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Analyst: Apple’s iPod phone set for production

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu believes that Apple’s first cell phone will be introduced in the first half of 2007 and is urging investors to purchase shares of Apple before such an announcement is made. “With a history of revolutionizing the PC industry, the music industry, and the movie industry, we encourage investors to get aggressive in purchasing shares of Apple prior to the potential revolution of the handset industry,” Wu wrote in a research note. “Our research indicates that an Apple-designed smart phone has moved from concept to prototype and recently has progressed to near completion as a production unit,” Wu said. “We believe this smart phone has been in development for over 12 months and has overcome substantial challenges including design, interference, battery life, and other technical glitches. We believe that Steve Jobs is finally satisfied with the end product Apple engineers have produced in terms of quality and the right blend of cell phone and portable media player.”

Apple to hold ‘Showtime’ event on September 12th

Apple today confirmed that it will hold a special event on Tuesday, September 12th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater in San Francisco, California. An invitation sent to select media, including iLounge, features Hollywood premiere-style spotlights and reads simply, “It’s Showtime.” The event will kick off at 10:00 a.m. PT.

Reports of a September 12th press event first surfaced last week after the hosts of the Your Mac Life radio show and European Apple enthusiast websites claimed to have knowledge of the event. Apple’s date choice appears to be intentional, as the event will overlap with the opening day of this year’s Apple Expo in Paris, France, an international Mac and iPod show the company declined to grace with a keynote.

Analysts have speculated that Apple will use a September event to launch numerous product and service offerings, ranging from new iPod nano and video models to a 23-inch iMac, new iPod-inspired phone and a movie download service. Such speculation rarely proves entirely accurate, however, as few people know Apple’s plans for certain until the event actually takes place. As always, iLounge will be on hand with updates.

SendStation giving away 20,000 iTunes song downloads

SendStation Systems, maker of the PocketDock line of iPod adaptors, has announced that it is giving away 20,000 free song downloads from the iTunes Music Store. SendStation customers who purchase the company’s smartCharge iPod car charger ($25) or PocketDock Combo USB/FireWire iPod adapter ($23) will receive 20 free songs from iTunes for each of these items bought. The offer is available to U.S. and Canadian customers while supplies last.

SanDisk launches ‘Made for Sansa’ program; Players seized at IFA show

SanDisk has announced that several companies will be making accessories for its line of Sansa digital media players under a new “Made for Sansa” licensing program—an obvious imitation of Apple’s “Made for iPod” program. Among SanDisk’s first seven accessory partners are six well-known iPod accessory makers: Altec Lansing, DLO (Digital Lifestyle Outfitters), Griffin Technology, HandStands, Macally Peripherals, and Speck Products.

MySpace entering digital music market with indie bands

Popular social networking website MySpace has announced plans to launch a major digital music service. The News Corp.-owned site, which currently has 106 million users, said it will offer music from nearly 3 million unsigned, independent bands before the end of the year. “The goal is to be one of the biggest digital music stores out there,” said MySpace co-founder Chris DeWolfe. “Everyone we’ve spoken to definitely wants an alternative to iTunes and the iPod. MySpace could be that alternative.” The indie songs will be sold in unprotected MP3 format, compatible with the iPod. Bands will decide how much to charge per song after including MySpace’s distribution fee. DeWolfe said MySpace will be “enhancing and customizing” its online music service to eventually offer copyright-protected songs from major record companies.

Foxconn drops libel suit against journalists

Foxconn, the manufacturer of Apple’s iPod, has withdrawn the defamation lawsuit it filed against two Chinese journalists over claims of labor abuse at its iPod factory. Foxconn and the Chinese newspaper China Business News issued a joint statement saying the two sides had resolved the dispute after apologizing to each other “for the disturbances brought to both of them by the lawsuit.” Last week, after a wave of criticism, Foxconn reduced its demands in the suit to a token 1 yuan (12 U.S. cents) from 30 million yuan ($3.8 million) and filed to unfreeze the personal assets of the two journalists, reporter Wang You and editor Weng Bao of the China Business News.

Chinese iPod maker ordered to unionize

Hongfujin Precision Industry Co., the unit of Foxconn responsible for building Apple’s iPod, has been told by the Chinese government to let its more than 200,000 workers form a trade union. The Associtated Press reports: “Hongfujin Precision Industry Co. is on a list of companies in the southern city of Shenzhen that have been ordered to set up such a union, which would be affiliated to the government’s All-China Federation of Trade Unions. China does not allow independent labor organizing, but in recent years it has been pushing foreign invested companies to allow the state-sanctioned labor groups. Such groups are not industry-wide, but represent workers in a single company or sales outlet. They traditionally have been allied with management.” Foxconn has been at the center of labor violation claims this year following reports of substandard working and living conditions at its iPod factory.

Report: Apple to price movies at $9.99, $14.99

As briefly mentioned in yesterday’s BusinessWeek article on Wal-Mart’s Hollywood campaign against iTunes movie downloads, Apple is reportedly planning to price movies at $14.99 for new releases and $9.99 for older movies. BusinessWeek claims that Apple will announce the addition of full-length movies to the iTunes Music Store in mid-September, along with “wider-screen iPods.” Interestingly, Apple is said to be planning a special press event on September 12th.

Sonnet offers USB car charger for iPods

Sonnet Technologies has announced its new USB Car Charger for iPod. The charger is compatible with all USB-chargeable iPods, including all current models, as well as the 4G and mini. The $20 charger, which works in any 12V car or 24V truck lighter/accessory jack, features a coiled USB-to-dock cable, power filtering and a user-replaceable fuse, and LED status light.

Apple settles iTunes patent lawsuit

Apple has settled a patent infringement lawsuit filed by Vermont-based Contois Music & Technology, which claimed that Apple stole its design for the iTunes interface. The suit was filed in June 2005, and terms of the settlement were not disclosed. “David Contois, who owns Contois Music & Technology in Essex Junction, filed a lawsuit that accused Apple of stealing his patented design for jukebox software,” reports the Burlington Free Press. “Apple denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim seeking reimbursement of its own legal expenses. The settlement ends all legal actions, and the lawsuit was dismissed, according to records at U.S. District Court in Burlington, where the case was filed.”

Reports: Apple to hold special event on September 12th

Based on reports from European Apple enthusiast websites and last night’s YourMacLife radio broadcast, Apple is in the process of inviting members of the press to a special event for new products, to be held on September 12, 2006. According to these reports, the invitation is unspecific as to the type of products to be shown and will be held at an as-yet-undisclosed location in Northern California, despite the fact that the event will fall on the same day as the opening of Apple Expo in Paris, France, an event the company publicly declined to open with a keynote speech. European journalists will reportedly attend a teleconference in London of the live California event. Analysts and Apple watchers have long predicted that new iPods, full-length iTunes movie downloads, and possibly even an “iPhone” would be introduced this fall.

Japanese robot turns iPod into ‘boombox on wheels’

Tokyo-based ZMP Inc. today introduced a new robot that’s designed to turn an iPod into “a dancing boombox-on-wheels.” The 14-inch-long robot, named Miuro, has a built-in iPod compartment and integrated speaker system from Kenwood, and receives wireless signals from a PC to play music from iTunes and other programs. It can be controlled with a handheld remote control and can also be upgraded with a camera and sensors to map out its own course. Miuro comes in white, black, yellow or red and will go on sale in Japan this week for 108,800 yen ($930). U.S. and European availability is expected in the second half of 2007.

Wal-Mart threatened by iTunes movie downloads

Wal-Mart isn’t happy with Apple’s plans to sell full-length movie downloads through the iTunes Music Store, going as far as sending executives to Hollywood to dissuade studios from signing distribution deals with Apple. Wal-Mart’s campaigning has so far reportedly deterred the major studios from partnering with Apple because of the retail giant’s weight in the industry. “As the largest seller of DVDs, Wal-Mart accounts for roughly 40% of the $17 billion in DVDs that will be sold this year, a financial lifeline to big-spending studios,” reports BusinessWeek. Wal-Mart is also seeking marketing help from the studios for its own planned movie download site, and wants Hollywood to cut the current wholesale price for DVDs so it will be able to match the reported $14.99 price point that Apple is targeting for new releases. BusinessWeek says its sources point to a mid-September launch of the iTunes movie downloads.

Foxconn eases claims against Chinese journalists

iPod manufacturer Foxconn has reduced its libel claim against the two Chinese journalists, who reported on the company’s substandard working conditions at its iPod plant, from 30 million yuan ($3.77 million) to a symbolic 1 yuan (12 cents). Foxconn said it would also seek to unfreeze the journalists’ personal assets. The company did not give a reason for the move, but journalists’ advocacy group Reporters Without Borders publicly condemned the suit, and Apple said it was working behind the scenes to help the journalists.

iRocker chair features built-in iPod dock

Adonis Furniture has announced a new video gaming chair with a built-in iPod dock and speaker system. The iRocker features Alltek Vision speakers, universal iPod dock, 10-watt amp, remote control, multi-position reclining back, Base Tube (on select models), audio inputs, and master volume dial with LED indicator light. The chair can also be used with any audio device via an auxiliary input. The iRocker is available in models ranging from $100 to $600 and comes in six different microfiber colors, as well as faux-leather in black, bone or saddle.

Analyst: Microsoft’s Zune player underwhelming

Microsoft’s Zune digital media player appears to be “another classic case of overpromising and underdelivering” by the software giant, according to American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu. “While we have great respect for Microsoft, we are frankly underwhelmed by the much-hyped Zune device,” Wu said in a research note today. “Microsoft had hinted of an all-new design from the ground up, but from our analysis, it appears that the Zune is essentially a repackaged Toshiba Gigabeat that has seen limited success. Moreover, the software is similar to the Windows Mobile OS licensed to its hardware ‘partners’. At this point, we believe this could end up being another classic case of overpromising and underdelivering by Microsoft.”

Mix: Cheap albums, AOL, Sony Ericsson, iSpam, Taylor Hicks

Apple has posted a new page on the iTunes Music Store called “Great Albums/Great Prices,” which offers a selection of albums priced at $6.99. “We’ve got a vast selection of up-and-coming artists at a great price, so you’re guaranteed to find new music you love without putting a dent in your wallet,” says Apple.

AOL has launched a revamped version of its Windows Media-based online music store, adding music videos, new subscripton options, and a library of more than 2.5 million tracks. Meanwhile, Sony Ericsson said it plans to develop its PlayNow service, currently used for downloading ringtones, into a digital music service.

Apple to help resolve dispute between Foxconn, journalists

Apple is working to resolve a legal dispute between iPod manufacturer Foxconn and two Chinese journalists who are being sued for writing about labor conditions at Foxconn’s iPod factory. “Apple is working behind the scenes to help resolve this issue,” an Apple spokesman, Jill Tan, said. As previously reported, Foxconn has filed a defamation lawsuit against a reporter and an editor at the China Business News, claiming their story on the poor working and living conditions at the company’s Chinese iPod factory tarnished Foxconn’s reputation. The iPod manufacturer also got local courts to freeze the personal assets of the two journalists. Reporters Without Borders, a Chinese media and a journalists’ advocacy group, criticized Foxconn’s suit and urged Apple to intercede, going as far as sending an open letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs asking that he take action.

Google CEO joins Apple’s board of directors

Apple today announced that Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been elected to Apple’s board of directors. “Eric is obviously doing a terrific job as CEO of Google, and we look forward to his contributions as a member of Apple’s board of directors,” said Apple CEO Steve Jobs. “Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric’s insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead.” “Apple is one of the companies in the world that I most admire,” Schmidt said. “I’m really looking forward to working with Steve and Apple’s board to help with all of the amazing things Apple is doing.” Apple’s board now includes eight members, including Jobs, former U.S. vice president Al Gore, former Apple CFO Fred Anderson, Intuit chairman Bill Campbell, J. Crew CEO Millard Drexler, Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson, and Harwinton Captial CEO Jerry York.

Analysis of July iPod sales data points to ‘slight downside’

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said today that data from NPD points to iPod sales that are slightly below expectations for Apple’s September quarter. Munster said July iPod sales suggest a preliminary number of 8 million units for the quarter, slightly below his estimate of 8.6 million iPods. Munster said he believes Apple can still meet estimates if a new iPod ships by quarter end. “While our iPod NPD extrapolation analysis suggests that iPod shipments through the month of July are tracking slightly below plan, we continue to believe that Apple will ship new/updated iPods (likely updated nano) in September,” Munster said. “Assuming Apple does ship new iPods in September and depending on the timing of shipment within the month, we believe it is still possible that our 8.6m unit estimate for the quarter can be achieved.”

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