My, how the world has changed. Three years after Apple Computer’s October 2001 introduction of the iPod, the company famous in technology circles for its Apple ][ and Macintosh personal computers is arguably even more famous in the mainstream for its portable music players. And while the bi-annual Macworld Expo - the American exposition of new Apple and third-party hardware and software - seems to shrink with each passing year, the presence and importance of iPod developers within that expo continues to grow.
Leading iPod accessory vendors including Belkin, Dr. Bott, Griffin, iSkin, Marware and XtremeMac have rapidly expanded their Macworld Expo San Francisco show staff and floor space to accommodate new product lines, each seeking to broaden its offerings to provide more complete solutions to iPod owners’ needs. Last year’s smaller iPod vendors - TEN Technology, Eroch Studios of LiliPod fame, and MacMice, as examples - now have two, three or four times their previous number of offerings on display.
Some consolidation of even smaller vendors’ better offerings into large companies’ distribution networks is evident. Key case manufacturers are moving to sell plug-in iPod hardware developed by newly hired staff or smaller Asian affiliates. Larger companies are seeing executive-level changes, as evidenced by the just-announced movement of former Griffin Vice President of Marketing and Design Andrew Green to a similar position at rival Digital Lifestyle Outfitters.
And yet Macworld’s tent is getting smaller. On the heels of its announcement months ago that it would shrink the venue at its summer Boston Macworld to create a cozier atmosphere for the decreasing number of attendees and exhibitors, expo host IDG has now shifted the San Francisco show’s primary exhibition floor entirely into a single tent at Muscone Center South from its previous two-tent Muscone North and South spread. A few vendors are in smaller booths, or appear not to be represented on the floor at all. Though corporate inbreeding hasn’t recently been foreign to the world of Apple third-party development, the gene pool looks - but perhaps only looks - smaller inside Macworld’s convention hall.
New excitement and new blood may well be needed. And it is anticipated that lower-cost Apple products to be announced for release this year may begin that process. iLounge will be reporting live from Macworld Expo San Francisco all week with the details.
United Kingdom-based magazine and iLounge friend Macworld U.K. has exclusively reported the following on Apple’s new flash memory-based iPod:
“The micro iPod is white, and will hold 240 songs – but has no screen so will play the unlisted tracks in a set order or in random fashion. Four buttons are arranged in a square formation – two large buttons and two smaller ones.
Apple’s slogan for the iPod is ‘240 songs a million ways’.”
Following an exclusive pre-Macworld Expo interview with Griffin Technology representatives Chris Heric and Sharp Emmons, iLounge was blown away by the company’s new SmartDeck audio cassette adapter ($24.99) - a patent pending in-car solution for iPods that both transmits an iPod’s music to a car stereo and permits that stereo’s existing controls to operate the iPod. SmartDeck will ship in the second quarter of this year.
White in color and otherwise externally almost identical to Sony’s CPA-9C cassette adapter, the SmartDeck connects to an iPod’s headphone jack and four-pin top accessory port with a single white cable, and is inserted into a car’s cassette tape player to enable inexpensive and clean iPod-to-stereo audio transmission. However, SmartDeck differs internally from the CPA-9C and less reliable competitors, using optical technology to map the stereo’s fast forward, rewind, and other buttons to the iPod’s internal controls. Moreover, Griffin’s engineering representative promised that the product would outperform Sony’s adapter - our benchmark for reliability - in performance and longevity. As Sony’s adapter shames low-end products made by companies such as Coby, we can’t help but be excited for its potential.
Given its inexpensive price, seemingly great audio quality and certain utility to millions of iPod owners, Griffin’s SmartDeck is the single most important product we’ve seen thus far before Macworld Expo. If the finished product delivers on Griffin’s promises - and on time - it will be a must-have accessory for iPod owners with in-car cassette decks. Click on Read More for a higher-resolution photograph, and expect additional information in the days to come.
Australia’s Standard TM (STM), maker of iLounge’s top-recommended iPod travel case Cocoon (iLounge rating: A), has delivered to iLounge final shipping product of its new and improved Cocoon Mini travel case for the iPod mini. Available in two colors - dark grey and blue - the Cocoon Mini features the same outstanding exterior design of its predecessor, with a dual-zippered fold-open body, integrated hard plastic belt clip and metal eyelet, but uses a new interior that’s even better than before. Like the Cocoon, Cocoon Mini includes an nice iPod-fitting case - now made from silicone rubber - and a detachable lanyard necklace. It also has a small mesh pocket for headphones, but entirely eliminates the use of Velcro inside by using a strip of clear vinyl to hold the iPod mini in place. Absent the Velcro, Cocoon Mini is now scratchproof inside and out. Click Read More to see more photos, and expect a full iLounge review soon.
In an iLounge exclusive pre-Macworld Expo tease, iPod accessory maker XtremeMac has delivered to us a new FM transmitter designed to compete directly against Griffin Technology’s popular iTrip: AirPlay ($39.95), a considerably smaller-than-iTrip transmitter that boasts a built-in LCD tuning screen and the slogan “Smaller. Simpler. Better.” As shown in the attached pictures (click Read More to see them), AirPlay’s black on bluelit screen is easy to read, and lights up only when you’re tuning. XtremeMac stresses that the built-in screen overcomes the single biggest issue - realtime tuning - that people have reported with the iTrip.
Despite its small size, AirPlay features a surprisingly robust broadcasting range and, under the right circumstances, impressively clear audio. One channel where it was tested - 88.3 - sounded superb, even at a considerable distance. (Like other FM transmitters, it struggles on channels with interference, but we haven’t run it through our regular tests yet to determine its usability in the most challenging radio market we’ve seen - Southern California.) Using a coiled antenna to compensate for its tiny packaging, AirPlay fits neatly on the tops of full-sized iPods and iPod minis, leaving either unit’s Hold switch exposed. Expect a full iLounge review soon.
Matias Corporation, maker of iLounge favorite iPod Armor, has introduced Key Maestro ($19.95), a software package for Macintosh users that eases use of iTunes in the background while you work in other applications.
“Lots of people like listening to iTunes in the background while they work, but it’s a pain to have to go into it just to skip a song or pause it or whatever else. With Key Maestro, you can keep working in the application you’re in, and control iTunes in the background using a keyboard shortcut. It’s really handy,” said Matias’ Vesna Vojnic. A free trial is available at Matias’ website.
Speck Products, long-time maker of soft plastic cases for the iPod, has introduced ToughSkin ($34.95), a new ruggedized plastic skin that boasts shock and tear resistance. Like Speck’s earlier cases, ToughSkin is made from soft Kraton plastic, but differs in its shape and features: ToughSkin includes brick-like bumpers on its corners and edges, screen and Click Wheel covers, and a detachable belt clip. Versions of ToughSkin will be available for fourth-generation iPods, the iPod photo, and the iPod mini, and five colors are expected: frosted clear, black, blue, orange, and red.
Pacific Rim Technologies today announced three new iPod products—a new add-on iPod mini battery and two new magnesium cases. The company said its iPod mini battery pack ($15.99) will extend the life of an iPod mini an additional 8 hours using 6 rechargeable AAA batteries. Pacific Rim’s magnesium alloy case for 4G iPods ($34.99) has a clear plastic front and will be available in three sizes for 20/40/60GB iPods. It is available in black or silver. The company’s new magnesium alloy case for iPod mini ($29.99; pictured at right) also has a clear plastic front, but is available in five matching iPod mini colors.
Italian Macintosh journalists at MacityNet have reported that workers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, home of this week’s MacWorld Conference & Expo, temporarily but publicly displayed a large Apple banner for a new iPod model. According to MacityNet, which features pictures of the banner reading “Life is random”, the full banner made reference to a 240-song capacity, which would signal the use of 1GB of flash memory for the new iPod’s storage. A black randomized play icon appears to be visible against a green background.
Klipsch has introduced a new high-performance speaker system designed specifically for the iPod. The Klipsch iFi is a 2.1 configuration that comes with two Klipsch Reference Series RSX-3 satellite speakers, a dedicated subwoofer, iPod docking station and RF remote in a sleek silver finish. Each RSX-3 satellite is a two-way, magnetically shielded speaker that employs a 3.5-inch aluminum woofer and a 0.75-inch titanium dome compression driver coupled to a round MicroTractrix Horn. The woofer is a long-throw unit driven by ceramic magnetic motor structures. The Cerametallic cone is lightweight has excellent rigidity, according to the company. The subwoofer has a built-in Class D amplifier that offers 200 watts of peak system power and also features a slot port and line level input. The Klipsch iFi system is scheduled to ship in March for $399.
Alpine has announced its 2005 lineup of second-generation “Ready for iPod” in-dash head units and Mobile Multimedia Stations. The nine new units offer enhanced user interface features such as a dedicated iPod icon for direct source selection and identification on the unit’s display screen.
“With the new head units, the experience allows for integration of the iPod’s controls right from the display. The 2005 Ready for iPod head units offer simplified, user-friendly iPod control, allowing iPod users to search and select listening options. Consumers can quickly search and listen to their iPod tracks directly from their head unit, or remote control, eliminating the need to handle the iPod while it’s in the car. With the KCA-420i Interface Adapter for iPod, song title, artist, album and/or playlist information are displayed right on the head unit. With GlideTouch-equipped head units and the new slider function on the second-generation PulseTouch screens, users can now search playlists, artist, album and song lists easier and faster in the car.”
The KCA-420i is available now from authorized Alpine dealers for $100. It is compatible with any iPod with a dock connector, iPod photo or iPod mini. Alpine’s 2005 Ai-NET head units will be available through authorized dealers at prices starting at $250.
Speaking at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show this morning, Hewlett-Packard’s CEO Carly Fiorina has disclosed that the company plans to introduce its own version of Apple’s iPod photo later this year. HP had no further comment when contacted for additional details.
Hewlett-Packard already sells the “Apple iPod from HP” (iPod+hp), which is identical to Apple’s fourth-generation iPod save for different engraving, packaging and instructions, but often sells at more heavily discounted prices. The company is also well-known for its printers and Printable Tattoo stickers for the iPod, and has been working on iPod-compatible printing solutions for some time.
Griffin Technology will unveil a handful of new, innovative iPod products at next week’s Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. The company will first introduce its AirClick line of wireless accessories and then show a new cassette adapter with new-to-market features.
The AirClick Remote will allow users to control their iPod (play/pause, next/previous, volume up/down) from up to 60 ft. away. It will use RF technology (as opposed to IR), so users will not have to be in the line of sight for it to work. In addition, the AirClick system will be compatible with the iPod photo, enabling users to advance pictures wirelessly. The AirClick will come in two flavors—one for fourth-generation iPods and one for iPod minis—and will ship with a remote, receiver, a remote cradle and straps for attaching it to an automobile steering wheel.
Primarily designed for controlling iTunes, Griffin’s AirClick USB dongle plugs into a Mac to allow users to control certain tasks remotely. The product will ship with presets for Apple DVD player, iTunes, Keynote, PowerPoint, QuickTime and VLC. The company plans to market the solution (remote and dongle) as an excellent addition to Apple’s Airport Express with AirTunes. The AirClick USB product will also be able to control iTunes while it is in the background (behind other applications).
Also at the Macworld event, Griffin will debut the SmartDeck audio cassette adapter for third- and fourth-generation iPods as well as iPod minis. The new accessory will allow users to use their own stereo’s transport buttons—such as fast-forward, rewind, next song, previous song, etc.—to control an iPod. The SmartDeck should be compatible with virtually any cassette deck. The final version of the product may also ship with other features such as the ability set the iPod’s volume for optimum output.
Expected availability and pricing was not available.
Click “Read more” for larger photos.
Forbes senior editor Lisa DiCarlo and Boston attorney Bruce Sunstein have spoken out on Apple’s recent lawsuit against Mac rumor site Think Secret, which has recently posted reports on upcoming Apple products such as a low-cost iMac, a productivity suite, and a flash-based iPod. “It is widely acknowledged that Apple enjoys the kind of slavish devotion among its customers—and fawning adoration from the press—of which other companies don’t even dare to dream,” writes DiCarlo. “That is, it’s acknowledged by everyone but Apple. How else to explain Apple’s latest attempt to clamp down on, rather than embrace, its fanatical fans?” Sunstein, who specializes in intellectual property law, said the case will only result in damage to Apple’s reputation. “A fair amount of buzz doesn’t hurt Apple’s business,” he said. “And, to the extent that Apple sues its customer base; it has to think twice about biting the hand that feeds it.”
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says the iPod still has no equal, despite a number of new entries coming from CES this week. However, Creative is gaining the most traction with its Zen Micro, he says.
Apple is now offering a somewhat hidden free 13-song ‘iTunes New Music Sampler’ album to new iPod owners—or to those who restore their device or click on this link.
XM Satellite Radio says it has had discussions about a combo portable audio player and XM receiver with several companies, including Apple, but there are no current partnerships and no plans for an imminent announcement.
In addition to the PodBuddy, MacMice today announced the JamPod, a guitar amplifier for Apple’s iPod. “While working on our growing music product line this past year, we realized that it would be handy to be able to somehow play a guitar along with the songs stored on an iPod. The JamPod is our little answer to that big need,” said the company. “The JamPod just plugs into the top of any dock connector iPod, and lets you plug in your guitar, mix the level with the music from the iPod, and practice away as much as you like, through the iPod’s own earbuds.” The JamPod requires no batteries, features a top-mounted volume wheel, and works with any electric guitar, electric bass, or other instrument that sends a guitar-level output signal through a 1/4-inch instrument jack. It will begin shipping in February for $49.99.
ZappTek has released iPod Launcher 1.5, a new version of its software for automatically launching applications and scripts when you connect your iPod. This version adds the ability to select a minimum amount of time between launches, ensures that system resources are only used when an iPod is connected to your Mac, and a number of other minor enhancements.
MacMice today announced the PodBuddy, a new car connection system for Apple’s iPod. The solution consists of a high-grip cigarette lighter plug, connected to an adjustable cradle with built-in FM transmitter by a 6-inch length of flexible steel tubing. The mounting/charging cradle uses an adjusting mechanism to fit any model of iPod or iPod mini with dock connector. The FM transmitter automatically selects and displays the best available FM radio frequency. PodBuddy also includes a line output jack at the lighter plug end of the product, for direct connection to an appropriate car stereo system. The PodBuddy is offered in both white and Special Edition black versions, and will begin shipping in February for $99.99.
During a keynote presentation Thursday at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, a Motorola executive previewed a new iTunes-compatible mobile phone with an iPod-like interface. “It syncs with a computer and the iTunes Music Store like an iPod does, and incorporates the iPod interface for navigating and playing digital music, said Ron Garriques, a Motorola executive vice president. The phone is the first of many Motorola devices that will support iTunes this year, said Garriques. He didn’t provide product details for the phone or say when it would be available.” Motorola in July announced a licensing deal with Apple to bring iTunes to its mobile phones. Last month, an Apple executive said the phone was due in the first half of 2005.
Time Trax today introduced a new solution that enables users to automatically record satellite radio broadcasts—either XM or Sirius—onto their iPod for later listening. With the company’s recording software with scheduling features and its iPod docking station, users can create personalized programming of broadcasts and save songs (with the artist and title info). The product, which currently only works with Windows-based computers, will sell for $199. It will include the DockTrax cradle, TimeTrax software, and a receiver.