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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.”

Miglia intros tiny MicroSound speaker system

Miglia Technology today introduced the MicroSound, an ultra-compact speaker system designed for the iPod nano. The MicroSound, which also works with the iPod shuffle, offers up to 12 hours of battery life. “Simply plug MicroSound into the headphone jack of your iPod Nano and enjoy all your favourite tunes to the max. Feel the music and take the party with you wherever you go thanks to its flash ultra-portable design,” says Miglia. The MicroSound is priced at $30.

Universal Music to back free digital music service

Vivendi’s Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music company, has partnered with SpiralFrog, a new online music start-up that plans to allow customers to download songs for free. The advertising-supported, web-based service will initially offer Universal’s complete roster and will include digital rights management technology on the tracks. The SpiralFrog service, which is expected to launch in the U.S. and Canada in December, is apparently targeting the pirated music circles rather than the iTunes Music Store. In the company’s press release announcing the service, Robin Kent, SpiralFrog’s CEO said: “Offering young consumers an easy-to-use alternative to pirated music sites will be compelling. SpiralFrog will offer those consumers a better experience and environment than they can get from any pirate site.”

Linkin Park come to iTunes Music Store

Long-time digital music holdouts Linkin Park today announced the availability of their entire catalog on the iTunes Music Store. The Grammy award-winning hard rock band’s hit albums “Meteora,” “Hybrid Theory” and “Reanimation” include two bonus tracks along with a track that is exclusive to the albums on iTunes. Apple will also offer both audio and video downloads of the concerts that are currently available as the “Live in Texas” and “Collision Course” CD and DVD releases. “We were really excited when iTunes told us that we were one of their most requested acts,” said Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. “We will never ignore our fans and the timing seemed right to make our music available, with some special additions.”

Apple debuts new Bob Dylan iPod+iTunes ad

Apple has debuted a new silhouette-style television commercial featuring legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. The ad, which features Dylan playing guitar and singing a song from his new album “Modern Times,” is a more subtle version of Apple’s silhouette spots. Earlier this month, Apple announced that the iTunes Music Store will offer Dylan’s album through an exclusive pre-order on the iTunes Music Store. Apple also created an 800-track digital box set called “The Collection,” which includes all of Dylan’s studio albums and other recordings. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is widely known to be a big fan of Dylan, recently calling him “a personal hero of mine.”

Foxconn sues Chinese journalists over iPod factory story

iPod manufacturer Foxconn has sued a reporter and an editor at a Chinese newspaper, claiming that thier article about working conditions at Foxconn’s iPod factory tarnished the company’s reputation. Foxconn is suing Wang You, a reporter for China Business News, and Weng Bao, an editor at the newspaper, for 30 million yuan (US$3.77 million). In addition to the lawsuits, Foxconn has gotten a Chinese court to freeze the personal assets of both men. As first reported by Britain’s Daily Mail, Foxconn has come under fire this year for its poor working and living conditions at its iPod factory. Apple recently completed an audit of the facilities.

New, better review categories added

If you’ve been sifting through the over 2,000 accessories now in our Complete iPod Accessory Guide, good news: this weekend, we updated our review categories to make the catalog even easier to use.

Our biggest change is in Speakers: instead of one catch-all category for the over 100 iPod speakers out there, we now have six categories of speakers, starting with four types of All-in-One designs (pocketable, portable, room-to-room and stationary), one catch-all for Clock Radios, and one catch-all for Multi-Component Stationary systems.

We used to have one category called Stands and Docks. Now we have separate categories that address the many iPod docks now on the market: Stands (iPod holders without electronics) have their own place, while Docks for Audio-Out, Data, On-TV Menuing, and Video-Out are now in their own categories, with some overlap.

We used to put sports-related iPod gear into separate categories - electronics, cases, and so on. Our new Armbands and Athletic Add-Ons section lets you see all of these items in one convenient place.

We’ve renamed Bluetooth Wireless to include all Bluetooth and Wireless Home Audio accessories, and renamed Microphones and Microphone Adapters to Recorders - Audio. There are also new categories for DJ Mixing, Karaoke, and Audio Tools, iPod Hi-Fi cases, Lights and Flashers, Portable Video Displays, Security Devices and Software, and Video Recorders, amongst others.

Check out the new Complete iPod Accessory Guide for all the details - more changes are coming very soon. As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated.

Kenpo announces new iPod-ready jackets

Kenpo has announced its new Spring 2007 collection of iPod-ready jackets. Powered by Eleksen’s ElekTex “smart fabric technology,” Kenpo’s outwear additions include the new Spring and Active Wear jackets. The jackets feature a 5-button switch sensor integrated into the left sleeve for controlling iPod functions such as on/off, play, pause, track changes and volume. The ElekTex control pad requires no batteries and supports most iPod models, according to Kenpo. Pricing and availability were not announced.

Mix: Pre-orders, Steve Jobs, Creative gear, Samsung

Apple has created a new page on the iTunes Music Store, called “Tomorrow’s Hits Today,” which collects all of the albums available for pre-order from iTunes. There are currently 10 albums available for pre-order, from Justin Timberlake to Bob Dylan. [via TUAW]

Richard Farmer of Merrill Lynch says that if Steve Jobs was involved in options backdating at Pixar, it could jeopardize his role at Apple. “We believe there are not yet enough facts to form a conclusion on whether key executives might have been involved in creating options irregularities at Apple or Pixar, and our default assumption is that Jobs is not likely to have been involved; however, our review of Pixar disclosures does not allow us to rule out the possibility, given Jobs was a member of the board that made options decisions, and our analysis suggests these may contain irregularities,” Farmer wrote.

Pioneer: Apple readying Bluetooth iPod adapter

A Pioneer Electronics spokesman claims that Apple will soon be introducing a Bluetooth iPod adapter that will allow the device to play music wirelessly through the company’s new DEH car stereo head units. Pioneer’s new DEH car sound system lineup allows users with a Bluetooth cell phone to make or accept calls through the car’s speakers, and would add wireless music via the iPod adapter. Such an adapter, which would presumably work with other Bluetooth audio devices (speakers, headphones, etc.), has been rumored for some time. An automotive product manager at Motorola said last year that Apple planned to introduce an iPod or add-on accessory with Bluetooth. Motorola said at the time that it was close to releasing a system to allow users to listen to music from their iPod or have hands-free phone conversations through their car speakers.

iPod prompts airport bomb scare in Canada

An iPod found in an aircraft bathroom on a flight from Chicago to Ottawa caused a bomb scare earlier this month, bringing out police canine and bomb-disposal units. The Ottawa Citizen reports: “A member of the crew found the package about 4 p.m. The plane landed safely and was isolated away from the terminal. Passengers were taken off the plane and questioned by police while experts investigated the ‘package.’ The airport was not closed during the three-hour incident. Police issued a statement Tuesday evening saying the suspicious package ‘has been identified as an electronic device commonly known as an iPod.’”

Toshiba-built Zune player revealed in FCC filing

According to an FCC filing published this week, Microsoft’s Zune digital media player will be manufactured by Toshiba. The filing revealed that the tested player included a 30GB 1.8-inch Toshiba hard drive, 3.0-inch low temperature polysilicone TFT LCD display, FM tuner with RDBS, headphone jack and USB 2.0 connectivity. The Zune tested by the FCC also featured a rechargeable Li-Ion battery, mechanical switches for all control surfaces and a Wireless LAN module. The FCC filing included several photos of the Zune and its components. See iLounge’s previous reports (1, 2, 3, 4) for further Zune details.

Creative to continue selling Zen players; iPod gear will not be iPod-only

Creative Technology has confirmed to iLounge that it has no plans to stop selling its line of Zen media players, despite this week’s news that the company has joined the “Made for iPod” program as part of a settlement with Apple. A Creative spokesperson also said the iPod accessories that the company will soon develop will not be iPod-only and will work with its Zen devices as well as other brands of digital music players. While no specifics were given, it can be assumed that the iPod add-ons will use auxiliary inputs for universal compatibility instead of, or in addition to, an iPod Dock Connector. Creative currently sells a wide range of Zen players alongside its cheaper MuVo line and a number of accessories—from speaker systems to silicone cases. According to the latest numbers from the NPD Group, Creative holds 4.3% of the U.S. digital music player market, behind Apple with 75.6% and SanDisk with 9.7%.

American Idol’s Taylor Hicks sues over iTunes releases

American Idol winner Taylor Hicks is suing a Nashville music producer to stop the online sales of three songs the singer recorded years ago before his fame. The suit, which seeks compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $75,000, was filed after music producer William Smith released the songs through the iTunes Music Store despite having no apparent ownership rights. MTV News reports: “Hicks’ lawyers were first made aware of the situation by Smith himself, the suit claims. Smith contacted the attorneys, stating his intention to release the tracks. They responded by seeking a preliminary injunction barring Smith from selling the songs. The lawsuit maintains that Smith made no attempt to pull them from the iTunes store. Last week, both sides entered into a settlement—the terms of which are not outlined in the suit. Soon after, Smith once again e-mailed Hicks’ counsel, stating that he would be releasing ‘The Fall’ for digital download, and would make the other two tracks available as well.”

BusinessWeek: Apple’s iPod season looms

The lack of major iPod announcements this year has Apple watchers speculating on new product introductions—from updated iPod nanos to an iPhone—which they see happening in the coming weeks. BusinessWeek notes that the only new iPod released this year has been a slight revision of the special edition U2 iPod, and that Apple is known for its Fall special events for new products. “It isn’t as if Apple has been idle. The company focused throughout most of 2006 on its Macintosh computer line, completing the transition to using microprocessors from Intel,” the publication reports. “And then there’s history. Last year, the iPod nano debuted on Sept. 7 and the video-capable iPod bowed on Oct. 12, a schedule that made both products strong players in the fourth calendar quarter… Analysts generally agree: There’s no way Apple is going to sit out the fall quarter.”

AOL launching full-length movie downloads

AOL today announced that it has signed partnerships with several Hollywood studios to offer full-length movie downloads for $9.99 to $19.99. AOL made deals with 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group. Once downloaded, the movies can be viewed offline on Windows-based PCs and “compatible portable devices.” AOL did not specify a file format, but it is all but certain that the company will use Microsoft’s Windows Media format. AOL becomes the fourth major digital movie store, after Movielink, CinemaNow and Guba. Apple has been long-rumored to launch a large online movie store this year.

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