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Sony BMG planning iPod-compatible subscription music service

Speaking with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sony BMG Music Entertainment CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz has said that the company is developing an online music subscription service that would give users unlimited access to its music and would be compatible with all digital music players, including the iPod. Although he did not offer a timeline for the service’s roll out, Schmidt-Holtz did say that the simplest way to charge for the service would be a flat rate fee of $9 to $12 per month, and that it was “even possible that clients could keep some songs indefinitely, that they would own them even after the subscription expired.” Schmidt-Holtz also said the company was in talks with other music distributors but did not clarify with whom, adding that it is possible that mobile phone operators might also be considered as partners, letting their users download songs to their phones. Last week, it was reported that Apple was negotiating with major music labels to offer an unlimited music rental service.

Microsoft eyeing iPhone development

Microsoft is currently examining the possibility of developing applications for the iPhone, including versions of its Office apps, according to a new report. Speaking with Fortune, Tom Gibbons, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Specialized Devices and Applications Group, said, “It’s really important for us to understand what we can bring to the iPhone. To the extent that Mac Office customers have functionality that they need in that environment, we’re actually in the process of trying to understand that now.” Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit, which is responsible for the development of Office for Mac, has long been one of the largest groups of Mac developers outside of Apple, giving it experience it can leverage when developing for the iPhone. “We do have experience with that environment, and that gives us confidence to be able to do something,” Gibbons said. “The key question is, what is the value that we need to bring? We’re still getting comfortable with the SDK, right? It’s just come out. So we had a guess as to what feasibility would be like, now we’ll really get our head wrapped around that.”

The article also points out that voice recognition unit TellMe, which was purchased by Microsoft last year, may be interested in building an iPhone application as well, so long as the SDK allows it access to voice recording and location-based information. “If the SDK supports these things,” said general manager Mike McCue, “we’re absolutely going to get a version out there as soon as we can, get TellMe out there on the iPhone.” Thus far, Apple has suggested that location-based information would be accessible to iPhone SDK developers, but has not offered any hope for voice recording functionality.

Apple posts iPod Reset Utility 1.0.3

Apple has released iPod Reset Utility 1.0.3, which allows users of first- and second-generation iPod shuffle models to completely erase all music and data and restore the units back to factory settings when iTunes is unable to do so. On first-generation shuffles, the utility will reinstall iPod Software version 1.1.5, while second-generation shuffles are restored to iPod Software version 1.0.4. iPod Reset Utility 1.0.3 for Mac is a 3.6MB download and requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later, while the Windows version weighs in at 4.9MB and requires Windows XP (SP2) or Windows 2000 with SP4. Both versions of iPod Reset Utility 1.0.3 are available now as free downloads from Apple’s website. [via PowerPage]

Mix: Safari Distribution, MySpace Music, EverGreen, ToneShop

  • March 24, 2008

Apple recently began distributing version 3.1 of its Safari web browser to Windows users via its Software Update application, which it also uses to update iTunes and QuickTime. While company spokesperson Bill Evans said Apple was “using Software Update to make it easy and convenient for both Mac and Windows users to get the latest Safari update,” the decision to offer the software as an “update,” even to users who had not previously installed Safari, has raised concerns among some users. Mozilla CEO John Lilly wrote on his blog, “What Apple is doing now with their Apple Software Update on Windows is wrong. It undermines the trust relationship great companies have with their customers, and that’s bad — not just for Apple, but for the security of the whole Web.”

According to a New York Post report, MySpace is nearing deals with Sony BMG and Warner Music Group to launch a digital music venture. Citing multiple anonymous sources, the report claims that no money is expected to change hands in the deal, with the labels instead taking minority equity stakes in MySpace Music, with the possibility of receiving a portion of the advertising revenue MySpace owner News Corp. plans to generate with the service. MySpace Music is expected to offer a mix of pay-per-download and ad-supported video and audio. [via Cnet]

EverGreen Electronics has announced that it is expanding its iPod Recycling Program worldwide. “There has been such a rush of interest from the global community about our iPod Recycling Program that we felt that expanding it was our only option” reports Richard Hauf, CEO of EverGreen Electronics. “Keeping brominated compounds and other potentially-hazardous components, which are found in iPods and iPhones, out of landfills around the globe is an important part of our mission at EverGreen Electronics.”

Techlogg.com has released a new version of its ToneShop ringtone utility for Windows, which now features the ability to create iPhone-compatible ringtone files. ToneShop can create ringtones in MP3, standard AAC , WAV, AMR-NB, AMR-WB, MMF, and now Apple iPhone M4R formats. ToneShop Build 9 is available now as a free download.

Google offers new APIs to third-party developers

Google has added support for new APIs for accessing Contacts data and for YouTube browsing and uploading, as well as compatibility for the iPhone SDK, in version 1.4 of the GData Objective-C Client Library. Google’s Greg Robbins explains, “Perhaps you want your iPhone software to send photos to a Picasa Web Albums account, or keep a journal of phone calls automatically in Blogger. Maybe your iPhone application accesses a database of information from a Google Spreadsheet or from Google Base. With the Google Data APIs Objective-C Client Library, creating software for these tasks is straightforward.” Once installed, developers can use the GData APIs in iPhone applications just like they would when writing a Mac application. The library offers access to Google services such as Blogger, Calendar, Contacts, Notebook, Picasa Web Albums, YouTube, and more, and is available as a free download from Google. [via IntoMobile]

Memorex rolls out iWake Clock Radio in new colors

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Memorex has announced new models of its iWake Clock Radio for iPod in blue, purple, and red metallic finishes. The iWake is a clock radio with dual alarm function that lets you wake to your iPod, radio, or alarm, and features a bright LCD display, wireless remote, and built-in Universal Dock. “You need an alarm clock to help you get out of bed, but it’s also a key element of your bedroom space and interior design,” said Carla Pihowich, Memorex brand manager. “The Memorex iWake clock radio, now in blue, purple and red metallic finishes, is not only an ideal complement to home decor, it also functions as a versatile alarm clock.” The Memorex iWake Clock Radio for iPod is now available in blue, red, purple, white, and black at Target stores nationwide and sells for $80. For more information on the Memorex iWake, check out our review.

Sign up for iPodweek newsletter, arriving shortly

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The latest edition of iPodweek, our weekly newsletter covering all things iPod, iPhone, iTunes, and Apple TV, is coming later today. iPodweek is a summary of the top news, reviews, and feature articles we’ve published over the past week, and it also features giveaways and iPod accessory discount offers from various companies. There’s still plenty of time to sign up and receive this week’s edition — just use the simple form below to submit your email address, if you haven’t done so already.

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Vaja unveils Retro cases for iPod and iPhone

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Argentine leather case maker Vaja has released Retro, a new series of stitched-stripe cases for iPods, iPhones, and the MacBook Air. The cases start at $39 and include:

Retro Slim Bag for iPhone ($39, shown): A sleeve-like case with an open top. An alternate version called Retro Slim Jacket for the MacBook Air sells for $180, and closes like an envelope to protect the computer.

Retro Dockable for iPhone ($75): A flip-style case with a bottom design that allows the iPhone to be docked in Apple’s included Dock without removing the case.

Top Retro with Hook for iPod nano 3G ($65): A flip-style case with a metal lobster claw hook at the top for attachment to a belt or clothing. Here, the front stripe is matched by colored and stitched side leather pieces, as well.

The Retro cases improve upon a version shown briefly last year. Models for the iPod classic and iPod touch have not yet been announced or released.

Mix: Singapore iPhone, Gordon Brown, No iTunes Unlimited Music?

  • March 21, 2008

Top Singaporean cellular provider SingTel plans to release the iPhone in that country for approximately S$690 ($500) starting in September, claims Channel NewsAsia, though Apple is unlikely to share in SingTel’s subscription revenues. With an estimated 10,000 iPhones already imported by residents, retailers note that the technology-obsessed country’s demand for the iPhone has dampened slightly since its mid-2007 U.S. launch, but interest is still “very strong,” and the retailers speculate that demand will increase sharply should Singapore receive a 3G iPhone. Neither SingTel nor Apple commented for the report.

U.K. Prime Minster Gordon Brown discussed his iPod and musical tastes on television, noting “I’ve got an iPod, and I know how to use it,” contrasting with his predecessor Tony Blair’s disclosure that he had relied on his daughter to operate an iPod. Brown’s iPod includes songs from classical musicians such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, 60’s rockers such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and modern performers such as Leona Lewis, U2, and Coldplay.

Following up on an earlier Financial Times claim that Apple was in negotiations to bundle unlimited iTunes access with premium-priced iPods and iPhones, which appears to have been based on sources from within the music industry, BusinessWeek cites “people in a position to know” as stating that “no such talks are underway,” with one person suggesting that the music rental idea has been informally considered by Apple for a year, but not formally negotiated.

Refurb nanos include iTunes Cards; others start at $39

Recent additions to Apple’s Special Deals section of the online Apple Store include a variety of interesting deals on refurbished iPod and Apple TV hardware, resulting in discounts of up to $50 off the cost of new models. Some of the offerings include:

1GB iPod shuffles in current/older colors: $39 ($10 savings, plus free shipping).
4GB iPod nanos with $15 iTunes Gift Cards: $129 ($35 savings).
8GB iPod nanos with $15 iTunes Gift Cards: $169 ($45 savings).
80GB iPod classics: $209 ($40 savings).
160GB iPod classics: $299 ($50 savings).
8GB iPod touches: $229-$249, software version dependent ($50 savings).
16GB iPod touches: $329-$349, software version dependent ($50 savings).
40GB Apple TV: $199 ($30 savings).
160GB Apple TV: $279 ($50 savings).

Each of the refurbished units includes original accessories, and is guaranteed by Apple to be as “good as new.” Fifth-generation iPods are also available at a more aggressively discounted price, as well.

Mix: iPhone SDK Music, Kahney vs. Gruber, eMusic on iTunes Unlimited

  • March 20, 2008

Adding to the list of iPhone application development restrictions, Billboard reports that third-party developers will be unable to access the iPhone’s iTunes-synchronized music database for playback, limiting the ability of iTunes competitors and social networking music software to place or access music directly on the iPhone. The publication notes that the beta version of the iPhone software development kit (SDK) denies developers access to “any iTunes functionality,” and suggests that Apple “could easily decline to make [competitors’] applications available in the AppStore,” but leaves open the prospect that this will change by the time of the final SDK’s release.

A surprisingly public and personal dispute over Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ “evil” tendencies has broken out between Wired’s Leander Kahney and John Gruber of Daring Fireball (warning: rough language). Kahney, whose upcoming book is excerpted in the latest issue of Wired, claims that by “exerting unrelenting control over his employees, his image, and even his customers, Jobs exerts unrelenting control over his products and how they’re used,” and contrasts the company’s approach with Google’s “Don’t be evil” philosophy. Describing Kahney as a “F—-ing Jackass,” Gruber tears into both the article and its author, taking particular issue with his discussion of Apple’s secretive tendencies. “What kind of secretive crackpot,” Gruber said, referring to Kahney’s inability to speak with Jobs, “wouldn’t want to speak to a writer working on a piece that labels your company ‘irredeemably evil’ and whose best-known work is a book that literally brands your customers as cultists? What a jerk.” [Editor’s Note: Gruber subsequently changed his article’s title, replacing the profanity with the word “irredeemable.”]

eMusic CEO David Pakman has claimed that Apple’s reported interest in bundling an unlimited iTunes Store rental service with iPods and iPhones would lead to an antitrust lawsuit under the Sherman Act. “It’s called tying,” said Pakman, “where a company with a monopoly position in one market uses that monopoly position unfairly to compete in another.” Pakman, whose company holds a 15% share of the digital music market, suggests that Apple is exploring the unlimited iTunes service because “a whole bunch of other retailers [now] can sell music that works on the iPod or any other device. That puts some pressure on Apple. There’s no question, I think, that iTunes market share will diminish as a result of that over time.”

Adobe CEO announces Flash for iPhone [updated]

The iPhone will soon receive its own version of Adobe’s Flash Player, a popular web plug-in capable of performing audio, video, and animated art content, according to Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen. “We believe Flash is synonymous with the Internet experience,” Narayen told investors during a conference call, explaining that the company has been evaluating Apple’s iPhone software development kit, “and we are committed to bringing Flash to the iPhone.”

Adobe’s announcement follows Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ comments that both Flash Lite, a mobile-optimized Flash player, and the full-fledged Flash player for PCs and Macs were not viable iPhone-ready applications. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft licensed Flash Lite for use on Windows Mobile devices. It is presently unclear how the iPhone version of Flash Player will integrate with the iPhone’s Safari web browser.

Updated: Adobe has issued a statement noting that any Flash Player integration with the Safari web browser will require “work with Apple beyond and above what is available through the SDK and the current license around it,” rendering the company’s earlier commitment to the iPhone merely a statement of intent rather than a formal guarantee. “[W]e want to work with Apple,” Adobe said, “to bring these capabilities to the device.”

Report: Apple plans iPhone, iPod music rentals

According to the Financial Times, Apple is currently negotiating with major music labels to offer an optional unlimited music rental service for iPods and iPhones, as well as an alternative subscription-based monthly service for iPhone users. Under the “comes with music” plan, the Times reports, premium versions of the iPod and iPhone would be bundled with “free access to its entire iTunes music library,” likely for the lifetime of the device, and enable consumers to “keep up to 40 or 50 tracks a year, which they would retain even if they changed their device or their subscription lapses.” A separate subscription plan would offer iPhone users monthly access to the iTunes music catalog for a recurring fee.

While Apple has not commented on the topic, and has previously dismissed the value of music subscription plans, “executives familiar with the negotiations” claim that the offering depends on Apple’s willingness to pay more than an initially offered total of $20 or so per device. Nokia has already planned a similar offering for its cell phones with a total payout of nearly $80 per phone.

Apple clarifies iPhone dev status, adds links

In an apparent effort to reassure developers who applied for early participation in the iPhone Developer Program and last week received notices of temporary rejection, Apple today sent out a mass e-mail with helpful development links and a more detailed message regarding their status.

“We have many more requests than we can serve during this initial beta period,” explains the follow-up e-mail, “so we must limit the Program at this time. We plan to expand it during the beta period, and we will contact you regarding your enrollment status at the appropriate time. We appreciate your patience.”

The e-mail contains links to Getting Started videos and documents, as well as sample code, coding how-to’s, and an iPhone Reference Library, providing additional tools for developers who already have access to the free iPhone SDK beta and on-Mac simulator.

New iPhone 2.0 features outed

Accompanied by photographs of the hacked beta 2.0 version of the iPhone’s Software, Engadget has posted a list of several features that have been added to the as-yet-unreleased update. Though most of the features, such as Exchange server support, the App Store, Cisco VPN support, and Parental Controls for iPod, Safari, YouTube, the iTunes Store and App Store are already known, and others have yet to be unlocked by Apple, the following additional features have been discovered:

An expanded Calculator, with a widescreen-orientation “scientific mode,” featuring functions found in more deluxe pocket calculators.

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Multiple simultaneous message deletion in Mail.

Organize the list of Wi-Fi networks to join by preference.

iPhone Software 2.0 is due for release at the end of June. As is always the case with unreleased and beta Apple software, features may be unexpectedly cut or added to the final version.

Mix: $249 iPhones, Apple + Tech Reporters, iPhone Patent

  • March 18, 2008

AT&T has extended to online customers a special $249 price for refurbished 8GB iPhones, previously available only in certain regional bricks-and-mortar stores. The used iPhones sell for a $150 discount relative to new ones, and still require activation of a 2-year contract with the company.

Salon publishes an essay from columnist Farhad Manjoo suggesting that “Apple fans hate tech reporters,” using experiences from himself, Walt Mossberg, and David Pogue as examples of how readers have found—unjustifiably, in his view—positive or negative bias in coverage of Apple’s products. Manjoo draws parallels between Apple fanaticism and the Israel-Palestinian conflict, suggesting that people believe their own perspectives to be reasonable, and attack those covering events neutrally when any opinion contrary to their views is presented. [via Macdailynews]

An Apple-filed patent from last year was published this week, suggesting that the company has explored the possibility of developing a flip-style iPhone with a screen on the top half and a fold-out, touch-sensitive surface on the bottom. The bottom surface is proposed to be either a clear panel with the ability to be overlaid on top of the screen, providing the equivalent of the current iPhone’s multi-touch surface when combined, and a scrollable cursor-based surface when separated, or a full touch-sensitive display on the bottom. While the patent has already led to speculation that Apple will use the technology in an “iPhone nano,” past Apple patent filings have only occasionally revealed actual products in advance. [via Unwiredview.com]

iTunes Store issues WGA strike video credits

Early this morning, Apple sent out an e-mail to iTunes Store Season Pass purchasers, offering an apology and download credits to users whose series subscriptions were affected by the recent Writers Guild of America strike. As explained in the e-mail reprinted here, Apple is issuing two video credits good for the purchase of TV shows, music videos, or short films from the Store, and promising to deliver “all additional episodes which are broadcast during the 2007-08 season” as they are received by the Store, as well as a partial credit for any episodes not delivered as originally planned. Full details are found below.

California looks to tax iTunes, other downloads

Mirroring efforts by a number of other states, including New York, legislators in California hope to apply sales taxes to iTunes and other digital downloads, according to the Orange County Register. The tax would result in the price of a 99-cent song going up to $1.07 or more for California purchasers, while more expensive downloads would also increase by roughly 8 cents on the dollar. Digital downloads from Apple and other companies would all be subject to the tax requirement. However, the report notes that the legality of California’s proposed “iTax” has come into question, as Assemblyman Charles Calderon of Whittier is attempting to use an unconventional and likely illegal voting strategy to get it passed, circumventing the state’s requirement that two-thirds of the legislature approve of any new tax. Consequently, should Calderon’s bill be voted into law, it will likely face immediate enforcement and other legal challenges.

Swiss Apple Store leaks 802.11n AirPort Express [updated]

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A page posted on the Swiss Apple Store over the weekend showed a 802.11n-capable version of the company’s AirPort Express router, leading to speculation that the product is likely to be introduced this week. The page has since been removed. Originally introduced in 2004, the AirPort Express is a compact wireless router which also functions as an AirTunes client, allowing any iTunes user on the network to send audio to speakers connected to the AirPort Express. In addition, it also offers wireless printer sharing functionality. The 802.11g AirPort Express Base Station currently sells for $99.

Update: The 802.11n AirPort Express has been officially released for $99, and appears to be cosmetically and functionally identical to its predecessor except for the addition of 802.11n support.

Update 2: Unpacking photos of the 802.11n AirPort Express have been posted to Backstage.

Apple e-mails iPhone developer rejections, angering some

Apple today sent out a series of bulk acceptance or temporary rejection letters to registered iPhone developers who applied last week for the company’s paid iPhone Developer Programs. During the iPhone Software Roadmap Event held last week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs explained that the program would be available to a limited number of developers at first, a message that is repeated in the email.

U.S. applicants received an e-mail stating: “Dear Registered iPhone Developer, Thank you for expressing interest in the iPhone Developer Program.  We have received your enrollment request.  As this time, the iPhone Developer Program is available to a limited number of developers and we plan to expand during the beta period.  We will contact you again regarding your enrollment status at the appropriate time. Thank you for applying.”

Applicants outside the United States received an e-mail stating: “Dear Registered iPhone Developer, Thank you for expressing interest in the iPhone Developer Program. We have received your enrollment request.  At this time, the iPhone Developer Program is only available in the US and will expand to other countries during the beta period.  We will contact you again regarding your enrollment status at the appropriate time. Thank you for applying.”

Neither of these e-mails further explained Apple’s criteria for acceptance or rejection, spurring concern that large developers or other past Apple partners were accepted rather than a wider variety of applicants; in any case, it appears that the number of accepted developers is a small portion of those that applied. Some developers, as noted by TUAW, have expressed anger or disappointment at not making the first cut, and suggested that attempting to develop for the platform without Apple’s involvement at this stage is an “unacceptable risk,” given that approval is required to actually sell iPhone software. Did you apply and receive an email today? Let us know in the comments.

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