Apple refreshes iPods, iTunes

Greater battery life, bigger hard drives and better designs feature in the refreshed Apple iPod range that was announced this morning in the US. Software also gets a look in with a new search feature, games for download and better integration with its hardware brethren added to the company's iTunes jukebox and store.

Techworld: How to get free iTunes music

Apple's ever improving video-capable iPod now comes with a screen that's 60 percent brighter. Battery life has been increased, now offering over 6 hours playback compared to 3 hours on the previous version, said Apple Australia product manager Marcus Annett.

The company is also offering two more sizes - a 30GB and 80GB version, which translates to about 20,000 songs. Available in either black or white, the 30GB model will sell for $380 while the 80GB model will go for $499.

It's a far cry from the original iPods sold in Australia in 2001-2002. The original 5GB iPod sold for $895 while the 10GB version sold for $1095.

A new search function is also available, with users able to look up songs, artists or genres via an alphabetic search. By using the Click Wheel to type in the first few letters of a search or complete word, the iPod will locate songs within those search parameters.

If users get bored of songs they can turn to games. For $7.49 from the iTunes store, users can download and play games such as Bejeweled, Mahjong, Pac-Man, Tetris, Texas Hold 'Em, and several others on the new iPod.

"iPod has always been about music -- now we have games," said Annett. "It is not designed as a PSP competitor. It's just a bit of fun."

Older iPods need to be upgraded with the latest iPod software in order to play the games.

Nano (second)

With the iPod Nano the most popular in the iPod family, many changes have been made to keep new customers keen. The screen is now 40 per cent brighter, while battery life has been extended to 24 hours on a charge, up from 14 hours. The company bases these figures on songs using the AAC format at 128Kbps.

The Nano is also more compact than its predecessor and now made out of aluminum, to make it scratch proof. Like the iPod, the Nano features the new search and quick scroll that helps find songs by entering letters via the Click Wheel. It also features gapless playback which means songs can be listened to continuously without large gaps between tracks.

Prices have also dropped. The 2GB Nano costs $219; the 4GB $299; and 8GB $380.

Apple said that it will also be releasing on October 28, the Nike+iPod Sport Kits. The Nike+iPod Sport Kit, to be priced at $48, is a wireless system that includes a sensor chip used in Nike+ shoes to relay information to a receiver that attaches to an iPod Nano music player.

A runner who is hooked up to this system can be kept updated on their running time, distance, calories burned and other information. It displays the data on the iPod Nano's screen.

Released in the US in July, the kit is targeted at Nano users because they use this device most when exercising, thanks largely to its small size and shock resistant Flash memory.

Doing the Shuffle

Apple's iPod Shuffle gets the most radical redesign. As a result, Apple claims the new shuffle as the smallest MP3 player in the world. Before, it used to be shaped like a stick of chewing gum.

Now it is half the size and is shaped like a clip so users can securely attach it to their person. Maximising every bit of space on the product, the company has placed the headphone socket in the spring of the clip. The headphone jack is also where the Shuffle docks into the charger, and connects to the computer. An AutoFill function instantly tops up the device with tracks when it is plugged into iTunes.

The Shuffle can play tracks for 12 hours on one charge and comes in only one size - 1GB. It will retail for $119 when it goes on sale on October 28.

iTune up

The company's iTunes Store has been designed to navigate music is a different way. Currently users search for songs via text: now this can be done graphically via album cover art. Like in an old school jukebox, its Cover Flip feature shuffles across the screen when users drag the scroll bar left or right within iTunes, showcasing all the album covers.

If users don't have album covers, iTunes 7 will populate their music collection for free -- providing they have an iTunes Store account.

Local users will only have access to games, video clips and songs on the iTunes Australia site.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs this morning announced that US customers will be able to download videos from the Disney, Pixar, Touchstone and Miramax film stables. Movies will range from $9.99 to $14.99. No information about an Australian movie, or video service was provided at a press event late this morning.

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Howard Dahdah

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