.

A total of 14 new shows have been added, including MTV’s “Laguna Beach,” “The Gauntlet 2,” “Beavis & Butt-Head,” “Jackass,” “Punk’d” and “My Super Sweet 16”; MTV2’s “Wonder Showzen”; Nickelodeon’s “Dora the Explorer,” “SpongeBob SquarePants,” and “Zoey 101”; Comedy Central’s “South Park” and “Stand-Up”; and The N’s “South of Nowhere.” iTunes now offers over 40 TV shows.

Major-label band debuts free iPod-ready music video

imageIn an unusual example of a major-label band seeking specifically to cultivate the interest of new iPod owners, Capitol Records recording artists SOUND team have debuted “The Fastest Man Alive,” a free downloadable music video from the EP “Work.” Edited by an alumnus from the 2003 remake of the movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre, footage from the video was filmed over a two-year period using the classic Super 8 format, and has a distinctly throwback look and sound. According to a representative, the band is among the first major-label artists to have released a free video of this sort for fifth-generation iPod users.

MTV show appears on iTunes Music Store

The first television show from MTV has been quietly added to the iTunes Music Store, despite no announcement coming from Apple or the popular music network. The first season of MTV’s real life teen soap opera “Laguna Beach” can now be found on iTunes for $1.99 per episode.

While the show’s page on the store currently does not load and direct links result in error messages, users are able find the show by searching and can watch previews and purchase and download the episodes. There has been no indication from Apple about a deal with MTV beyond its vague statement last week that there is more downloadable content on the way for video iPods.

OWC expert replaces iPod batteries blindfolded

imageAn Other World Computing manager showed off his battery upgrading skills at this year’s Macworld Conference and Expo by replacing iPod batteries while blindfolded on the show floor.

“Nobody could come close to topping the standing room only crowds generated by Jamie Dresser, Product Manager and New Product Development,” said OWC. “With his eyes completely covered with a seamless blackout blindfold, Dresser took iPods from audience members and went through the intricate technical process of opening the iPod casing without damage, removing the fading manufacture’s battery, installing a higher capacity NewerTech NuPower replacement battery, and sealing the casing to a like-new appearance in perfect working order.”

iSkin launches ‘Touch’ video podcast

iSkin today announced a new video podcast called “Touch,” which the company says “touches upon various topics in an informal behind the scenes guerilla film style, covering a range of topics including music, film and lifestyles from around the world.” The video podcast is available free from the iTunes Music Store.

“Today we at iSkin will begin expanding our love for the arts by shining the proverbial light on what makes us go to the movies, buy music or hit the club,” says iSkin. “Episode 1 features television and recording star Andrea Lewis of Degrassi fame, Wayne Warner’s All Black Affair, Soulful Serenades of Carl Henry from Universal Music, A Gossip Minute and Club Banger Hit Maker, Massari.”

GEAR4 intros PocketPower for iPods, USB devices

imageGEAR4 (formerly PodGear) has announced the PocketPower, a reserve power pack and battery recharger for iPods and other USB devices. The portable power pack provides an additional 8 hours of playtime to your iPod and will also work with any USB charging device, such as cameras or phones. The PocketPower comes with four AAA rechargeable batteries and USB cable. It will sell for $35 and ship next month.

Mix: NBC sales, Podcast searches, The Munsters, Steve Jobs

An NBC executive has revealed that the company has sold approximately $2.5 million in TV shows on the iTunes Music Store, one third of it from “The Office.”

According to the Yahoo! Buzz Index, podcasts haven’t yet made the mainstream. “Stuck somewhere in our top 6,000 searches, it’s safe to say podcasting has not reached the critical mass of IM (or even photo-tagging)—yet.”

Apple has added the classic TV series “The Munsters” to the iTunes Music Store. [via TUAW]

Wired’s Leander Khaney has written an editorial on Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ lack of charitable donations and public stance on social issues. “He’s nothing more than a greedy capitalist who’s amassed an obscene fortune. It’s shameful,” Khaney says.

Bicycle handle bar mount for iPod nano available

imageRisse Racing has introduced a new bicycle handle bar mounting kit for the iPod nano. The Mork Mount is crafted from CNC machined aluminum and comes in anodized black, gold or red, and in powder coated black, white, red or yellow. It mounts to standard 7/8” handle bars and “also fits most lawnmower handles, shopping cart handles, exercise bikes.” The Mork Mount sells for $40.

Disney shorts added to iTunes Music Store

To coincide with the announcement of the Disney-Pixar deal, Apple has added 10 of Disney’s animated short films to the iTunes Music Store. Among the $1.99 shorts are “The Tortoise and the Hare,” “Ferdinand the Bull,” “The Three Little Pigs” and “The Ugly Duckling.”

“Laugh along with Mickey, Donald, Goofy and a host of other classic Disney characters in this magical collection of celebrated animated shorts,” says Apple. “All Academy Award nominees or winners, these ten wonderful Disney cartoons are now available for download exclusively on iTunes.”

Disney buys Pixar; Steve Jobs to join board of directors

The Walt Disney Co. today announced that it is acquiring longtime partner Pixar, the animation studio headed by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. As part of the $7.4 billion deal, Jobs becomes Disney’s largest shareholder and will take a position on the company’s board.

“Disney and Pixar can now collaborate without the barriers that come from two different companies with two different sets of shareholders,” said Jobs. “Now, everyone can focus on what is most important, creating innovative stories, characters and films that delight millions of people around the world.”

Since word of the possible deal leaked last week, several analysts and industry pundits have weighed in on what the agreement will mean for Apple. It is widely believed that Jobs will use his powerful new position at Disney to offer more content for the video iPod. The media conglomerate owns a bounty of potential offerings, including the ABC and ESPN network channels, Touchstone Pictures and Miramax Films, among others.

‘iTunes U’ catching on with universities, public

imageFollowing success with the “Stanford On iTunes” initiative, Apple has expanded its iTunes U service in recent months with partnerships with several schools, including Duke University, Drexel University’s School of Education and the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

Apple describes iTunes U as “a free, hosted service for colleges and universities that provides easy access to your educational content, including lectures and interviews 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” The service is based in iTunes and is navigated and used just like the iTunes Music Store.

While most of the participating universities are just getting started with content for students, Stanford says it is now offering nearly 500 tracks, such as lectures and lessons, that are available to anyone for free. “One of Stanford’s primary missions is to educate the public,” says Scott Stocker, director of Web communications. Allowing the public to access the content “just felt like the right thing to do,

Digital music shakeout looms; 355 online sellers reported

While Apple’s iTunes Music Store continues to dominate the legal digital music market, far ahead of a handful of competitors, the majority of online music sellers are struggling. There are some 355 digital music retailers, according to a report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry released last week, and most of them may be forced to shut down or consolidate.

“I don’t imagine all these services can last. Some will go out of business or be consolidated,” said Gabriel Levy, head of music in Europe for RealNetworks, home of the Rhapsody subscription service. Barney Wragg, senior vice president of Universal Music Group’s eLabs unit, shares the same view. “The market keeps growing, and there will be winners and losers,” said Wragg. “The fact that there are 355 retailers—are they all economically viable? Clearly the market is adjusting all the time.”

Because of its market leading position and pricing, many in the music industry are brazen in their wishes for a more powerful rival to iTunes. “It’s inconceivable that others wouldn’t come in (to challenge Apple),” said EMI Chairman Eric Nicoli. “To talk about dominance this early in the game is short-sighted. It’s not a five-year game, it’s a 30- or 40-year game.”

Record companies criticize Apple for iTunes pricing

Many in the music industry are concerned that the iTunes Music Store’s flat rate pricing has done lasting damage to profitability and are adamant that Apple will be forced to move to a variable pricing structure. Music industry executives are taking swipes at Apple at this week’s Midem music trade show in Cannes.

“I’m hearing that the artists aren’t happy, the publishers aren’t happy. Someone other than Apple needs to be happy for this industry to grow,” said Amit Shafrir, president of AOL’s premium services arm.

Record companies say Apple’s 99-cent per song pricing has set the benchmark too low, but have failed to persuade the company to switch to variable pricing, which would allow popular songs to be sold for more.

“For the time being we all must work with Apple and make the most of iTunes,” said Eric Nicoli, chairman of EMI Group PLC, the world’s No. 3 record company. “Single pricing is almost unique to the music industry,” Nicoli added. “If you look at any other consumer category—including things like iPods—they sell at different prices.”

Avanquest brings iPod software to retail

Avanquest Publishing recently announced that it has partnered with four iPod software developers to bring their Mac and PC titles to retail locations in North America. The initial software titles in the new line include Lionhardt Technology’s WebPodStudio ($50; produce audio and video podcasts), ThinkFree’s PodPresenter ($30; create, view and share slide presentations from the iPod), Laridian’s iPocketBible ($40; listen to and read the bible on the iPod) and Memeo’s iExtend ($30; back up music, photos and files on the iPod).

ABC exec: Content still king when it comes to portable video

An ABC executive said today that the company’s deal with Apple to offer its hit TV shows for download was a perfect fit because the video iPod and iTunes “is the best cutting-edge technology there is” and “a great consumer experience.” However, the latest iPod still needed ABC’s shows like “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” to make a real splash, according to ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson.

“He needed the content. It all starts with the shows,” McPherson said, referring to Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “There’s all these platforms out there that are incredibly, incredibly exciting. But you have to be careful. I think there’s a little of technology kind of wagging the dog,” he said. “We look at our franchises and our shows, and we look at them across all platforms and all products in terms of how we can grow them to complement the mothership.”

Proporta offers aluminum case, protector for 5G iPod

imageProporta has announced an aluminum case and adhesive film protector for the fifth-generation iPod. The case is made aircraft grade aluminum and features neoprene lining, a removable belt clip, and access to all controls and ports. It’s available in black or silver for $44. Proporta’s Advanced Full Device Screen Protector is made from “an advanced high clarity plastic and silicone material…near invisible protection from scratching without any bulk.” The two-piece kit (front and back) sells for $10.

Study: iTunes created online video ‘Big Bang’

ABI Research said today that Apple’s announcement last year that it would sell videos on the iTunes Music Store triggered the online video “big bang.” The firm also said it believes that the premium online video market will grow 89 percent annually through 2010.

“While the push to online video had started well before the launch of the video iPod, the online video ‘big bang’ started with Apple’s announcement and continued through the Consumer Electronics Show,” ABI said. “At this year’s CES, gadgets took a backseat to the bevy of announcements by large online and content players. The flood of online content announcements from Google, Yahoo and others shows that after years of hesitation from the larger media players, the market for premium content online is finally beginning to take shape.”

iPod integration kit for Vespa scooters available

imageScooterworks is offering a do-it-yourself iPod integration kit for Vespa Stella and P-series scooter models. The stereo kit includes an iPod cradle and adapter, two 4-inch Alpine speakers with amp, and a replacement glovebox door with pre-cut holes for the speakers. The Vespa kit is priced at $300. [via Engadget]

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