Apple revamps iPods, cuts 8GB iPhone price

Apple's MP3 players get a face lift

Apple CEO Steve Jobs Wednesday announced a total refresh of the company's iconic iPod music player line that includes the new iPod touch, a Wi-Fi device that's essentially an iPhone without the phone and sports a touch-screen interface.

He also unveiled a US$200 price cut for the top-end 8GB iPhone, the smart device he introduced to much fanfare in June.

The iPod touch, which mimics the iPhone's physical dimensions and 3.5-in. screen, will be priced at US$299 for an 8GB model and US$399 for a 16GB device when they go on sale in a few weeks, Jobs said. The touch is slated to ship in September.

Using his trademark "One more thing ..." tag line, Jobs also unveiled the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, a version of the company's digital music outlet that lets customers buy and download tracks directly to the player over a wireless connection. Prices and song selection are identical to the traditional iTunes, said Jobs. A synchronization feature updates the user's Macintosh- or PC-based library of purchased music when the iPod touch is next slipped into its docking stand.

Although the 802.11b/g-compliant touch got the bulk of the applause at Jobs' presentation, he also outlined changes to the three current iPod lines. The diminutive iPod shuffle, available Wednesday, received the least attention, with only new colors announced; it will remain a 1GB clip-on device that sells for US$79, said Jobs.

Rumor mills were correct, however, in pegging the iPod nano for a redesign. The new nano is shorter and wider than the second-generation models, and it sports a 320-by-240-pixel, 2-in. screen rather than the older device's 1.5-in. display. Jobs bragged about the visuals, saying, "We've achieved this with a screen with the highest pixel density we've ever shipped, 204 ppi [pixels per inch]," he said.

The new nanos, which will be available by the end of the week, are priced at US$149 for the 4GB model and US$199 for the 8GB version, a US$50 price cut for both storage sizes.

Jobs also briefly talked up the original iPod, now dubbed "iPod classic," which will be available in 80GB and 160GB versions equipped with hard drives, rather than flash RAM, for song and data storage. The new classics, available in silver and black, will sell for US$249 and US$349.

In other announcements, Jobs said that current iPhones would be updated later this month to let their owners access the iTunes Wi-Fi store, and he revealed a partnership with Starbucks Corp. that will provide free iTunes access -- but not general Wi-Fi -- within the coffee chain's stores. That arrangement will be rolled out in stages, with approximately 600 Starbucks outlets in New York and Seattle online on Oct. 2.

Finally, Jobs dropped the lower-end iPhone from Apple's inventory, and slashed the price of the remaining 8GB model. "We want to make iPhone even more affordable for even more people this holiday season," said Jobs. "So we're going to do something about that today."

The new price for the 8GB iPhone, starting Wednesday, will be US$399, a US$200 price cut, he said.

As usual, Apple's online store was taken offline earlier Wednesday. Presumably, when it returns, it will sport the new iPods and the new price tag for the iPhone.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld

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