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AT&T warns Apple of video patent infringement

AT&T claims that Apple and others are infringing on its MPEG-4 video compression patents. Looking for global licensing agreements, AT&T has targeted Apple, CyberLink, DivX, InterVideo, and Sonic Solutions as companies whose products use the MPEG-4 technology. AT&T has also reportedly contacted national retailers that sell products from the companies, informing them that they may be held liable for infringement.

“With the recent explosion of products that use the MPEG-4 standard, including Apple’s video iPod and Creative’s Zen Vision:M, AT&T could stand to gather a financial windfall from its patented technology,” reports PC Magazine. “An increasing trend in mobile phone multimedia also signals potential future profits to be made through the global licensing program.”

Aural New York offers color iPod earbuds

imageAural New York has announced three new pairs of Apple-like earbuds in pink, black and blue. “White ones were indeed cool for a while, but let’s get real, even your great-great-grandma rocks ‘em nowadays,” says the company. The colorful earbuds, which are not painted Apple earbuds, come with both black and white foam earbud pads and sell for $15.

PortalPlayer-CSR deal paves way for wireless iPods

iPod chip maker PortalPlayer announced this week that it has partnered with CSR, a wireless solutions provider, to add WiFi and Bluetooth wireless capabilities to digital media players. The two companies expect to deliver a wireless chipset by the second half of this year.

“Through seamless integration between PortalPlayer’s PP5022 applications processor family and CSR’s UniFi Wi-Fi chip and BlueCore Bluetooth chip, consumer electronics and other media device manufacturers will gain a significant time-to-market advantage in delivering wire-free media players,” the companies said in the announcement. “Wi-Fi will simplify the synchronisation of media players with a PC as well as open up entirely new ways to download and stream content from the Internet. Bluetooth will enable wireless stereo headset connectivity.”

At the Thomas Weisel Partners Technology Conference yesterday, PortalPlayer CEO Gary Johnson said he expects to announce customers of the wireless chip product later this year. Later that day, the company’s CFO, Svend-Olav Carlsen, said iPod-related sales comprised 95% of PortalPlayer’s business, and predicted that the device would account for 92% to 93% of total revenue this year.

Touch-screen video iPod claimed in development

Two separate reports today claim that a “true” video iPod with a large touch-screen display is on the way. Both Needham & Co analyst Charles Wolf and Apple news site Think Secret believe that this new iPod will likely be introduced at a special event to celebrate Apple’s 30th anniversary in early April. Apple CEO Steve Jobs alluded to some sort of celebration during last month’s Macworld Expo keynote speech.

“Apple was careful to call the iPod capable of displaying video that it introduced in October just that—an iPod that played music but also featured a video viewing capability,” Wolf wrote in a research note obtained by iLounge. “According to our sources, the screen on the Video iPod will occupy the entire front of the current iPod with a touch-activated scroll wheel. Assuming the same form factor as the current iPod, this move will increase the size of the screen three-fold.”

A Think Secret report claims that the new iPod will feature a 3.5-inch diagonal display and shed its mechanical click wheel. “This video iPod, which has been in development and on the table since before Apple released the 5G iPod last year with video playback, will feature a display that will occupy the entire front face of the device,” the site reports. “Sources who have seen the device report that it features a digital click wheel, one that overlays the touch-sensitive display and appears when a finger touches it and disappears when the finger is removed.”

Wolf says the growing collection of video content on iTunes is a sign of a new iPod. “In our opinion, the rapid increase in the iTMS’s video offerings is a strong signal that an iPod with a much larger screen is on the way,” he said. Wolf also cites reports from Asia that fifth-generation iPod production has been reduced. “One hypothesis is that sales of this model have fallen below Apple’s previous expectations for the quarter,” the analyst wrote. “An equally plausible hypothesis is that Apple is draining inventories of the iPod from the distribution channel in advance of its introduction of the new model.”

Mix: Songbird, Podslurping, iPod protection, Arctic Museum

Songbird is a new desktop media player application that is being billed as an open source alternative to iTunes and the Windows Media Player.

The New York Times has an article on protecting and repairing your iPod with suggestions from iLounge Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Horwitz.

The Globe and Mail looks at the threat of “Podslurping,” in which iPods and other devices could be used to steal data from companies.

Maine’s Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is now providing iPods to visitors as part of an audio tour through its newest exhibit, This Extraordinary Paradise: Living in Northwest Greenland.

Analysts see iPod speakers, iPhone in Apple’s future

Following a meeting with Apple executives at company headquarters in Cupertino, California, analysts from UBS Investment Research believe Apple could introduce several new products in the coming year, including iPod speakers and an Apple-branded cell phone.

“We also believe that Apple may choose to enter new consumer markets for iPod speakers and Apple branded cell-phones over the next year where the company would be able to leverage its market leading innovations and creative designs that have made the iPod such a tremendous hit with customers,” the firm said. “In addition, we anticipate that Apple will continue to announce new partnerships with content providers and build on the media it currently has available for download.”

Sandisk becomes No. 2 MP3 player maker in U.S.

imageFlash memory card company SanDisk has quietly become the No. 2 seller of digital music players in America. “We want to be a strong No. 2 in the MP3 space,” said Eric Bone, SanDisk’s director of consumer product marketing. “There are people who, no matter what, will buy an iPod. All I want is for people to think there is an alternative.”

SanDisk, which began selling MP3 players in November 2004, used its strong presence at retailers across the U.S. to sell one million players during the recent holiday quarter. The company also reported a record $2.3 billion in revenues for 2005. “We already have the channels. We have the brand,” SanDisk Chief Executive Eli Harari said. “We are not Apple. We are not an iPod. But we have a highly respected brand.”

Through key patent holdings and a partnership with Toshiba, SanDisk gets its own source of flash chips at wholesale prices, allowing the company to sells its players at lower prices than other companies. SanDisk’s strategy is to sell MP3 players to those “beyond the middle class,” Harari said. “Our passion is to bring the cost of these devices down. It’s basically about creating new markets in which people can afford a product.”

The company’s current line of players range in price from $79 to $149 with capacities from 256MB to 2GB. SanDisk will release its new Sansa line next week, which consists of 2GB, 4GB and 6GB players and prices from $120 to $300. The high end model, the Sansa e200, will feature an iPod nano-like design, 1.8” TFT color screen, video and image playback, and a replaceable lithium ion battery. The player also supports Rhapsody, Napster and Yahoo Music.

Hurricane Katrina charity EP available at iTMS

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe has released a charity EP exclusively on the iTunes Music Store that will benefit Hurricane Katrina survivors. The EP features six versions of the song “In the Sun,” including duets with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Justin Timberlake, and will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. All proceeds will go directly to Mercy Corps, via the In The Sun Foundation, to aid those in the Gulf Coast affected by the tragedy.

“The news cycle has moved on and I don’t want the public to forget about those who were affected by Katrina or to believe that everything is fine now,” says Stipe. “Things are not fine. The storm is still impacting people’s lives in very real ways and many have been left desperate. I want to remind each of us that as humans, and certainly as Americans, it is our responsibility to help those in need.”

NanoDeco covers for iPod nano announced

imageKiwali has announced its NanoDeco adhesive covers for the iPod nano. Covering the front and back of the nano, each NanoDeco features “visually striking original designs that dramatically enhance the look and appeal of the iPod nano.” The initial collection features 10 designs, from the 60s-inspired Kung Fu-esque “Retro Fury” to the gothic “Magik & Lace.” The $15 covers are repositionable and provide protection from scratches and everyday use.

Sales of digital singles booming

The Washington Post reports that digital music single sales grew by 150 percent last year, but may have resulted in fewer CD album sales in stores.

“As iPods and other MP3 players outsell CD players, sales of downloaded singles are booming accordingly,” the publication says. “Though sales of full-length albums were down 7.2 percent last year, the digital singles market grew by 150 percent, with 352.7 million individual songs sold online, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It was by far the highest figure for singles sales in any format since 1973, the first year for which Recording Industry Association of America shipment data are available for singles.”

“In late December 2005, weekly singles sales topped CD sales for the first time, as American consumers—many of them flush with holiday gift cards and loading new MP3 players—purchased 19.9 million digital tracks but just 16.8 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan.”

DLO intros nanoShell hard case for iPod nano

imageDigital Lifestyle Outfitters has announced the nanoShell, a transparent jewel case for the iPod nano. The nanoShell case is available in five colors—green, blue, purple, pink and clear—and provides full screen protection and click wheel access. The case also comes with two snap-on backs, smooth or with belt clip. The nanoShell is priced at $15.

Mix: The Office, Scary Movie 4, Podfading, VH1 Podcasts

Ben Silverman, an executive producer of NBC’s “The Office,” praised NBC for its willingness to “dive into its iTunes relationship quickly.” He credited the online downloads with boosting broadcast viewership.

The upcoming “Scary Movie 4” prominently features a giant iPod (“triPod”) as part of a plot parody for “War of the Worlds.”

Wired reports on “Podfading”: “Podcasting has drawn thousands on the premise that anyone can create an audio program, build an audience online and even vault to stardom. Less celebrated is the fact that untold numbers of shows just wink out just as suddenly as they started.”

VH1 has announced the addition of four new video podcasts—“Best Night Ever,” “Best Week Ever Daily,” “Best of VH1,” and “Flavor of Love.”

‘The Great iPod Exchange’ launched

NextWorth today launched “The Great iPod Exchange,” a new service for consumers to sell their used iPods for cash. “While some wish to sell their used iPods themselves, The Great iPod Exchange streamlines the sales process, giving customers a better cash return than they might realize through alternative outlets (e.g. Apple Store, PodSwap, SmallDog Electronics),” says the company.

NextWorth describes the three steps to selling your iPod to them:

1) Complete form - Point your browser to http://ipod.nextworth.com, complete online form with details on the condition, model and components of the used iPod. NextWorth provides an instant “guaranteed value” quote for the unit. NextWorth ships the original owner a postage-paid return package.

2) Return - iPod Owner ships iPod and accompanying materials (disc, literature, peripherals) to NextWorth in pre-paid postage package.

3) Receive a check - After receiving and evaluating the customer’s iPod, NextWorth inspects and verifies the condition of the iPod.  Within 2 weeks of their initial contact to NextWorth, the customer receives the check for the “guaranteed value”.

 

Showtime added to iTunes; Video downloads top 12 million

Showtime and Apple today announced that programming from the premium cable channel is now available on the iTunes Music Store. The first round of shows from Showtime includes the first seasons of “Sleeper Cell,” “Weeds” and “Fat Actress.”

iTunes now offers more than 50 TV shows available for $1.99 per episode. Apple also announced that more than 12 million videos have been purchased and downloaded since they were added to the iTunes Music Store in October 2005.

Apple intros 1GB iPod nano, drops shuffle price

imageApple today introduced a new 1GB iPod nano that offers the same features and form factor as the current 2GB and 4GB models for $149. The new lower-capacity nano, which was predicted by analysts, holds up to 240 songs or 15,000 photos. It is available immediately.

Apple also cut iPod shuffle prices by $30. The 512MB model now sells for $69 and the 1GB shuffle is now priced at $99.

“Now everyone can afford an iPod nano, with our new 1GB model starting at just $149,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide iPod Product Marketing. “The iPod is the world’s most popular digital music player with over 40 million sold, and now even more music lovers can experience the unrivaled combination of iPod and iTunes.”

[Note: iLounge’s comprehensive iPod nano review now includes new photos and details on the differences between the 1GB nano and its 2GB/4GB predecessors.]

Pacific Rim now shipping iCradle

imagePacific Rim Technologies has announced the availability of its iCradle. The accessory allows any dockable iPod (3G, 4G, 5G, mini, nano) to connect to your home stereo. It comes with a wireless remote and can also be used to charge/sync your iPod. The dock has USB 2.0, audio jack and S-Video connections. The iCradle is available until February 14th for $35—it will sell for $45 afterwards.

Apple launches countdown to a billion songs

Apple has quietly launched its countdown to a billion songs sold on the iTunes Music Store. “Music lovers like you in 21 countries around the globe have purchased nearly one billion songs from the iTunes Music Store. And as we count down to this massive milestone in digital music history, we’d like to thank you for joining us,” Apple says. “We’ve got one billion reasons to celebrate, and we’re starting with you.”

The company is giving away a 4GB iPod nano and a $100 iTunes gift card to the iTunes customer who purchases the winning song at each 100,000 interval. The grand prize winner who downloads the billionth song will receive a 20-inch iMac, 10 60GB iPods, and a $10,000 iTunes gift card. In addition, Apple said it will create a full-ride scholarship in the winner’s name to a world-renowned music school.

Like it has with past milestones, Apple has posted a live song counter online to help users participate in the contest. The tally currently stands at nearly 960 million songs sold.

News Corp.‘s Murdoch not impressed by video iPod, iTunes

News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said in a recent interview with Newsweek that he’s not impressed with the video iPod and that Apple’s agreements with networks like NBC and ABC are not ground-breaking.

“We’re not knocked out by iPod so far,” he said, adding that News Corp. has had talks with Apple, Google and others. “But how many people really want to get video on a tiny screen when they already have TiVo or a similar service from their cable company or DirecTV? How many will want to pay $1.99 on Monday morning if they missed ‘Desperate Housewives’ the night before? What’s been announced so far with iPod and Disney and NBC is very small-time at the moment.”

Carbon fiber case for 5G iPod introduced

imageC6 Manufacturing has announced the availability of its carbon fiber case for Apple’s fifth-generation iPod. The case features genuine aerospace carbon fiber and aluminum construction with stainless steel screws. It also comes with a clear screen protector, stainless steel belt clip and assembly tool. The carbon fiber case sells for $50 and is available in two sizes for both the 30GB and 60GB iPod.

Mix: Dell DJ, Super Bowl ads, Comedy Central, Nano repairs

Dell has discontinued its Digital Jukebox MP3 player line. Dell will still sell the $99 flash memory-based DJ Ditty.

Google Video has a large collection of Super Bowl XL commercials, including several that are free downloads in iPod video format.

MTV Networks has been surprised that stand-up specials from its Comedy Central channel are outperforming better-known shows like “Laguna Beach” and “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Apple is continuing to repair damaged iPod nano displays free-of-charge and has instructed its partners to do the same, according to an AppleInsider report.

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