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Apple Releases Video iPod

In a widely-publicized marketing event yesterday in San Francisco, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced a range of new products that the company hopes will guide it through a healthy holiday shopping period. But the big star of the show, naturally, was a new iPod that, contrary to numerous previous assertions by Apple, includes video playback features.

The new iPod, which is known internally at Apple as iPod with video, replaces the classic white line of iPods that first appeared in 2001. Available in both white and black bodies, like the iPod nano, the new iPod is a tentative first step into the world of portable video, given the competition's much earlier entries and more powerful products. Apple is even hedging its bets on the iPod name: Stung by the lackluster response to the expensive iPod photo, Apple is simply referring to the new device as the iPod and is deemphasizing its video features.

That makes sense, because the iPod's tiny 2.5 inch screen is woefully inadequate for watching movies. Compared to competition such as the Portable Media Center (PMC), which runs on Microsoft's platform, or the stunning Sony Portable PlayStation (PSP), the new iPod features a smaller screen and much fewer movie purchasing options. But it's an iPod, and that alone should drive sales. Should the accompanying new movie download capabilities that Apple just added to iTunes prove popular, we can expect Apple to expand that service.

In addition to the new iPod, Apple also shipped a new version of its iMac G5 desktop system, which hopefully fixes the rampant heat problems that plagued the first version. And in a bizarre move, the company also announced iTunes 6, just five weeks after it shipped iTunes 5. Apple also released a new remote control for controlling a Mac-based Media Center-like interface called Front Row and the new iPod, which can be connected to TVs. Neither product, however, has TV or digital video recording (DVR) capabilities, which Microsoft has offered through XP Media Center Edition since 2002.

Given its late time to market with these features, Apple somewhat curiously acted as if it had invented the market for portable video or, in one major example, attempted to downplay this lateness by portraying its arrival as the first example of a company "getting it right." Jobs showed that Apple's remote control features just 6 buttons, compared to over 40 buttons for various Media Center remotes. But Media Centers PCs are far more powerful than iPods and can thus be expected to offer more features and, ahem, more buttons.

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