Apple announces two video iPods

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Apple announces two video iPods
UPDATE

San Jose (CA) – Apple announced two classes of iPods this morning: a 30 GByte model which sells for $299, and a 60 GByte model which sells for $399. Both models come with a 2.5″ color screen. The new consoles are being billed as “the new iPod,” apparently replacing the existing 20 GByte and 60 GByte designs. Video playback is one feature of the new models.

The company’s iTunes service is promising new access to video content, including “video Podcasts, home movies, music videos and popular television shows like ‘Lost’ and ‘Desperate Housewives.'” Over 2,000 music videos, and short animations from Steve Jobs’ other job, Pixar, will also be featured.

CNN Domestic television reported this afternoon that Jobs stated the new devices should be able to play back entire movies, although it was not stated whether the resolution of those movies is reduced to fit the hard drive and screen size. According to Apple, the 30 Gb iPod model promises up to 14 hours of battery life, and the 60 Gb up to 20 hours, although a footnote states, “Battery life and number of charge cycles vary by use and settings.” With video use apparently set to increase, those figures could be quite variable.

Apple also announced today two new iMac G5 models, both featuring a remote control device roughly the size of an iPod shuffle. Billed as entertainment hubs, the units will support 17″ or 20″ widescreen displays, and will run a media center front end called Front Row, as well as an upgraded version of the iLife applications suite. As with previous models, the entire computer and TFT display share the same console. Not embracing “Intel Inside” just yet, the 17″ model will feature a 1.9 GHz PowerPC G5 CPU with 633 MHz FSB, while the 20″ model will feature a 2.1 GHz processor and 700 MHz FSB. Both units will run ATI Radeon X600 Pro graphics cards, with 128 Mb DDR on-board. Pricing for the 17″ edition will start at $1299.

Earlier story

San Jose (CA) – Most analysts and observers, with the notable exception of insider news site ThinkSecret, are anticipating Apple to announce later this morning the introduction of the long-expected video iPod. If Apple indeed pulls this off, JupiterResearch vice president and research director Michael Gartenberg tells TG Daily, the company must have already cleared several milestones, and may face more in the future.

“When Steve Jobs says, ‘One More Thing,'” said Gartenberg, referring to the simple headline in the middle of Apple’s invitation to reporters and analysts, “usually that’s when the other shoe drops…Apple has done a masterful job of building anticipation, to the point where people were scrutinizing the invitation for clues as to its hidden meaning.” He added it reminded him of people watching playbacks of episodes of the TV drama Lost, freezing frames and hunting for clues. Since the invitation was delivered via e-mail last week, some have speculated that the red curtains in the background resembled those used in a movie theatre, thus serving as a clue that video is indeed the subject of the introduction.

There are several issues any consumer electronics manufacturer must face when developing a video-related product, remarked Gartenberg; and if indeed this is the video iPod we’re talking about, then Apple must have already faced them:

  • The size factor – Large storage devices and large batteries can balloon the size of a small device beyond the handheld stage. It would be hard for a manufacturer to bring this device down to anything approaching the iPod nano; and size will help dictate this device’s relative usefulness among consumers.
  • Battery life – If a customer is expected to watch movies on such a device, the battery will have to be capable of holding out for longer than the movie’s run time, to allow for pauses and rewinds. Imagine consumers having to recharge between episodes in the Lord of the Rings saga, or between the first and second parts of Patton.
  • Availability and quantity of content – What is a consumer expected to play on this thing? Sony’s PlayStation Portable introduced the UMD disc as a small, dense container for portable movie content. But even though the PSP is popular in the states, UMD movies haven’t exactly taken off. Besides, do North American consumers really want small-screen movies? “There’s got to be good premium content,” said Gartenberg, more than just movie videos, previews, and news briefs. And assuming such premium content is available, at least for now, how would consumers transfer them onto the device? If the manufacturer of a video CE device doesn’t make content available immediately that people will find useful, then the product may end up being considered a bust. This is a very different situation from music, where content is already readily available. This brings up…
  • The social factor – Ripping a CD is considered “fair use” (for the time being), if the person doing the ripping is legally entitled to the CD. Ripping a DVD is illegal, and ripping a future high-definition DVD may set off alarm bells at various intelligence agencies and movie studios. Sure, high-def video content is available through the Internet, Gartenberg reminds us, but through underground channels. Should a consumer have to visit bizarre Web sites or install dangerous P2P software just to acquire the content that will make her video CE device valuable to her?
  • Price – The most obvious factor to consider. What should consumers expect to pay for not just the device, but the content or accessibility of content necessary to make it valuable for them to use what will probably include a two-inch diagonal screen?

Jupiter’s Michael Gartenberg believes there’s a reasonable chance to expect a delivery system for premium, desirable, portable content. Episodic television, he notes, may be the perfect content for a small device, providing as much as 45 minutes of entertainment – assuming you skip the ads.