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Pope presented with iPod nano

Pope Benedict XVI was given an iPod nano today by a group of Vatican Radio employees. In honor of the pope’s first visit to the radio’s broadcasting headquarters, he was presented with a 2GB white nano pre-loaded with special Vatican Radio programming and classical music. It was engraved with the words “To His Holiness, Benedict XVI” in Italian.

“The pope’s new 2GB digital audio player already was loaded with a sampling of the radio’s programming in English, Italian and German and musical compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky,” reports the Catholic News Service. “The iPod also contains an English-language radio drama on the life of St. Thomas a Becket and a 10-minute feature on the creation of Vatican Radio, with original sound clips of the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi, and Vatican Radio’s founder, Pope Pius XI.”

Griffin iTrip now available in Switzerland

imageGriffin Technology has announced that its iTrip FM transmitter is now available in Switzerland thanks to recent changes made to Swiss law. Griffin said the device, which works with 3G, 4G and 5G iPods, can be purchased in the country from MediaMarkt, FNAC, Manor, Dataquestin and other retailers.

“Recent changes in Swiss law have opened the door to broadcast in Switzerland over the FM radio spectrum (87.9 - 107.9),” Griffin said in a statement. “iTrip’s CE certification means that users can be rest assured of iTrip’s compliance with strict laboratory guidelines for emmisions, broadcast strength, electrostatic discharge, and immunity to outside interference. In plain language, this means that iTrip will not conflict with other electronic devices, and that it will be available to a wider European market.”

DOJ investigating digital music price fixing

Following a similar investigation by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the Department of Justice is now investigating the major music labels for possible anti-competitive pricing of digital music downloads.

“One music industry source said that some subpoenas may have been issued already in connection with the probe, while other labels had been tipped off that subpoenas would likely be coming in the next few days,” reports Reuters. “The two music industry sources said Thursday the DOJ’s probe appeared to be focused on the same issues—whether the labels colluded to set wholesale pricing for song downloads. The investigation also could be related to licensing renegotiations with Apple, maker of the wildly popular iPod digital music player, for its iTunes music store.”

Avis offers free iTunes downloads with car rental

Avis Rent A Car has announced a new promotion that rewards customers with free iTunes song downloads with every rental booked on the company’s website. Avis said customers receive five free song downloads for every rental of one to four days, and rentals of at least five days will qualify for ten song downloads.

“With over one billion songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, I think consumers have shown how much they want this product. And at Avis, ‘trying harder’ means giving people what they want,” said Scott Deaver, VP of marketing for Cendant Car Rental Group, parent of Avis.

Avis said it also has plans to offer specially equipped rental vehicles that will let customers play their own digital music through the car’s audio system. “Rewarding customers with free music is only the beginning; the cars have to be ready too,” Deaver said.

Mix: ABC shows, Music phones, Access Hollywood, Tesco

ABC plans to offer ad-supported prime-time shows on its website as free downloads. iTunes will continue to sell ad-free versions, the company said.

Sales of cell phones equipped with music players will rise to 796 million units in 2010, while stand-alone digital music players should triple to 176 million units during the same time.

NBC has released a free 6-minute “Access Hollywood: Oscar Preview” video on the iTunes Music Store.

Following a test in its Milton Keynes store, European supermarket chain Tesco plans to roll out standalone areas for Apple products in 300 of its biggest stores by the end of the year.

Sci-Fi Channel, TV Guide team up for iTunes giveaway

TV Guide and the Sci-Fi Channel announced today that they are giving away 1.4 million downloads of an episode of Battlestar Galactica from the iTunes. Each newsstand copy of the March 6th issue of the magazine, which is on sale today, has a unique 12-digit code on the cover that readers can enter on the iTunes store to receive their free download.

“We’re thrilled to be teaming up with both Sci Fi Channel and iTunes on this exciting initiative,” said Ian Birch, editor-in-chief of TV Guide. “Our magazine is a portal to the ever-changing world of television. Now more than ever, consumers are turning to iTunes for access to their favorite TV programs, and Battlestar Galactica is an enormously popular show. All this makes this partnership a perfect fit for us—but more importantly, for the readers of TV Guide.”

Audioengine offers powered bookshelf speakers for iPods

imageAudioengine has introduced a new set of bookshelf-sized speakers designed for iPods and other portable audio players. Priced at $349, the Audioengine 5 speakers feature “audiophile-quality sound,” internal power amps, and a top-mounted USB port and audio input.

An integrated AC power jack and a second audio input port on the rear panel provides the ability to stream music directly to the Audioengine speakers using Apple’s Airport Express.

“5-inch Kevlar woofers for powerful bass, 20mm silk dome tweeters for smooth highs, built-in power amplifiers, truly useful connections, and a clean industrial design all allow the Audioengine 5 to integrate perfectly in your living room, bedroom, or on your desktop,” says the company. “Custom-designed and handcrafted wood cabinets with high-gloss professional piano finish make the Audioengine 5 a true work of art.”

Report: Apple researching iTunes movie service

Apple appears to be gauging interest in a potential iTunes movie download service, according to a report by AppleInsider. A consumer survey distributed by California-based Coyote Insight reportedly asks participants to answer a series of questions related to an “iTunes movie service” that would offer full-length movies for download to a computer or iPod.

“This iTunes service would provide access to 1,000 movies on demand which can be downloaded to your computer and, in turn, to your video iPod if you have one, or even your television if it is connected to your computer,” the survey reportedly reads. It also mentions providing access to the movies on a monthly subscription basis for $9.99 or a la carte purchasing of movies for $12.95 each.

Mix: Event video, Nacho Libre, Encyclopodia, Style.com

Inside Mac TV has released a video podcast of the highlights from Apple’s special media event on Tuesday, which brought the iPod Hi-Fi, new Mac minis and leather iPod cases.

An iPod-formatted trailer for “Nacho Libre” is available for download from the movie’s website. The upcoming film stars Jack Black and is directed by Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite).

Encyclopodia is free software that puts Wikipedia on your iPod. “It has been successfully tested on a third-generation iPod and on an iPod mini, but it should also work on other iPod generations,” says the site.

Style.com has released several video podcasts of the designer runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris. Podcasts of Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and more are currently available on iTunes.

iPod accessory makers comment on Apple competition

Apple’s announcement this week of the iPod Hi-Fi speaker system clearly indicates that the company is becoming more aggressive in getting a piece of the lucrative iPod accessory market. Add in the iPod Radio Remote, premium-priced leather iPod cases, and various other previously released add-ons and it’s quite clear where the company is heading. We spoke with several third-party iPod accessory makers to get their reaction to Apple’s deeper move into the iPod ecosystem.

Gary Bart, CEO of XtremeMac, said Apple making accessories is “a necessary part” of the iPod economy. “Certain categories of products represent significant revenue opportunity and, from a business standpoint, they would be remiss if they did not provide an Apple branded product into these segments,” he told iLounge. “It is my opinion that these products will do well and capture the essence of Apple design. There are many customers, with various tastes, budgets, and requirements. This creates tremendous opportunity for companies like XtremeMac that offer various alternatives.”

“Apple’s introduction of the iPod Hi-Fi and Leather Case is an interesting move,” Belkin’s Melody Chalaban said. “Belkin has always been in the business to complement existing hardware with cool and easy-to-use products, unlocking the potential of that particular hardware to do more—whether it’s giving it wireless capability or voice-recording capabilities. Apple’s announcements always drive our need to innovate and to offer even more options for iPod users.” 

Pamela Roccabruna, Sr. Marketing Manager at Altec Lansing, a company that offers numerous iPod speaker systems, said that the iPod accessory business is very competitive, but that it has proven itself and will continue to deliver high-quality products. “This is a very competitive market space, which demands innovation—an area where we excel,” Roccabruna said. “That’s how the consumer wins, and that’s why they love and trust our brand. We created the digital audio speaker category and will continue to be a leader in innovation in this market space.”

Jason Litchford of Griffin Technology also said it’s a no-brainer move for Apple to go after a piece of the pie that it created, but added that his company is not too worried and sees it as an opportunity. “It makes financial sense for Apple to expand its product lineup,” Litchford commented to iLounge. “Griffin has always brought innovation to the Apple and iPod peripheral market, so we don’t see it adversely affecting Griffin. As a matter of fact, we see it as opportunity,” he said. “In other words, no one is jumping off tall buildings around here.”

iTunes update released; iPod update already available

Apple today released iTunes 6.0.4, which “addresses stability and performance issues related to Front Row,” according to the brief release notes. Front Row is Apple’s Mac-only home media software that offers a slick interface for listening to music, viewing photos and watching videos.

It should also be pointed out that there is no “new” iPod software update for use with Apple’s new iPod Hi-Fi speaker system. Apple CEO Steve Jobs mentioned yesterday that an iPod update was required to take full advantage of the Hi-Fi’s features, but he was only referring to iPod Software 1.1 for the fifth-generation iPod and iPod nano, which was included in January’s iPod Updater 2006-01-10.

New iHome speaker systems introduced

iHome, maker of the popular iH5 clock radio speaker system (iLounge Rating: A-), has launched three new iPod audio products.

imageThe iH30 ($150) is a portable boom box for dockable iPods and the iPod shuffle. It features an iPod charging cradle in front and a dedicated iPod shuffle dock on top. The system has an FM radio with presets, an auxiliary line-in for other audio devices, and runs on batteries, AC outlet or car adaptor. It comes with inserts to fit all docking iPods.

imageiHome’s iH26 ($100) is described as a portable travel alarm clock for iPods. Available in white, black or silver, the system allows you to listen and wake up to music on your iPod. It has built-in docks to charge both the iPod and iPod shuffle, and features a folding-speaker design, remote control, auxiliary audio input, battery backup, and a protective carrying case.

imageThe iH36 ($200) is an iPod speaker system designed to be mounted under a kitchen cabinet. It features a charging iPod cradle, iPod shuffle dock, and lets you listen to your iPod, FM radio, TV or weather channels. The iH36 also has a battery back up, large digital display, and includes all mounting hardware.

There’s no word on expected availability for any of the systems.

DLO debuts TransDock Micro FM transmitter/charger

imageDigital Lifestyle Outfitters today announced the TransDock Micro, a new iPod FM transmitter and car charger. The TransDock Micro features a removable docking cable, a back-lit LCD display, 4 programmable presets, and auxiliary audio input and output for use with other devices. The $70 accessory works with all currently shipping iPods and can also charge other USB based devices.

“Based on the award winning DLO TransPod, the new DLO TransDock micro is the easiest way to enjoy iPod’s music in the car,” says the company. “Users simply plug the TransDock micro into any available auto power outlet, connect the iPod to the TransDock micro’s dock cable and play their music over any available FM radio station in their car.”

Analysts weigh in on Apple announcements

The consensus among tech analysts is that Apple’s new iPod Hi-Fi and updated Mac minis bring the company closer to the center of the digital living room, but also show that Apple is not afraid of alienating iPod accessory makers.

“Both these products are a way to get more people slowly hooked into the Apple brand in the living room, sort of like what Sony did in its heyday,” said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at research firm Current Analysis.

Needham & Company analyst Charlie Wolf said he thinks the announcements are “just the start” of Apple’s digital home strategy. “It’s still a little computer, but it’s adding a lot of capabilities that will allow it to morph into an entertainment center in the living room,” said Wolf.

“Apple is taking steps to move their brand to other rooms beyond just the Mac,” said analyst Tim Bajarin of research firm Creative Strategies of the Hi-Fi. “It’s no longer just sitting in the den.”

“I think they are going straight at the ultimate goal of digital convergence,” Lehman Brothers analyst Harry Blount commented. “Apple already has a powerful media portal on the Internet and they need to extent the virtual portal into your living room.” Blount said Apple “stills need to do more work on the boom box,” referring to the iPod Hi-Fi. “That is where I wasn’t blown away.”

Merrill Lynch analyst Richard Farmer wonders if the two products required a special event, and if they’re both too overpriced. In a research note provided to iLounge, he said that Apple “needs to be judicious if it expects to continue to convert journalists into marketing instruments with its aura of secrecy.” Farmer also said that high pricing for the Hi-Fi and new leather iPod cases suggests Apple “believes it can position its accessories at a premium to competing alternatives.”

“The price point and form factor are likely to appeal to people who are younger and have less disposable income, and who are making their first home stereo purchase,” said IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian. “It’s less likely to appeal to people who have a home entertainment system.”

Rob Enderle, principal analyst for the Enderle Group, said that iPod accessory makers should be wary of Apple’s major new entrance into the iPod add-on ecosystem. “If you’re an iPod accessories maker, (Tuesday’s) announcement has to make you nervous,” said Enderle. “The accessories market is clearly very lucrative, and Apple will be getting more aggressive.”

“I was surprised when I saw that Apple was releasing another major iPod accessory,” said Technology Business Research senior analyst Tim Deal, noting the release of the iPod Radio Remote earlier this year. “This sends a clear message to iPod developers and I’m sure it will breed some ill will.”

Napster blames Microsoft for iTunes domination

Napster’s chief executive says that Microsoft and its hardware partners are to blame for Apple’s dominant 80 percent market share in digital music sales.

“There is no question that their execution has been less than brilliant over the last 12 months,” Napster CEO Chris Gorog said at the Reuters Global Technology, Media and Telecoms Summit in New York. “Our business does rely on Microsoft’s digital rights management software and our business model also relies on Microsoft’s ecosystem of device manufacturers.”

“It’s a lot more complex to get organized properly than it is to build one device and one service as Apple has done,” Gorog added. “It’s always been painful at the introduction of new technologies. But it always takes shape like it’s done in the past.” Gorog still contends that the Microsoft partners will win. “Ultimately, the consumer electronics giants… are all going to come to this Windows Media party,” he said. “This is really going to be the ubiquitous format.”

Apple to benefit from home audio slowdown

The wide-spread shift from CDs to MP3s and iPods has caused a drop in sales of large home audio systems, putting Apple in a prime position to sell its new iPod Hi-Fi to consumers looking for a simple way to enjoy their digital audio at home. While electronics manufacturers race to add iPod connectivity to their equipment, a new report in the Wall Street Journal says it may be too little too late.

“Sales of traditional stereos have taken a hit,” the Journal reports. “Last year, retail sales of home audio equipment, including stereo system components and surround-sound ‘home theater in a box’ rigs, dropped nearly 18%, to 10.2 million units, according to market-research firm NPD Group Inc. In the same period, sales of portable digital players like Apple’s iPod more than tripled, to 22.4 million units in 2005, from 7.1 million in 2004, says the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group.”

Music fans aren’t just exclusively listening to their downloaded tunes on an iPod either. “Even when consumers aren’t using portable devices, more are shifting their music consumption away from stereos,” the newspaper says. “Among 1,031 adult respondents to a consumer-behavior survey published last year by the CEA, 34% said they listened to music at home primarily on a PC, compared with just 26% who said they used a stereo or surround-sound receiver as their main home listening system.”

Apple media event coverage, with photo gallery

imageBelow is a roundup of our coverage from Apple’s special media event, which took place earlier today at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. During the presentation, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Hi-Fi, leather iPod cases, and Intel-based Mac minis.

- Full iLounge Review: Apple iPod Hi-Fi
- Apple event photo gallery (iPod Hi-Fi, Jobs)
- Live coverage of Apple’s media event
- iPod Hi-Fi speaker system unveiled
- Apple intros leather iPod cases

iPod Hi-Fi speaker system unveiled

imageApple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Hi-Fi during today’s special event at Apple’s Cuperinto headquarters. [Live coverage] The high-end speaker system delivers “breathtaking acoustic performance and room-filling sound unlike any other speaker system designed for the iPod in an innovative, all-in-one design.”

The iPod Hi-Fi, which can be powered from a wall socket or by six D-cell batteries, features an integrated iPod dock and is controlled by the 6-button Apple Remote. It’s available starting today for $349.

Compatible with all dock connector iPods, the Hi-Fi charges your iPod while docked and offers Tone Control, Large Album Art mode and volume mirroring on fifth-generation iPods and iPod nanos. The device also features molded handles, a removable front grille, touch-sensitive volume control buttons, a built-in power supply (no external power brick), and a 3.5-mm auxiliary input. The Hi-Fi measures 17.0” x 6.6” x 6.9.”

“iPod Hi-Fi has been designed and engineered by Apple to deliver unrivaled sound quality, realistic sound imaging and optimal audio performance,” the company says. “Its clean, all-in-one design features a unique isolated enclosure system that includes two custom designed wide-range speakers and a tuned, ported bass system, minimizing vibration while maximizing sound quality and allowing users to listen to their favorite music as it was intended with amazing sound clarity and rich, deep bass.”

Apple also today introduced new Intel-based Mac mini computers. Available in a 1.66 GHz Intel Core Duo processor configuration and a 1.5 GHz Intel Core Solo processor configuration, the new systems feature Apple’s Front Row media software and a new music, video and photo sharing feature that uses the company’s Bonjour wireless networking technology. The new Mac minis start at $599.

Apple intros leather iPod cases

imageIn addition to the iPod Hi-Fi and Intel-based Mac minis, Apple boss Steve Jobs also briefly announced new leather cases for the fifth-generation iPod and iPod nano. The “luxurious” leather case is “made with fine, hand-crafted Italian leather and features a soft and durable interior lining for a secure fit, making it the perfect carrying case for iPod or iPod nano.” The Apple Leather Case is available in 30GB and 60GB sizes for the iPod and one size for the iPod nano. Each is available immediately and sells for $99.

Special Apple event live coverage

imageThe iLounge team has arrived at Apple headquarters for today’s special event. We will deliver live coverage if at all possible. Closer to the beginning of Steve Jobs’ presentation we will switch the site over to a “lite version” to better handle heavy traffic loads. While many new products have been rumored to be announced, no reliable information has been leaked. The only hint Apple gave was on the invitation to the event, which read: “Come see some fun new products from Apple.

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