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NY Times: Music labels considering unrestricted MP3s

Record labels are considering a move towards finally offering unrestricted MP3 music files, according to industry insiders. The New York Times reports that executives of technology companies, in attendance at the annual Midem global trade show for the music industry, are apparently aware of “at least one of the four major record companies [that] could move toward the sale of unrestricted digital files in the MP3 format within months.” Even with solid sales on the iTunes Store and other online music services, it is reported, digital sales of restricted music has seen slow growth. Physical CD sales have likewise continued to take a hit.

Quiksilver, Plantronics intro iPod-ready snow gear

Quiksilver and Plantronics have announced a new line of Bluetooth-enabled snow apparel and accessories, which offer wireless stereo audio for mobile phones and iPods. The collection includes the Quiksilver Double Daffy Snow Jacket ($370; shown) and Quiksilver Pulse Helmet ($250) for men, and the Roxy Teen Angel Snow Jacket ($340) and Roxy Shiver Helmet ($250) for women. A compatible iPod Bluetooth adapter will also be required.
 
“The new collection integrates Quiksilver’s high-quality outdoor sports apparel with Bluetooth equipped mobile phones, iPods and MP3 players, allowing users to effortlessly access their favorite tunes and mobile calls without the worry of snagging a cord while blazing the slopes. Plantronics’ technology, embedded within the Quiksilver apparel and accessories, enables stereo sound to stream wirelessly from compatible products so that users can play and control music as well as answer incoming calls—all at the touch of a button.”

Transformers iPod speaker system debuts

iPods in disguise? BigBadToyStore.com is offering an imported iPod speaker system integrated into a Convoy (the Japanese equivalent of Optimus Prime) Transformers toy. “Two iconic products have merged to create the new Convoy iPod Docking Bay,” says the online store. “Convoy is presented in an entirely white iPod color scheme and fully functional iPod Docking Bay with Speakers. The trailer holds two speakers and all standard size iPods will mount in the center of the trailer to play your favorite tunes.” The Convoy iPod Docking Bay is priced at $145 and will ship in July.
[via Gizmodo]

Apple sued over Click Wheel touch sensor technology

Quantum Research Group has sued Apple, claiming technology used to make the iPod’s Click Wheel infringes on a touch sensor patent it holds. “We are suing Apple over charge-transfer technology in iPods,” said Quantum CEO Hal Philipp. “Some are based on Cypress’ PSoC chip and used in a way we believe infringes our patent… There are settlement discussions going on but I believe it will go to trial later this year. I am hoping iPhone does not contain Quantum-patented charge-transfer technology.” The legal action against Apple was initiated in December 2005 but has been kept under wraps until now. Apple recently filed an answer “denying all material allegations and asserting numerous affirmative defences.” The company also filed “counterclaims for non-infringement and invalidity” in July.

HandStands offers iSnug Accessory Kit

HandStands today announced the iSnug Accessory Kit, a five-piece set which includes an iPod FM Transmitter, headphone splitter, audio video cable, 12v car charger, and an accessory case designed to house all of the included accessories. Retailing for $59.99, HandStands has set an introductory price of $45.99 through its website.

Case of iPods stolen from Colorado Apple Store

A case of 42 iPod nanos was stolen earlier this month during business hours at the Apple Store in the Twenty Ninth Street mall in Boulder, Colorado. “Employees at the 1755 29th St. business told police they noticed a 2-foot-by-2-foot Plexiglas display case was missing from a table about 10 feet inside the front door at about 5 p.m. Jan. 9,” reports the Boulder Daily Camera. “The case, which weighed about 30 pounds, contained 42 of the new 4GB iPod nanos. The stolen case had been set up the night before it was taken. It wasn’t taped or wired down, and store managers said they won’t display a similar case in the future.”

Microsoft exec, displeased with Creative and Dell, proposed iPod partnership

Frustrated by offerings from hardware partners Creative Technology and Dell, a Microsoft executive considered a partnership with Apple to bring Windows Media support to the iPod. In a 2003 internal email entiled “sucking on media players,” Windows chief Jim Allchin suggested he talk to Apple CEO Steve Jobs to get the iPod to work with Microsoft’s software for fear the iPod would “drive people away from Windows Media Player.” The email is part of evidence in a civil antitrust trial against Microsoft in Iowa. “My goodness it’s terrible,” Allchin wrote about one of Creative’s devices. “What I don’t understand though is I was told the new Creative Labs device would be comparable to Apple. That is so not the case.”

Nike iPod watch details, photos leaked

Following up on its successful Nike + iPod Sport Kit, Nike plans to release a series of at least two and perhaps three hybrid watch and wireless remote control accessories for Nike + iPod Sport Kit-equipped iPod nanos, iLounge has learned. One is Flight+, a sophisticated digital wrist watch and wireless remote control, while another is Amp+, a less complex watch design previously disclosed in an issue of Men’s Health magazine, but now fully detailed by an iLounge reader. A third model, Aero+, appears to be destined for iPod release as well; as of press time, iLounge is awaiting additional details from Nike.

Planned for release on May 1 of this year, Flight+ ($129, shown above) is a wireless iPod remote control with a complete digital wristwatch as its body. In a novel design, Flight+‘s music controls, such as volume and track adjustment, are built into a rocking bezel around its central Electroluminescent (EL) backlit watch screen. Available in two colors, this watch will feature standard time, date, and chronometer features, including alarms, plus the ability to trigger the Nike + iPod Sport Kit’s voice feedback feature.

imagePreviously disclosed to Men’s Health by Nike, the upcoming Amp+ is a bracelet-styled remote control with a stripped-down subset of Flight+‘s features. Amp+ includes its own integrated LED display with the ability to display either time or iPod control status, an iPod shuffle-styled control pad to let users change tracks, adjust volume, and play/pause songs on the iPod, and special Sport Controls to call up the Sport Kit’s special voice feedback and PowerSong features.

image

Like Flight+, Amp+ is listed as a May 1, 2007 release, but this model is shown in five different colors - two pinks, two reds, and an orange - each at an $79 price. Though the majority of its body appears to be made from plastic, Amp+ is described as using a solid stainless steel double action clasp to seal shut on the wearer’s wrist.

imageA third watch called Aero+ also appears to be in the offing for iPod owners. Shown in two differently colored versions, Aero+ appears to be a men’s version of the Flight+ design, with a larger body, more rugged look, and similar wireless remote and clock functionality. Neither pricing nor a projected release date are listed for this model.

The three watches appear to be part of a larger move by Nike into the Sport Kit Sensor-ready watch business - including steps to be taken without Apple. Two additional products, the Nike Speed+ Kit for Men, and the Nike Speed+ Kit for Women, are each apparently planned to ship in two colored versions, packaged along with a Nike+-branded USB receiver and Nike+ Sensor for $129. These Speed+ watches eliminate the need for an iPod to store your performance data, instead transferring the shoe-mounted Sensor’s distance, pace, elapsed time and calorie details to the watch’s simple built-in LCD screen and memory chip, then sending the saved data to the USB receiver and your computer. Without an iPod, both music and voice feedback will be missing. The Speed+ Kits will also be available at the beginning of May.

iSkin offers Tokidoki Vibes for 2G iPod nano

iSkin has announced the availability of its Tokidoki-designed Vibes for Apple’s second-generation iPod nano. Available in eight different Japanese-inspired styles, the lightweight, scratch-resistant case comes with a clear film screen protector and a detachable, rotating RevoClip2 clip. “The newest Vibes showcase some of the latest Tokidoki creations, adding sophisticated fun and flair to portable music while making a cutting-edge fashion statement with the best protection available for your nano,” says iSkin. The Tokidoki Vibes are priced at $25 each.

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Mix: AT&T deal, Zune slang, West Wing, iPhone ringtone

An analyst says the Apple-AT&T alliance is all about content. “They are not going to pull users with speed,” says Michael Voellinger, VP of telecom consultancy Telwares. “They will do it with content and because of the content, it should be very successful.”

An Advertising Age glossary of 2007 media terminology says Microsoft’s Zune brand now means something besides a digital audio player. “ZUNE: Microsoft’s new music player. Also [slang]: a poseur; a wannabe. Usage: ‘Dude, you look like such a Zune in that shirt.’”

Apple and NBC have added the first two seasons of The West Wing to the iTunes Music Store. Episodes are $1.99 each and full seasons are $39.99.

The ringtone used during the iPhone’s introduction last week at Macworld Expo can be downloaded for your current cell phone, thanks to two anonymous Apple fans. Both MP3 and MIDI versions are available.

iPod speaker clones increase, confusing buyers

Original? A knockoff? Or just a non-exclusive design made by a random Chinese factory for sale to multiple vendors? Over the past several years, small iPod accessory makers looking for quick growth have become dependent on web sites such as Global Sources and Alibaba.com, which connect manufacturers of little white speaker systems with Western companies looking to jump on the iPod audio bandwagon. The results have varied from interesting to disappointing: once sold only by Pacific Rim Technologies, the Cube Travel Speakers have now been resold in cosmetically identical form - often times with much inferior sound and build quality - under myriad other small brand names, sometimes producing complaints to Pacific Rim from disappointed buyers of other companies’ versions. Similarly, the number of variants on Sonic Gear’s years-old i-Steroid series of “vacuum tube” speakers, including last year’s iTube from GINI Systems and Recoton’s just-announced blackVault 2.1 (shown), is growing every month, varying only in small details.

imageThis week brought a surprise: two companies with bigger brands - and past reputations for releasing at least aesthetically novel products - joined the “me-too” crowd. At last week’s CES and Macworld Expo trade shows, and for the first time in the United States, two major companies simultaneously announced virtually identical iPod speaker systems: at Macworld Expo, DLO showed iBoom Travel, a small clock radio, at the same time as rival Jensen at CES was announcing JiMS-120, a system with the same general exterior design and features. Can you tell the units from each other using the photos below?

iPod cases made from recycled vinyl records introduced

Contexture Design has introduced a new line of iPod cases made from recycled vinyl records. The one-of-a-kind “45” cases are composed of thermoformed vinyl records, felt padding, cork, and have a plexiglass screen protector. The cases—available in albums from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and John Lennon—also feature openings for the Click Wheel, headphone jack and hold switch. The 45 iPod cases are custom built to fit fourth and fifth generation iPods—from 20GB to 80GB. They are priced at $45 each.

Microsoft CEO claims Zune market share, laughs at iPhone

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claims that his company’s Zune media player took 20% of the high-end digital audio player market—those devices priced $249 or above—following its debut in November. Ballmer’s estimates compare to those of the NPD Group, which said this month that the Zune accounted for only 2.8% of the total digital audio player market in the five-week period from Nov. 19 to Dec. 23.

“We came into the market, a market in which they are very strong, and we took, I don’t know, but I think most estimates would say we took about 20-25% of the high end of the market,” Ballmer said in a CNBC interview. “We weren’t down at some of the lower price points, but for devices $249 and over we took, you know, let’s say about 20% of the market. So, I feel like we’re in the game, we’re driving our innovation hard and, uh, okay, we’re not the incumbent, he’s the incumbent in this game, but at the end of the day, he’s going to have to keep up an agenda that we’re gonna drive as well.”

Characteristically, Ballmer also laughed at Apple’s iPhone and its premium pricing. “$500 full-subsidized with a plan! I said that is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard which makes it not a very good email machine,” Ballmer said. “Now, it may sell very well or not, I, you know. We have our strategy, we’ve got great Windows Mobile devices in the market today. You can get a Motorola Q phone now for $99, it’s a very capable machine, it’ll do music, it’ll do Internet, it’ll do email, it’ll do instant messaging. So, I kinda look at that and I say, well, I like our strategy. I like it a lot.”

iSuppli: iPhone to generate nearly 50% margin

Apple and Cingular will see a nearly 50 percent gross margin on each iPhone sold, giving the companies “a hefty profit, as well as plenty of room for future price cuts,” according to a preliminary Bill of Materials (BoM) estimate by iSuppli.

“iSuppli estimates the 4GB version of the Apple iPhone will carry a $229.85 hardware BoM and manufacturing cost and a $245.83 total expense, yielding a 49.3 percent margin on each unit sold at the $499 retail price,” said Andrew Rassweiler, teardown services manager and senior analyst for iSuppli. “Meanwhile, the 8GB Apple iPhone will sport a $264.85 hardware cost and a $280.83 total expense, amounting to a 46.9 percent margin at the $599 retail price.”

iPod nano used to compare global currencies

Commonwealth Bank, a large Sydney, Australia-based bank, has created a new method to compare global currencies and purchasing power using the iPod nano. Similar to the Big Mac index launched 20 years ago by The Economist magazine, the CommSec iPod Index looks at pricing of the 2GB iPod nano in U.S. dollars in 26 countries.

“Brazilians pay the most for an iPod, shelling out $327.71, well above second-placed India at $222.27,” reports Reuters. “Canada was the cheapest place to buy a Nano at $144.20, while Australia ranked 19th at $172.36, cheaper than Germany ($192.46), France ($205.80), South Korea ($176.17) and China, where the machine is manufactured. The U.S. was fourth cheapest at $149.”

Notes from Q1 2007 Apple Conference Call

In its first-quarter 2007 Quarterly Results Conference Call, Apple Inc. executives provided additional insights into the domestic and international sales of iPods, growth of the iTunes Store, and the potential of both Apple TV and the upcoming iPhone. During his introductory remarks, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer noted that music products, including iPod, represented 57% of Apple’s total revenue, versus 59% in the preceding year’s quarter. The company maintained its MP3 leadership share in the U.S. market, boasting a 72% marketshare in December, according to NPD data, and extended its lead in every international territory for which it has market data. Very strong sales through the iTunes Store helped the company’s performance: “other music revenue” grew 29% over the same quarter last year, buoyed by doubled sales of iTunes Gift Cards. iTunes now accounts for 85% of the U.S. market for legal digital music downloads, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

Additional notes from the Conference Call, including Apple TV as the “DVD player of the 21st Century” and potential changes to iPhone before release, are now available below.

Apple ships over 21 million iPods during holiday quarter

Along with its quarterly financial results, Apple today announced that it shipped over 21 million iPods during the busy holiday shopping quarter. Specifically, Apple said it shipped 21,066,000 iPods during the quarter, a 28 percent growth in iPods over last year’s results, bringing the total number of shipped iPods to over 90 million. Apple’s net profit for the fiscal first quarter was a record $1.0 billion, or $1.14 cents per share, on $7.1 billion in revenue.

“We are incredibly pleased to report record quarterly revenue of over $7 billion and record earnings of $1 billion,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We’ve just kicked off what is going to be a very strong new product year for Apple by launching Apple TV and the revolutionary iPhone.”

iFrogz offers up multiple iPod products

iFrogz recently announced several new iPod accessory offerings, all of which should be available by the end of January. 

The company is now offering its customizable silicone iPod cases in new multi-packs that provide iPod owners with 30 different case styles in one package. These include one Wrapz, three Bandz and 10 removable Screenz grouped around a particular theme, such as “Urban,” “Girlie” or “Hippie.” iFrogz is also now bundling its Tadpole iPod 5G case for kids with child-size headphones (shown right).

iFrogz also rolled out a rugged silicone case for the 5G iPod called the Bullfrog. It’s available in a wide array of variations. Joining it are Shuffle Bandz (silicone and come in multiple colors with raised contrasting stripes) and Shuffle Strapz (made of leather and comes in three colors) cases for the new iPod shuffle as well as the Rana, an unconstructed leather pouch for the iPod and other personal electronic devices which has snap fasteners to secure devices, an internal pull-tab for removal of devices and a soft interior.

Apple planning Beatles-iTunes commercial during Super Bowl?

Apple could announce the availability of the Beatles on the iTunes Store in a commercial to air during next month’s Super Bowl. According to a report by the Toronto Sun, Apple is planning a special announcement in a Super Bowl ad on February 4th. The newspaper reports that music from the Beatles could be available through iTunes as soon as next month, with Apple being given an “exclusive three-month, restricted deal” allowing iTunes to offer remastered Beatles songs online. A report by a Beatles fan website yesterday said that at least one Beatles album will be available on Valentine’s Day next month.

Report: Apple to open up FairPlay DRM to accessory makers

Tech.co.uk claims that Apple will open up its FairPlay copy-protection technology to licensed iPod accessory makers. Apple is “expected to make two announcements this week—the first will be to allow streaming of protected AAC content via USB; the second will be to licence its Fairplay DRM to the company’s Made For iPod licensees,” the Tech.co.uk article says. “This will have the effect of enabling you to play songs bought from the iTunes Store through third party devices like hi-fis using digital connections. It may also mean that devices like iPod docks will be able to display more information—artwork and other track info, for example—which is stored alongside the protected audio.”

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