Jobs ushers in array of new products

A Windows-compatible version of Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iPod digital music player will be available in late August, Apple Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Steve Jobs announced Wednesday in his opening keynote here at the Macworld conference.

Introduced in October, the critically lauded iPod, in conjunction with Apple's iTunes music software, won Apple a Grammy award this year for technical achievement. ITunes will remain Mac-only software; the Windows version of iPod will run software from Musicmatch Inc.

The new Windows iPod is part of an expansion of the product line. Apple cut prices by US$100 on existing models, bringing the cost of its 5G-byte iPod to $299 and the cost of the 10G-byte model to $399. Apple also unveiled a 20G-byte iPod, which will retail for $499, and added a pair of iPod accessories to its portfolio -- a carrying case and a remote control. The new accessories and the 20G-byte iPod will be available in early August, Jobs said.

While iPod is aimed squarely at the consumer market, another centerpiece of Jobs' keynote is intended to appeal to corporate users: iSync, software that will enable data synchronization between Palm OS (operating system) devices, Bluetooth-enabled GPRS (General Packet Radio Services ) mobile phones, Apple's iPod, and calendaring and address book software.

ISync is part of Apple's "digital hub" philosophy of making PCs control centers for its customers' lives, Jobs said. Mobile phones are "the most popular devices in the world," and will be an integral part of Apple's digital hub, he said.

ISync will be available in September as a free download. It requires "Jaguar," Apple's name for its forthcoming Mac OS X 10.2 upgrade. Jobs devoted much of his keynote to extolling Jaguar's virtues. The upgrade offers 150 new features, including a revamped address book, an enhanced Finder with integrated search tools and "spring-loaded folders" that pop open when hovered over with the mouse. Jaguar will go on sale August 24 for $129, Jobs said.

ISync will also be included in ".Mac," a new subscription service Apple is launching to replace iTools, a collection of services and applications previously available free. ITools will be discontinued Sept. 30.

Formerly free offerings such as Yahoo Inc.'s e-mail and Microsoft Corp.'s Hotmail are beginning to carry a price tag, and Apple has to reflect the industry's new landscape, Jobs said. .Mac will cost US$100 per year, though current iTools subscribers will be offered a first-year subscription for $50. The service's features will include e-mail, storage, antivirus protection, backup tools and Web site hosting.

Microsoft's .Net strategy was an influence on .Mac's creation and name, Jobs acknowledged.

"They're talking about Internet services, and we thought, 'Let's jump in this boat'. And we're actually delivering stuff,'" he said.

Jobs packed an array of software and hardware product announcements into his two-hour keynote. Apple's QuickTime 6 MPEG-4 video software, released Monday, has already been downloaded 1 million times, Jobs said. Tuesday, Apple released version 3 of its iTunes software. Jobs also highlighted Apple's forthcoming Rendezvous software, which will automatically detect Internet-connected devices on a local network. Printer makers including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lexmark International Inc. will be integrating Rendezvous into future devices, Jobs said, allowing instant plug-and-play installation of networked printers.

On the hardware side, Apple debuted a new high-end iMac with a 17-inch screen. The company also cut iMac prices by $100 throughout the product line, reversing an earlier price hike. The new iMac will include an 800MHz PowerPC G4 processor, a SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs, and an 80G-byte hard drive, and go on sale in August for $1,999.

Attendees interviewed after the keynote cited iSync as Apple's most exciting new announcement. Designer Marcy Solomon, a Mac devotee, said she hopes iSync will help convert her Windows-reliant husband, Perry Solomon. Solomon said he'd love to switch to using Macs, but won't until the operating system is fully supported among corporate users.

"I think everybody who uses Windows in the business world would switch if they could. (The Mac) is just a better product," said Solomon, CEO of transcription and digital media services firm WordWave Inc. in Boston. "But you have to get the IT departments to make the switch. Apple should hire more sales people."

Marcy Solomon said she may take advantage of some of Apple's new products for her college-bound son. "I wish he were here -- I just want to show him how easy all of this is," she said.

Several students attending the show also cited the iSync as one of the show's most exciting announcements.

"My dad is always saying, 'When is OS X going to support Palms?'" said Myles Francis, a contributor to macteens.com who traveled from Tucson, Arizona, to attend the show and meet fellow macteens.com writers.

Francis and a colleague also cheered news of the iPod's price drop.

Macteens.com writer Chris Gonzales, who traveled from North Carolina to the show with his father, said he was slightly disappointed Apple announced no upgrades to its Power Mac line of desktop PCs. Higher-end hardware for video editing and other resource-intensive tasks would have been nice, he said.

Jobs wrapped up his keynote with a passionate defense of PCs, devices many analyst say are becoming commodities.

"Other companies are laying off thousands of people, and there is certainly cause for despair if you believe the personal computer is something to do spreadsheets and word processing on," Jobs said. "Personal computers are undergoing a rapid evolution to be at the center of our digital lives, and we have never been more excited about this stuff. We are going to invest and innovate our way through this downturn."

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