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Apple Homes In on the iPod's Next Conquests

By Paul Hartsock MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Sep 11, 2009 9:05 AM PT

Apple has made a tradition out of unveiling new iPods every fall. This time around, though, the biggest part of the presentation wasn't the new hardware or software, but rather the person running the show. CEO Steve Jobs hosted his first public Apple event since coming back from an extended leave of absence to fight off some very serious medical problems.

Apple Homes In on the iPod's Next Conquests

As for the iPods, it looks like Apple is throwing some punches at other device makers in general -- not necessarily other MP3 players. The iPod nano now has a video camera, and Apple made a point of comparing it to a much less compact pocket camcorder from Flip that sells at a similar price.

The iPod touch did not get a camera, but it will now go all the way up to 64 GB of storage if you're willing to pay top dollar. The big theme for the touch, though, was gaming. Top-shelf game makers like Electronic Arts got some stage time to show off their new stuff. Apple wasn't shy about shoving around its gaming rivals, either: It called out the PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo DS, the two big names in portable systems. Neither of those guys has nearly the same game selection that can be found in the App Store, Apple said. Plus, their games are more expensive -- and you have to actually get off your duff and go to a store in order to buy them.


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Pixi Stick

Palm, Apple's nemesis in the smartphone arena, also announced the birth of a new product this week, though its message got a little muddled thanks to its carrier partner Sprint.

First, an unusual offer appeared on Sprint's Web site: Buy a Palm Pre smartphone, get a US$100 service credit. Usually the Pre sells for 200 bucks after rebates and contracts, so that would presumably have knocked the actual out-of-pocket price down to a very nice $100. That could've kicked up Pre sales, though it did smell a little desperate. Phone's only been around since June.

Then Sprint turned around and said that the page appeared by accident. It pulled the offer within hours, though it did say it'd honor the deal for those who signed up during the time it was running. There must have been some very interesting internal email exchanges over at Sprint that day, and someone there really ought to forward them to WikiLeaks.

But by Wednesday, Palm seemed to have regained control of the situation, announcing its second phone to run its new webOS operating system. The Pixi is a lighter, thinner candy bar version of the Pre -- no slide-out keyboard here, just a physical keypad below the screen. Price hasn't been officially announced, but expectations are hovering around $99. That's because Palm also announced it's cutting the price of the Pre to $150. As far as we know, this one's a real price cut, not a mistake. It's stood unchanged for two days now, so we're sure it's legit. Pretty sure, anyway.

Let's All Be Friends

OK, Sprint tripped on its shoelaces with the Pre thing, but let's not be too hard on it. Honest mistake, right? All Sprint wants is for more people to like it. Really, it NEEDS more people to like it, because it's been shedding customers for so many quarters, it's hard to see how it could possibly have any left.

And what's a better way for a corporation to win favor among consumers than by lowering prices? Sprint's new Any Mobile, Anytime plan is a new feature on its existing Everything Data plan. In addition to unlimited data and text, Any Mobile, Anytime gives users the ability to make unlimited calls to any other cellphone on any U.S. wireless provider. And the plan starts at $70 per month, which is 30 bucks less than the previous Everything Data plan.

Yes, you can still call land lines, but those calls will still cost you minutes.

Any Mobile, Anytime looks to be an attempt to trump the so-called calling circle plans offered by competitors. Those plans will let you name a handful of favorite people and call them however much you want, no minutes deducted. So Sprint kind of makes everyone in the U.S. with a cellphone your friend. Adorable.

Delay and Defuse

Despite technically being on a sort of death row, Microsoft Word is still hanging by a thread.

A company called i4i has been pretty successful in convincing a court that the application rips off patents it holds. It even managed to score an injunction against Word sales that would have gone into effect next month. But Microsoft got the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to grant a stay, allowing sales to continue flowing freely.

So now Microsoft has a little more wiggle room, and its strategies are clear-cut: Overturn the original court decision that favored i4i, negotiate a settlement with i4i, come up with a workaround that satisfies the court, or figure out some kind of combination move that takes Word out of jeopardy.

If it fails, Microsoft could conceivably be banned from selling Word. Would that mean the entire business world would come to a screeching halt? I don't know -- lots of other applications do the same basic thing. But not being able to buy new copies of an otherwise very reliable and widely used software tool would mean a lot of hassle for a lot of businesses that had nothing to do with this case and just don't want to have to deal with it.

Realistically, though, Word is probably too big to fail, so Microsoft will likely do and pay whatever it takes to keep it on the shelves. If you want to watch the world end, you'll have to wait until 2012 like everyone else.

Bookish Type

Amazon and Sony are the two biggest names at the top of the e-reader food chain, but their devices don't quite look like books. They look more like they descended from clipboards. Not exactly the kind of thing Penny used in "Inspector Gadget."

But Asus just might come up with an e-book reader that looks more like a book book. The Times of London quoted an Asus exec as saying the company is making an e-reader with two screens that can fold together like a real, dead-tree book. And they'll be in color. The word "Skype" also found its way into the conversation, so presumably this mystery product would have wireless capabilities as well, though it's unclear whether that would be WiFi or cellular. Cellular downloads are what make Amazon's and Sony's top products so attractive. Anywhere you can get cellphone coverage, you can download Stephen King's latest 1,700-pager.

Really, nothing's very clear about this Asus device at all yet, including the supposed price of $165. That's around half of what Amazon and Sony are asking for their readers, and this supposed Asus thing would have twice as many screens. Maybe someone got a conversion screwed up between dollars and British pounds. Or maybe dirt-cheap screens really are the future, and TVs are coming to a cereal box near you.

Blu Shift

Another big-name home entertainment electronics maker has come out with yet another Blu-ray disc player. It has an alphabet soup name, it plays movies in 1080p high definition, and it costs a few hundred bucks.

If that were really all there was to the story, it probably wouldn't get much attention at all. But the new player, the BDX2000, comes from Toshiba. That's the company that championed the HD-DVD format years ago -- the company that went to battle against Sony's Blu-ray and lost. The casualties of that war were many dollars spent by early adopters who bet on the wrong horse, as well as a chunk of Toshiba's pride. Now it's finally making the best of a bad situation and jumping in with the Blu-ray crowd.

Toshiba is pretty late to the party, but at least it isn't trying to pretend that HD-DVD never existed. In the press release announcing the new Blu-ray player, it specifically points out that the BDX2000 does not, in fact, play HD-DVDs. Laser discs, eight-track tapes and wax cylinders were left unmentioned.

Marvin Gardens or Madison Square Garden?

Who says the real estate market's dead? Hasbro is hosting an online game that basically lets you buy any property in the world that you want, and it set off a virtual land rush that crashed servers and sent the whole project limping out of the gate.

Monopoly City Streets uses Google Maps as a board game. Each player is given $3 million in virtual cash to start. You go around buying high-profile properties, selling them, trading them, developing them -- and whoever has the most assets at the end of four months wins.

So, we have a bunch of would-be tycoons trying to get rich quick by buying stuff they won't actually own using money that's not actually real and treating the whole thing like it's some sort of game. Sounds kind of familiar.

It could be a little bit difficult to get a handle on a game of Monopoly without the constraints of the four-sided little board we're all used to playing on. On the other hand, it does seem like an interesting twist on an old-school game. I can't tell you for sure, though -- the day it launched, MonopolyCityStreets.com got so much attention that the server blew its top hat.

Rhapsody Sings iTunes

Apple has approved literally tens of thousands of mobile applications for distribution on its App Store. There are apps for medical professionals, apps for aiming a sniper rifle, apps for navigating the subways, apps for cooking dinner and apps for looking at ladies in bikinis. But Apple is very stingy when it comes to approving apps that edge into some of the core functions that the company itself has already built apps for. For instance, there may be a handful of so-called alternate iPhone Web browsers on the App Store, but all of them basically amount to a version of Safari dressed up in a different skin. Don't hold your breath for a Firefox browser.

That's why it was surprising that Apple recently gave the thumbs up to Real Networks, which launched a Rhapsody music player on the App Store. Rhapsody has been around for a while and it's generally considered to be a competitor to iTunes, though it uses a different model of distribution -- subscriptions rather than pay-per-download, like iTunes.

But now you can go to Apple's App Store, download a Rhapsody player, try it for free for a week, and pay $15 per month if you want to keep it.

So, is Apple finally allowing rivals to do business in its own storefront? Not really. See, Rhapsody for iPhone and iPod touch only streams music. It doesn't save music anywhere. If you want to buy a song and keep it forever on your hard drive, there is an option for that in the Rhapsody app, but guess where it takes you? Right back to iTunes. And you thought you could escape.


Rakuten Super Logistics
Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.