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iPod chief talks convergence, iPod sales

In a recent interview with a German newspaper, Apple vice president and iPod division head Jon Rubenstein expressed skepticism that consumers want a single device to replace their iPod and cell phone. “Is there a toaster that also knows how to brew coffee? There is no such combined device, because it would not make anything better than an individual toaster or coffee machine,” Rubenstein said. “It works the same way with the iPod, the digital camera or mobile phone—it is important to have specialized devices.” Rubenstein said he has a “wait and see” attitude on how Motorola’s iTunes-enabled ROKR phone is received.

Rubenstein also said that he sees iPod sales surpassing the number of Sony Walkman devices sold to date—340 million units—and noted that companies will have a hard time creating rivaling players in the years to come. “The iPod is substantially more difficult to copy than that Walkman was,” the Apple executive explained. “It contains a whole ecosystem of different elements, which coordinate with each other: hardware, software, and our iTunes Music store on the Internet.”

Apple Canada begins claims process for iPod levy refunds

Apple Canada has launched a refund claims process for iPod owners who were charged a levy that was applied to the purchase price of the device. Canadian customers who bought an iPod or an iPod mini from December 13, 2003 through December 21, 2004 are eligible to receive a refund on the “iPod tax.” According to Apple, “an iPod with up to 10GB was levied CA$15 and an iPod with over 10GB was levied $25.”

As previously reported, the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year upheld a Federal Court of Canada decision to do away with the levy on digital music players. The Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) had collected the tax built into the price of the devices since December 2003 on behalf of musicians and record companies, according to the Canadian Press.

To request a refund, you must have proof of purchase and download, print out and complete a form available on Apple’s website. The company said “qualifying purchasers should receive their refunds in four to six weeks from the date your claim form is processed.” All refund requests must be postmarked on or before December 31, 2005.

iPodulator lets you create iPod-compatible reading

iPodulator is a new web service that lets you convert a web page or RSS feed into the proper text format that can be transfered viewed on your iPod. The service works with 3G and 4G iPods and iPod minis.

“Enter a URL above (starting with http://) and hit ‘iPodinate.’ Some sites may not work, like Digg.com. It will take a moment to process. The URL can be a web page or an RSS feed. This will give you a plain text formatted version of the site you enter, perfect for reading on your iPod. Note: the page will look badly formatted on your computer. Don’t worry, it will look great on your iPod. To save it to your iPod: After hitting ‘iPodinate,’ use the ‘Save As’ command in your web browser to save this file to the ‘Notes’ folder of your iPod or save it to someplace on your computer for later copying to the ‘Notes’ folder. That’s it!”

iLounge Around the World: Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

image Reporting from the streets of once famous electronics district Akihabara in Tokyo, Japan, iLounge reader Christian N. has sent a collection of pictures showing the local state of the iPod there, outside of Apple’s official retail stores. You can view the full-sized shots at Read More, below.

The pictures show an iPod time warp, with prominent posters of earlier-generation iPods, as well as display cases filled with new, used and discontinued iPods. Part of this is due to Akihabara’s thriving trade in hard-to-find older electronics; another part is the result of overstock. First-generation iPod minis are shown selling used for 14800 yen ($132), second-generation versions for 15450 yen ($138) to 18550 ($165) yen, third-generation iPods for around 21500 yen ($192), and fourth-generations for between 24800 ($221) to 30800 yen ($275). Japanese companies such as Power Support and Tunewear are shown with significant shelf space in stickers and guards for various iPods, while U.S.-based companies such as Speck, Griffin, and Belkin have major display space, as well. The story is obviously different in Apple’s own stores, which are stocked only with newer iPods and Apple-selected merchandise.

How is the iPod doing in your city? Earlier this week, we posted an iPod report from the streets of Paris, France, and would love to share your impressions and pictures with our readers. If you’re outside the U.S., e-mail jeremy (at) ilounge.com to submit your photos and brief reports. Thanks to Christian for his update!

Wireless group talks with Apple about Bluetooth iPods

Wireless technology group Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR) has reportedly approached Apple about installing its Bluetooth wireless chips into future generations of the iPod.

“CSR’s chips would allow Apple to manufacture iPods with wireless headsets, an increasingly popular feature of mobile devices among consumers,” reports The Independent. “Apple has sold more than 22 million iPods and although it is possible to buy separate adapters that connect an iPod to earphones wirelessly, the music players do not come with Bluetooth as a standard. CSR confirmed it had approached Apple after publishing a bullish trading update yesterday that showed sales of its chips, which enable devices to provide wireless connections using the Bluetooth technology standard, are rising faster than expected.”

iPod Updater 2005-09-06 released

Apple has posted iPod Updater 2005-09-06 for download on its website. The update includes new iPod Software 1.0 for Apple’s iPod nano, but does not bring any new features to current iPods. According to the release notes, iPod Updater 2005-09-06 “contains the same software versions as iPod Updater 2005-06-26 for all other iPod models.” As reported yesterday, the iPod nano’s software includes a world clock with multiple time zones, stopwatch, and a screen lock feature.

Harry Potter iPod, digital audiobooks available

imageApple today announced that the entire Harry Potter audiobook series is now available exclusively on the iTunes Music Store. To celebrate the addition, Apple has created a collector’s edition 20GB iPod that comes engraved wtih the Hogwarts Crest, a symbol of the school of magic that Harry Potter attends. The collector’s edition iPod is priced at $299.

Customers can either download individual audiobooks (priced between $32.95-$49.95) or the complete Harry Potter Digital Box Set ($249) which includes a full color digital booklet as well as previously unreleased readings from author J.K. Rowling. The audiobook sample performed at the show featured rich, British male narration of the Harry Potter stories.

Apple teams up with three more car companies, four new makes

Apple said today that it has teamed up with more car makers to provide iPod integration with their car stereos. The company said it has formed partnerships with Acura, Audi, Honda and Volkswagen to include iPod connectivity for their 2006 model lines. Apple noted that there are now 15 car companies around the offering iPod integration and that more than 5 million cars - 30% of the total US market - will ship with iPod support in the US in 2006.   

Audi will add iPod integration in its A3, A4 and TT models in November, and Volkswagen will offer iPod connectivity “for the majority of their 2006 US lineup.” Certain Volkswagen cars dating back as far as 1999 model year will be capable of using the $249 iPod integration kit, which includes installation for that price. Apple said Acura and Honda will also feature iPod integration in “the majority of their lineup beginning later this year” and that the Honda and Acura Music Link will be the first to include text-to-speech capabilities or VoiceID, which is used to search for playlists, artist and album names or genre information. 

Apple representatives at the San Francisco special event told iLounge that there will be substantial variation between the kits offered by companies, noting that automotive companies are now tapping a wide variety of after-market car accessory designers (including Dension and others) to provide their in-car options. Dension, for example, has provided the Volkswagen integration system.

Our impressions of the systems we saw were mixed. Many used the simple “pick from five playlists” selection concept originally introduced in BMW’s iPod interface, but each added a new feature or two. Volkswagen’s car enabled you to shuffle songs with one of the car’s buttons. Honda’s system, by comparison, uses a text-to-speech interface to read letters and words from your collection for easier iPod navigation, but uses a confusing array of buttons and a one-line text display taken from a CD changer interface to display information.

Fairly describing the current system as a “stopgap” measure intended to offer as much iPod integration as is technically possible immediately, a Honda representative noted the inherent difficulties of adapting cars designed before the growth of the iPod phenomenon for use with devices with unique controls and the ability to output ID3 tag information. Honda and Apple representatives said that because of standard industry planning and timing issues, more sophisticated and intuitive iPod integration kits would begin to appear in cars released for model years 2008 and 2009.

Survey suggests interest in ‘iPhone’

Research firm Piper Jaffray recently conducted a 200-person survey that shows unsurprising interest in an Apple “iPhone.” The firm said in an in-depth report provided to iLounge that the hypothetical product would be capable of serving as both an iPod and a cell phone, and be manufactured and branded by Apple (different than Motorola’s upcoming line of iTunes-compatible mobile phones). On average, the respondents said they would pay $255 for such a device.

“We believe a normalized interest level of 18% is enough for Apple to be considering such a product,” said Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Gene Munster, noting that the phone market is 13x larger than the MP3 player market. “We believe Apple has a powerful brand that can be applied to markets not yet addressed. If Apple executives are tuned into the strength of the Apple brand, we expect the company’s target markets to expand in the years ahead to capitalize on its namesake.”

Creative considers legal action over patent violation

Apple may soon come under legal pressure from Creative Technology now that the Singapore-based company has been awarded a patent that it says the iPod infringes upon. Creative has already openly accused Apple of violating the patent, which covers the way users navigate music selections on a portable device, and the company told The New York Times that it is considering every option available to defend the patent, including possible legal action.

Craig McHugh, president of Creative’s United States operations, said yesterday that Apple was the only company identified so far that was in violation of the patent, though Creative was investigating others. “We are looking at all our alternatives right now,” McHugh said. “We have always been very vigorous in our defense of our patent portfolio.”

HP CEO explains why company stopped selling iPod

In an interview with BusinessWeek, Hewlett-Packard’s new CEO Mark Hurd explains why his company decided to stop selling rebranded versions of Apple’s iPod.

“There are a lot of bets we can make, but we want to make those bets in markets that are exciting, have growth, are worth dominating—make that ‘leading,’ the lawyers don’t like ‘dominating’—and in which, by the way, we can lead,” Hurd said. “So think about putting our logo on the iPod. Is the market worth leading? Maybe it is. But can we lead it, with no or very little technology differentiation? Doubtful. You have to go into places where you can lead.”

HP said it would stop reselling Apple’s line of iPods in late July, saying only that “the iPod doesn’t fit in with our digital entertainment strategy.”

Creative wins patent for portable media player interface

In what can only be seen as a potential problem for Apple, Creative Technology said today that it has been awarded U.S. Patent 6,928,433 — which it is referring to as the “Zen Patent” — for portable media player navigation. “The Zen Patent was awarded to Creative for its invention of the user interface for portable media players, including many of the Creative Zen and NOMAD Jukebox MP3 players, and found in some competing players, such as the Apple iPod and iPod mini,” the company said in its announcement of the patent win.

“Creative’s invention for the user interface for portable media players enables selection of at least one track in a portable media player as a user sequentially navigates through a hierarchy using three or more successive screens on the display of the player,” the company explains. “One example would be the sequence of screens that could display artists, then albums, and then tracks. When the user selects an artist, the player displays a list of albums for that artist. Selection of one of the listed albums then displays a list of tracks on the album.”

Apple plans special event next week

Apple appears to be set to introduce an all-new iPod next week as the company will hold a special event at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California. Apple has used similar events in the past to make such major announcements.

In an invitation sent to select media, including iLounge, Apple hints that it will unveil a significant new product at the event. The invitation reads in part: “1000 songs in your pocket changed everything. Here we go again.” The slogan “1000 songs in your pocket” was first used by Apple when the original 5GB iPod was introduced in 2001.

The invitation-only event will take place on Wednesday, September 7 at 10:00 a.m. iLounge will be in attendance to bring you coverage.

Judge approves settlement in iPod class-action suit

A San Mateo Calif. County judge on Thursday gave final approval to the settlement of the iPod battery class-action lawsuit. According to lawyers, the settlement will allow as many as 1.3 million iPod owners to get new batteries and could cost Apple $15 million.

“All these people are going to get relief, and we think that’s a big victory for them,” said Steve Williams, lead counsel for the suit and an attorney for Burlingame’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy.

Under the settlement, consumers who bought first- or second-generation iPods before May 31, 2004 are entitled to either $25 cash or a $50 credit at the Apple Store. Owners of third-generation iPods are entitled to a free replacement battery if their battery fails or a $50 credit. iPod owners who already paid to have their battery replaced can get up to half of that cost back from Apple.

The iPod Battery Settlement: Your Rights and Compensation

Analyst: Apple may sell 7.1 million iPods this quarter

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu believes Apple will ship 7.1 million iPods in the current quarter. The sales number would be a 15 percent increase over last quarter, but Wu warns that average iPod selling prices may come under “greater than expected pressure.”

“We have noticed very aggressive pricing, particularly on 4GB iPod minis”, Wu said in a research note. “We believe part of the reason is that iPod inventories remain relatively high on an absolute basis and this aggressive promotion is to ensure sales in an otherwise slower consumer period.”

The analyst also echoed recent speculation that Samsung is offering Apple heavily discounted prices on its flash memory chips. “Our sources tell us that Samsung was willing to drop its prices aggressively to lock in a marquee customer and win back some business from Toshiba, Apple’s other flash supplier. Interestingly, we believe Apple will also likely source from Hynix, adding a third flash supplier and thus further driving down pricing to protect its gross margin.”

Interestingly, Wu also said that he “is hearing” that Apple will likely source components for future portable devices (including iPods) from Intel, Broadcom and Sharp.

Paper Mate launches iPod, iTunes sweepstakes

imagePaper Mate has apparently teamed up with Apple to launch two new digital music-themed promotions. The pen and pencil maker is giving away more than 400 iPod minis and an undisclosed number of free song downloads.

Paper Mate is giving away one 4GB iPod mini a day until May 31, 2006—457 in total (the promo officially started on March 1, 2005). While packaging for Write Bros stick pens, American woodcase pencils and Sharpwriter mechanical pencils carry the promo graphics, no purchase is necessary to enter—a daily winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries received each day.

In addition to the iPod mini sweepstakes, the company is also giving away free song downloads from the iTunes Music Store. Each specially-marked package of Paper Mate FlexGrip Elite ballpoint pens or Mechanical pencils have a 9 digit code that can be redeemed for a unique 12-digit iTunes Music Store code and used to get a free song. The song codes expire on May 31, 2006.

Apple rivals plan onslaught on iPod, iTunes

Billboard’s Antony Bruno has written and an article looking at the growing threats to the iPod and iTunes that Apple faces. He says that while analysts expect Apple to have another great holiday season, the company’s reign as digital music king may last “only another 12-18 months before the playing field levels out.”

Bruno says that Sony, Samsung, MSN and others are planning their attack. “Anticipated developments include a music subscription service and subsequent advertising blitz from MSN Music, the long-anticipated relaunch of the Sony Connect store, several new MP3 devices and the introduction of mobile music services from several wireless carriers,” Bruno says.

Bruno says, however, that Apple won’t go without a fight. “It is expected to introduce a video-capable iPod in September and finally unveil its iTunes-compatible mobile phone with Motorola,” says Bruno. “It is also rumored to be working on a subscription service with the help of a former Xbox Live executive.”

iPods dominate Amazon.com Top Sellers list

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes that Apple’s strong showing on Amazon.com is an indication that the iPod shows no signs of slowing down. Munster notes that iPod models hold the top 10 spots on Amazon’s Top Sellers list for MP3 players.

“We believe that the iPod is continuing to gain traction in the September quarter as evidenced by the number of iPods included on the Amazon Top Seller List for portable MP3 players and All Electronics,” Munster wrote in a research note obtained by iLounge.

The analyst also points out that iPods account for 2 of the top 10 products on the overall electronics Top Sellers list, with the 20GB iPod holding the No. 1 spot.

Toshiba’s perpendicular hard drives made for next iPod?

Toshiba today announced the availability of its first hard drive based on perpendicular magnetic recording (PMR), a new technology that increases the amount of data a drive can hold. The new MK4007GAL 1.8-inch PMR drive can store 40GB of data on a single platter, making it possible for thinner portable devices with larger capacity.

Toshiba, which makes the hard drives found in current iPods, hinted that future gadgets will take advantage of the new innovation, noting that an 80GB version is on the way. “The addition of PMR technology will increase capacity options for product designs beyond those currently on the market today, especially as Toshiba introduces an 80GB 1.8-inch HDD with PMR later this year,” the company said.

O’Reilly releases ‘iPod Shuffle Fan Book’

O’Reilly has announced the release of the “iPod Shuffle Fan Book” by J.D. Biersdorfer.

“The iPod Shuffle Fan Book is the ultimate written companion for Shuffle owners,” says O’Reilly. “Learn how to master the art of shuffling: discover and create custom playlists, share and publish with iMix, and burn playlists on CDs. Beautifully designed in a colorful, compact format, this handy reference book is a must have for shufflers everywhere.”

The title is priced at $9.95.

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