Confirming months of speculation and publicized leaks from suppliers, Apple today unveiled the newest member of the iPod family, iPod shuffle. The compact digital audio player—built with flash memory instead of a hard-disk drive like other iPods—is the lowest-priced model yet, but also offers the least amount of song capacity. It is available immediately in 512MB and 1GB capacities for or $99 and $149, respectively.
Physically smaller than an iPod mini but made entirely from glossy white plastic like the front casings of most full-sized iPods, iPod shuffle is so named for its dramatic departure from iPod norms: it lacks its predecessors’ now iconic screen and Click Wheel controls, and is intended for casual, randomized music listening rather than storage of a full music library.
“iPod shuffle is smaller and lighter than a pack of gum and costs less than $100,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With most flash-memory music players users must use tiny displays and complicated controls to find their music; with iPod shuffle you just relax and it serves up new combinations of your music every time you listen.”
Apple said iPod shuffle takes advantage of iTunes’ new AutoFill feature, which “automatically selects the perfect number of songs to fill iPod shuffle from a user’s complete music library on their computer.” The company said that at any time, with a flip of a switch on the back of iPod shuffle, users can choose to listen to their music in order rather than shuffled.
Featuring a simplified four-direction control system to let users skip forward and backward, play/pause, and adjust volume upwards and downwards, iPod shuffle includes a headphone port at its top and standard Dock Connector port on its bottom to permit listening and file transferring, respectively.
The device, which can be plugged directly into a computer via USB, also doubles as a portable flash drive to back up and transfer personal files.
In addition to an included lanyard and earphones, Apple is selling an optional armband, clear sport case with neck strap, dock, USB power adapter, and battery pack that boosts battery life to up to 20 additional hours. All of the accessories sell for $29.
My, how the world has changed. Three years after Apple Computer’s October 2001 introduction of the iPod, the company famous in technology circles for its Apple ][ and Macintosh personal computers is arguably even more famous in the mainstream for its portable music players. And while the bi-annual Macworld Expo - the American exposition of new Apple and third-party hardware and software - seems to shrink with each passing year, the presence and importance of iPod developers within that expo continues to grow.
Leading iPod accessory vendors including Belkin, Dr. Bott, Griffin, iSkin, Marware and XtremeMac have rapidly expanded their Macworld Expo San Francisco show staff and floor space to accommodate new product lines, each seeking to broaden its offerings to provide more complete solutions to iPod owners’ needs. Last year’s smaller iPod vendors - TEN Technology, Eroch Studios of LiliPod fame, and MacMice, as examples - now have two, three or four times their previous number of offerings on display.
Some consolidation of even smaller vendors’ better offerings into large companies’ distribution networks is evident. Key case manufacturers are moving to sell plug-in iPod hardware developed by newly hired staff or smaller Asian affiliates. Larger companies are seeing executive-level changes, as evidenced by the just-announced movement of former Griffin Vice President of Marketing and Design Andrew Green to a similar position at rival Digital Lifestyle Outfitters.
And yet Macworld’s tent is getting smaller. On the heels of its announcement months ago that it would shrink the venue at its summer Boston Macworld to create a cozier atmosphere for the decreasing number of attendees and exhibitors, expo host IDG has now shifted the San Francisco show’s primary exhibition floor entirely into a single tent at Muscone Center South from its previous two-tent Muscone North and South spread. A few vendors are in smaller booths, or appear not to be represented on the floor at all. Though corporate inbreeding hasn’t recently been foreign to the world of Apple third-party development, the gene pool looks - but perhaps only looks - smaller inside Macworld’s convention hall.
New excitement and new blood may well be needed. And it is anticipated that lower-cost Apple products to be announced for release this year may begin that process. iLounge will be reporting live from Macworld Expo San Francisco all week with the details.
United Kingdom-based magazine and iLounge friend Macworld U.K. has exclusively reported the following on Apple’s new flash memory-based iPod:
“The micro iPod is white, and will hold 240 songs – but has no screen so will play the unlisted tracks in a set order or in random fashion. Four buttons are arranged in a square formation – two large buttons and two smaller ones.
Apple’s slogan for the iPod is ‘240 songs a million ways’.”
Italian Macintosh journalists at MacityNet have reported that workers at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, home of this week’s MacWorld Conference & Expo, temporarily but publicly displayed a large Apple banner for a new iPod model. According to MacityNet, which features pictures of the banner reading “Life is random”, the full banner made reference to a 240-song capacity, which would signal the use of 1GB of flash memory for the new iPod’s storage. A black randomized play icon appears to be visible against a green background.
In addition to raising first-quarter estimates on Apple to earnings of 49 cents a share on $3.49 billion in revenue, J.P. Morgan analyst Bill Shope today increased his iPod shipment forecast to 4.5 million units from 4.06 million. Shope estimates shipments of 1.6 million iPod minis for the quarter. “We expect Apple to unveil a low-cost, flash-based iPod, which could dramatically expand the company’s available market opportunity,” Shope said in a research note to clients. “The potential launch of a new, low-cost iMac could represent a significant positive catalyst as well.”
Podtender software contains over 900 drink recipes for use on iPod using the Notes feature. Podtender 2.0 has been reformatted, and the software restructured, it uses the iPods familiar navigation, making it easier to find drinks, all recipes are now listed by name under each letter of the alphabet and all recipes are now displayed individually. Podtender is shareware and costs $9 and a free demo is available for download.
Amazon reports that the among the top selling electronics products this holiday season were the Apple 20GB iPod and the Apple 4GB Silver Mini iPod. Consumer electronics sales surpassed book sales on Amazon Thanksgiving weekend and was Amazon’s largest sales category for the first time.
Apple has applied for a patent on technology that would allow an iPod to detect when it is falling and then stop reading or writing to the hard drive, increasing the chance that its insides would survive the drop. “The portable-computing device protects its disk drive by monitoring for such accelerations and operating to avoid usage of the disk drive during periods of acceleration,” Apple said in the patent application, which was published Dec. 16. “Through such protection, the likelihood of damage to the disk drive or loss of data stored on the disk drive is able to be substantially reduced.”
Apple Canada and Canadian retailers such as Future Shop and Best Buy will reduce the price of all iPods in response to the recent Federal Court of Appeal decision throwing out the levy on music players with embedded memory. The price will be reduced by the amount of the previously imposed levy, which equates to CDN$25 for 20GB and 40GB iPods, and $15 for iPod minis.
Credit Suisse First Boston has raised its target price for Apple stock to $70 from $40 and said it is expecting the company to sell nearly 5 million iPods this quarter. “We believe Apple will ship 4.8 million iPods in the December quarter and will once again exit the quarter with a substantial backlog, mostly in international locales,” the firm said. “This iPod number will fall short of some overly aggressive expectations mainly due to a shortage of hard drives, a problem that has plagued the company for over a year, but one we believe will finally be remedied in the calendar first quarter.”
Digimi Publishing today released “iPod + iTunes Quick Tips,” a new $5 eBook packed with “easy, concise and all-around cool tips meant to make your experience with Apple’s digital music duo more fun and more efficient.” The 59-page eBook has 100 tips (95 screenshots) and was written by Larry Angell (MacMinute Editor-in-Chief and iLounge News Editor) and Charles Starrett. The eBook was “written from a Mac-centric point of view, but Windows users should find more than enough tips to make purchasing worthwhile,” according to Digimi. iPod + iTunes Quick Tips shows you how to: receive Podcasts; save music videos and movie trailers from the iTMS; get the most out of your iPod’s battery; make normal AAC files bookmarkable and speed adjustable; be a better DJ with Party Shuffle; use the Firefox web browser to control iTunes; master Playlists and Smart Playlists; copy music from your iPod to your Mac; recover your lost iPod’s serial number; and much more.
Westciv, developers of the leading cross platform CSS Editor, Style Master, have released a special iPod edition of their popular CSS Guide. “Featuring a handy overview of CSS concepts, and in-depth information for every selector, property and @rule of CSS 2.1, the CSS podGuide is a must have for any web developer with an iPod.” The Style Master CSS podGuide is a free download.
The Wall Street Journal reports that major retailers are seeing iPod shortages across the country. The paper says that iPod minis and 20GB iPods are out of stock at Amazon.com, Buy.com and other Web sites, while retailers such as Target, J&R Electronics, and Best Buy are all having trouble keeping up with demand. “Given how strong demand has been all year you would have thought [Apple] would have gotten every last one they could into stores,” says Stephen Baker, director of industry analysis at market research firm NPD Group. “I suspect they have. It may just be they can’t build them fast enough.”
Apple’s iPod photo contains updated firmware that blocks songs downloaded from the RealNetworks music store from being played on the device, according to CNET News.com. “The move could render tunes purchased by many iPod owners unplayable on their music players. For the last four months, RealNetworks has marketed its music store as the only Apple rival compatible with the iPod, following the company’s discovery of a way to let its customers play their downloaded tunes on Apple’s MP3 player. Apple criticized RealNetworks’ workaround, dubbed Harmony, as the ‘tactics…of a hacker,’ and warned in July that RealNetworks-purchased songs would likely ‘cease to work with current and future iPods.’”
Toshiba today announced an 80GB version of its 1.8-inch hard drive that should eventually find its way into Apple’s iPod range. The company, which makes the drives found in current iPods, said the 80GB units would ship in the third quarter of 2005. “The Japanese manufacturer didn’t mention any customers by name of course, but having supplied Apple with micro hard drives to date, it seems likely the relationship will continue with the new, higher capacity,” reports The Register. A thinner and lighter version of the company’s 1.8” 40GB hard disk has also been introduced, and is likely to find its way into digital music players.
Toshiba has reportedly agreed to supply Apple with flash memory chips—presumably for the much-rumored flash iPod. China Daily reports that Yasuo Morimoto, senior executive vice president at Toshiba, has confirmed his company will start selling the memory chips to Apple “early next year.” Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich expects Apple to introduce a cheaper flash memory-based iPod at Macworld Expo in January. Toshiba currently supplies Apple with the 1.8-inch hard drives that the company uses in its 4G iPods.
At this week’s UBS Media Week Conference in New York, two executives took aim at Apple’s iPod. Andrew House, VP of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said he plans to first get the company’s Playstation Portable (PSP) in the hands of consumers as a gaming device and then use it to sell music and video downloads. The device uses a proprietary Sony storage disc format that can store about 2GB worth of content. “In the portable space, there are devices that are a necessity, like a cell phone, and there are devices that are indulgences,” House said. “The iPod fits very much into the indulgence and status category and that is where we are going to go head-to-head with PSP.”
Meanwhile, Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman said in a separate presentation at the conference that he sees a large opportunity to sell the label’s music on mobile phones, which he expects will hold as much as 1,000 songs like the iPod mini. “Eventually, the greatest competition [for the iPod] comes from the wireless network providers,” Bronfman said. “If my cell phone—or one of those 1.3 billion cell phone users as opposed to the five million iPod users—can give me the same kind of functionality as the iPod, that’s the biggest competition.”
In its annual report (SEC form 10-K) filed Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple summarized several iPod and iTunes related details. The company said it sold a total of 4.4 million iPods in fiscal 2004, a 370 percent increase from the 939,000 iPods sold in fiscal 2003. Apple reported that net sales of iPods rose $961 million or 279 percent during fiscal 2004 compared to the previous year. Since it was first introduced in fiscal 2002, Apple has sold approximately 5.7 million iPods. Apple said net sales of other music products, which consists of sales associated with the iTunes Music Store and iPod related services and accessories, increased $242 million or 672 percent during fiscal 2004 compared to previous year.
“Strong demand for the iPods during fiscal 2004 continued to be experienced in all of the company’s operating segments and was driven by enhancements to the iPod, the introduction of the iPod mini, increased expansion of the iPod distribution network, and continued success of the iTunes Music Store due largely to making it available to both Macintosh and Windows users in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany,” Apple said in the filing.
In a move aimed squarely at iPod, Sony today introduced the NW-HD3 Network Walkman, its first hard disk-based player to support the popular MP3 song format. The 20GB device is the successor of Sony’s first hard disk Walkman (introduced earlier this year), which only supported the company’s proprietary Atrac file format. Sony claims that the NW-HD3, which now comes in four new colors, plays 2.5 times longer than the iPod on a single charge, and can hold several thousand more songs thanks to the Atrac compression. However, the new Walkman will sell for approximately 30 pounds more than the iPod. It will be available in the UK before Christmas at 249 pounds ($462.70) and elsewhere in Europe in early 2005 at 369 euros ($489). The NW-HD3 will also go on sale in Japan this month for around ¥42,000 ($408.76). There is no word yet on US plans.
Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich expects Apple to introduce a flash memory-based iPod in early 2005, possibly in January at Macworld Expo. In a research note obtained by iLounge, Milunovich said that he is looking for the new flash iPods to be priced in the $149 to $199 range. He notes that the flash MP3 market is five times the size of the hard drive player market in units and about two times its size in revenue. “This is a market Apple should want to participate in because it will pull new customers into the iPod/iTunes ecosystem,” Milunovich said. “We believe consumers will hesitate to switch once they become accustomed to the iPod’s scrollwheel or have purchased a number of iTunes (which only work on iPods). The land grab is on.”