Amazon MP3 has dropped the price on a number of its top-selling songs to $0.69 each, nearly half the price of the majority of best-selling tracks on iTunes. The Los Angeles Times reports that it is unclear whether Amazon or the music labels themselves are eating the cost of the price reduction; currently discounted tracks include “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga, “On the Floor” by Jennifer Lopez, and “E.T.” by Katy Perry. As of this writing, 13 of the top 20 best-selling songs on Amazon MP3 are selling for the reduced $0.69 price, where as only one song in iTunes’ top 50—“Barbra Steisand” by Duck Sauce—is priced below $1.29, selling for $0.99. Curiously, Amazon’s move comes exactly a month after its rollout of a new Cloud Player online music service, which it launched without the consent of the major music labels.
Condé Nast is pulling back on its goal to deliver iPad versions of all of its magazines, according to an AdAge report. Citing anonymous company employees, the report claims that the change in strategy is due to lower sale volumes than are optimal for attracting advertisers. The report states that the company is still committed to the iPad as a platform, and has another undisclosed iPad edition of one of its magazines arriving in May. “It’s a shift,” one Condé publisher said. “The official stance was we’re going to get all our magazines on the iPad because this is going to be such an important stream. The new change is maybe we can slow it down. In my opinion it makes Condé look smart because we have the ambition, but we’re not rushing. They’re not all doing all that well, so why rush to get them all on there?” The company was one of the earliest supporters of the iPad, announcing prior to the iPad’s launch its intentions to bring out iPad editions of Wired, GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour, and The New Yorker. [via Mac Rumors]
Cirrus Logic, Apple’s primary audio chip supplier for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, has disclosed manufacturing problems related to a new audio device. The Wall Street Journal reports that while Cirrus didn’t specify Apple as the customer for the new chip, the iPod maker accounts for roughly half the company’s revenue, and is therefore the company most likely to have ordered such a component. According to the report, the chips went into volume production last month, but it was determined that few were performing properly, and an even lower ratio of chips were meeting standards as production increased. “While this is unfortunate, our highest priority was ensuring that we did not prevent a successful launch for our customer, said Cirrus CEO Jason Rhode, “and we believe that we have been successful in that regard.”
While the exact nature of the new chip and its capabilities is unknown, Apple has continued to push for lower-power chip solutions, and recently has touted the ability of certain AirPlay accessories—including the recently-released Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air—to handle 96KHz/24-bit audio. Apple has reportedly been in talks with music labels to obtain higher-quality audio files, which would offer the potential for sonic improvements that would likely be imperceptible to human ears under most conditions; the higher bitrates might be used in lossless, multi-channel audio, but not in most compressed audio files.
Amazon today launched its new Cloud Drive online storage service, alongside a new Cloud Player that allows users to play back music stored using the service. The Cloud Player supports both MP3 and AAC files, and can be accessed from any PC or Mac, as well as from Amazon’s MP3 app for Android; purchases made on Amazon’s MP3 store can be automatically added to the service and do not count against the user’s storage limit. Amazon is offering 5GB of storage for free, with higher storage capacities priced at $1 per GB per year. Notably, customers who purchase an album from the Amazon MP3 store receive 20GB of free storage for one year. The service makes Amazon the first among itself, Google, and Apple with a cloud-based music service; Apple is reportedly working on a such a service for introduction later this year.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the owner and producer of the International CES, is now offering a discounted price on its membership just for individuals. The membership, called the Tech Enthusiast membership, is designed exclusively for early adopters and fervent supporters of consumer technology. It gives you entry to the CEA and offers a members-only website, offering such features as insider information on the latest technology trends, consumer electronics product giveaways, access to a community of like-minded technophiles, and discounts from technology companies.
CEA is offering a special for iLounge readers to receive the CEA Tech Enthusiast membership at a discounted rate of $29 (valued at $49). To learn more or join today, visit CEAtechenthusiast.com and enter promo code “INSIDER” at checkout to receive the discount.
Apple is set to announce a new, free version of MobileMe next month, according to a trusted iLounge source. The source, who works for a major educational institution, claims the school’s supplier has said the current version of MobileMe is no longer available, and that Apple is suggesting new students sign up for the 60-day trial to cover the gap between the final MobileMe shipment and the launch of the new version. In addition, the source was told that Apple will be supporting the existing version of MobileMe for the next year, suggesting that the new version will be quite different from the existing service; the extra year of support would likely cover those who recently paid for a full year of MobileMe, prior to Apple removing any method through which a user could pay for the service. Recent reports have suggested that the revamped service will position it as a free online, cloud-based “locker” for content such as photos, videos, and music.
Microsoft plans to stop introducing new models of its Zune media player, according to a new report. Citing a person familiar with the decision, Bloomberg reports that the company will instead focus on building out its Zune software for mobile phones and Xbox 360. The software offers music and movie purchasing options, as well as an unlimited music streaming subscription service. In an email statement to Bloomberg, Microsoft declined to comment on the report, instead saying “We have nothing to announce about another Zune device—but most recently have introduced Zune HD to Canada via the Zune Originals store and remain committed to supporting our devices in North America.[...] Our long-term strategy focuses on the strength of the entire Zune ecosystem across Microsoft platforms.”
The report notes that Microsoft plans to continue selling existing versions of the Zune, which include the Zune HD, the company’s last all-new hardware model released in 2009. Microsoft first introduced the Zune in 2006 as a rival to the iPod, with CEO Steve Ballmer saying at the time that “We can beat them, but it’s not going to be easy,” referring to Apple. The company later split the Zune team into two separate groups, with one focusing on hardware and one focusing on software, mostly for other platforms including the company’s Windows Phone and Xbox devices.
Adobe has released a new experimental Flash to HTML conversion tool. Codenamed “Wallaby,” the application “converts the artwork and animation contained in Adobe Flash Professional (FLA) files into HTML.” Adobe’s Wallaby page notes that the application allows users “to reuse and extend the reach of [their] content to devices that do not support the Flash runtimes. Once these files are converted to HTML, [they] can edit them with an HTML editing tool, such as Adobe Dreamweaver, or by hand if desired.” Notably, the tool would allow web developers to create sites in Adobe Flash and automatically have them converted to iOS-friendly HTML format. The prerelease version of Wallaby is available now as a free download for Mac and Windows.
Random House has announced that it is switching to the agency pricing model for e-book sales beginning today, opening the door for an arrival on Apple’s iBookstore. “The agency model guarantees a higher margin for retailers than did our previous sales terms. We are making this change both as an investment in the successful digital transition of our existing partners and in order to give us the opportunity to forge new retail relationships,” a Random House spokesperson told Publishers Weekly. “We are looking forward to continuing to work with all our retail partners—both digital and physical—on our joint mission to connect our authors with as many readers as possible, in whatever format they prefer.” Under the agency model, which Apple has used since launching the store last year, publishers set the price and designate an agent—in this case the bookseller—who will sell the book and receive a commission. “We have believed from the beginning that the agency model is in the best interest of not only the book industry, but the consuming public as well,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. “We appreciate the careful and thoughtful deliberation Random House has brought to this issue, and applaud their decision to adopt agency pricing.” [via LA Times]
Xtreamer has posted a teaser page for its new Xtreamer Prodigy media player, which the company claims will offer support for Apple’s AirPlay wireless media streaming protocol. According to the company, the Prodigy is meant to serve as a set-top box, with the Opera web browser built-in—the company uses an Apple graphic with the Safari icon to denote the browser’s inclusion—as well as support for an internal hard drive up to 3TB, 7.1 channel audio, AirPlay, MediaFly, Last.FM, Google Talk, Pandora Radio, Grooveshark, YouTube XL, and various other online services. The device also sports a DVD backup function, as well as a host of ports and connectivity features, including a media card reader, USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, HDMI, component, and composite video outputs, SPDIF optical and coaxial digital audio outputs, Ethernet, optional 802.11n Wi-Fi via a USB antenna, and an optional heatsink. The product page currently displays a countdown with slightly more than four days left; it is unclear whether pricing and availability information will be available when the countdown ends. [via Engadget]
Apple has notified resellers that it has discontinued the retail box version of MobileMe, shifting completely to online sales, according to a Mac Rumors report. Existing stock of the boxed version of MobileMe can continue to be sold while supplies last, the report states. The boxed version of MobileMe contained little more than an activation code and promotional materials, and therefore served primarily as a way to provide in-store visibility for the offering. Apple is said to be working on a revamp of the online service suite, and is considering making it a free service to serve as an online “locker” for personal data such as photos, music, and videos. As noted in the report, Apple executives confirmed during yesterday’s annual shareholders meeting that the company’s new data center in North Carolina should be opening soon and will primarily support its MobileMe and iTunes services.
A Sony executive has denied a report from earlier in the week that suggested the company was considering pulling its music from the iTunes Store. In an earlier interview with The Age discussing the company’s Music Unlimited streaming service, which launches in the U.S. Australia, and New Zealand today, Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Michael Ephraim said, ‘‘If we do [get mass take up] then does Sony Music need to provide content to iTunes? Currently we do. We have to provide it to iTunes as that’s the format right now.” He continued, ‘‘Publishers are being held to ransom by Apple and they are looking for other delivery systems, and we are waiting to see what the next three to five years will hold.’’ Sony Network Entertainment COO Brandon Layden has since spoken with SAI, denying the idea that the company is threatening to withdrawal from the store. “Sony Music as I understand it has no intention of withdrawing from iTunes, they’re one of our biggest partners in the digital domain. I think those words were either taken out of context or the person who spoke them was unclear on the circumstances.” As the second-largest of the “big four” record companies, Sony controls a large number of important artists and a large percentage of the music available on the iTunes Store.
HP today unveiled its upcoming TouchPad tablet device, a likely rival to the iPad. Looking remarkably similar to a first-generation iPad, the TouchPad features a 9.7-inch, 1024x768 multi-touch screen—the same size and resolution as the iPad—a weight of 1.6 pounds—the same weight as an iPad 3G—and measures 7.48 inches x 9.53 inches x .54 inches, or just slightly wider, shorter, and thicker than the first-generation iPad, which measures 7.47 inches x 9.56 inches x 0.5 inches. Beyond those physical similarities, the device also shares several technical features with the iPad, including 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR wireless capabilities, 16GB or 32GB of internal storage, A-GPS in the 3G model, a digital compass, stereo speakers, and an accelerometer. It will be powered by a dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon processor, and will also feature a gyroscope and a front-facing 1.3 megapixel webcam.
The device will run webOS 3.0, the next-generation of the operating system debuted by Palm in its Pre handset, offering “true” multitasking, a “Touch-to-Share” feature that allows for the transfer of data from one device to another by tapping the two devices together, wireless printing, a full web browser with Adobe Flash support, and more. Several aspects of webOS 3.0 demoed during HP’s unveiling event looked very similar to those found in iOS 4.x on the iPad, most notably the mail application and the on-screen keyboard. WebOS 3.0 will also support wireless communication between webOS-based smartphones and the TouchPad via a new Touchstone dock. HP said that Wi-Fi-only, 3G, and 4G versions of the device will be available this summer, with pricing to be determined at a later date. [via Engadget]
At a press conference in Japan earlier today, Sony introduced the successor to the PSP, codenamed the Next Generation Portable, or NGP. Specs for the new gaming handheld include a 5-inch OLED touchscreen with 960x544 resolution, 3G, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, compass, and GPS, and two cameras, one front- and one rear-facing. As expected, the device is powered by a multi-core ARM processor—a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9—that works alongside a quad-core PowerVR SGX534MP4+ GPU. Notably, code found within the iOS 4.3 beta suggested that Apple is planning to include a similar POWERVR SGX543 GPU from Imagination Technologies in an upcoming product or products, and as the successor to the ARM Cortex-A8 at the heart of Apple’s A4 chip, the A9 is a logical next step for Apple’s iOS devices.
In addition, the NGP features a rear touch-sensitive panel, dual analog sticks, a traditional d-pad, four Playstation action buttons, a six-axis motion detecting system, and shoulder trigger buttons. Games will be offered on flash memory-based cards or downloaded from the Playstation Store; Sony also announced that it will be launching PlayStation Suite, a new initiative that will see certain Android devices become PlayStation Certified, allowing them to play PlayStation games; the company also plans to open a PlayStation Store for Android where users will be able to download content directly to their device.
In a surprise move, Google today announced that its CEO Eric Schmidt will step down from his post April 4th, and will be replaced in the role by company co-founder Larry Page. Schmidt will assume the role of Executive Chairman for the company, focusing on “deals, partnerships, customers and broader business relationships, government outreach and technology thought leadership.” Google is a strategic partner of Apple’s on several fronts, providing the backends for Apple’s iOS Maps and YouTube applications, as well as serving as the default search engine for its Safari browser. The two companies have become fierce competitors in recent years, however, due to Google’s Android smartphone OS, which is locked in a battle with Apple’s iPhone for control of the global smartphone market, and Apple has taken steps to distance itself from dependence on Google’s services.
Notably, a report from last year indicated that Google co-founders Page and Sergey Brin were disappointed with the way the company’s relationship had soured under Schmidt’s leadership, and considered Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs a “role model” as they grew into technology executives. An anecdote from an episode of Bloomberg’s “Game Changers” went so far as to say that the pair wanted to hire Jobs as Google’s CEO during the company’s early years. Schmidt served on Apple’s board of directors from 2006 to 2009, when he resigned from the board due to “potential conflicts of interest,” explained to be iOS- and iPhone-related.
Update: Eric Schmidt has posted an open letter explaining the management changes.
Samsung has announced its upcoming Galaxy Player (Translated Link), an Android-based device that will serve as a competitor to the iPod touch. According to the press release, the Galaxy Player will feature both front- and rear-facing cameras—VGA and 3.2 megapixel, respectively—between 8GB and 32GB of internal storage with a MicroSD slot for expansion, a 4-inch “Super Clear” 800 x 480 LCD display, a 1GHz CPU, GPS with a free 3D navigation app, Bluetooth 3.0, a removable 1200mAh battery, HD video playback, Wi-Fi, and SoundAlive audio enhancing technology. The report claims that the device will run Android 2.2 Froyo—not the newer 2.3 Gingerbread version that runs on Google/Samsung’s new Nexus S smartphone—and will have Android Market and Samsung Apps access. Notably, while the screen’s size is larger than that of the iPod touch, its resolution falls short of the fourth-generation model’s Retina Display, as does its top internal storage spec. North American availability and pricing have yet to be announced, but will likely be revealed next week at the 2011 CES, where the device is expected to be showcased.
Virtual band Gorillaz has released its new album, The Fall, which was written and performed primarily on the iPad. Over the course of composing and recording the fifteen track album, the band used a variety of applications, including Speak It!, SoundyThingie, Mugician, Solo Synth, Synth, Funk Box, Gliss, AmpliTube, Xenon, iElectribe, BS-16i, M3000 HD, Cleartune, iOrgel HD, Olsynth, StudioMiniXI, BassLine, Harmonizer, Dub Siren Pro, and Moog Filatron. Described by CNN as having a “more basic vibe” than the band’s studio-based efforts, the album was recorded over 32 days on the band’s 2010 North American tour, and was mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Those interested in hearing the album can listen to it for free online by signing up for the band’s mailing list; it is currently available as a free download for members of the band’s fan club, and is expected to see a wider release next year.
After weeks of speculation, radio talk show host Howard Stern has announced that he has signed a new deal with Sirius XM that will keep him with the satellite radio provider for another five years. Prior to the announcement, a poorly-sourced and possibly deliberately misleading rumor claimed that Apple was prepared to offer Stern hundreds of millions of dollars to bring his show exclusively to iTunes, despite the company’s recent and highly publicized stances against explicit imagery or content in the App Store. Stern has announced, as MacDailyNews notes, that under the new deal his show will be available via the Sirius XM app, meaning that his show will be available through iTunes, albeit only to current Sirius XM subscribers. The Sirius XM Premium Online app is available now as a free download from the App Store.
In an interview with CVG, Electronic Arts vice president Patrick Soderlund said he believes Apple would have a fighting chance in the video game console market should it choose to enter. When asked whether Apple would have a shot at challenging Sony and Microsoft in the console market, Soderlund said, “If it was anyone but Apple, I’d say that’s going to be very hard.” He continued, “I still think it’s going to be extremely hard for them but they’ve surprised many people before. Look at what they did with the iPhone, right? They are a truly brilliant company so I would give them a relatively good chance to succeed if they tried.” [via MDN]
Verizon Wireless today announced its rollout plans for its new 4G, Long Term Evolution (LTE) network. The network, which will officially launch on December 5, will offer service to 38 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.—as well as supplemental coverage at major airports—and download speeds of five to 12 megabits per second, with upload speeds of two to 5 Mbps. The new network will initially be available only to those using one of two USB modems with 3G backward compatibility; Verizon is pricing data service at $50/mo. for 5GB of data or $80/mo. for 10GB of data with a $10/GB overage fee. Notably, Verizon says it expects consumer-oriented phones to be available in mid-2011, essentially ruling out LTE for any potential iPhone launch earlier in the year. To view the complete list of cities and airports to receive initial coverage, follow the link above.