The Apple Touch

The rumors had been flying ever since Apple booked San Francisco’s Muscone Center for an invitation-only press conference.

Beatles on iTunes was the rumor that dominated one week’s worth of press cycles. Cheaper iPods were also talked about, as were Wi-Fi iPods.

Actually, the rumor mill got most of it right. That is, except for online Beatles tunes. Guess we’ll still have to wait for that one.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced a new iPod and upgrades to existing models, such as the Nano, which now plays video. This year’s wonder gadget, the iPhone, now has a lower price tag.

The new iPod on the block is the iPod Touch, which is kind of like an iPhone minus the phone.

The iPod Touch is less than an inch thick and has a 3.5-inch touch screen interface. Like the iPhone, it can be used for video, music and pictures, and has Wi-Fi capabilities for downloading songs and surfing the Net. Cost? An 8-gigabyte iPod Touch is $299 and a 16-gig version will set you back $399.

But a Wi-Fi capable iPod was only part of the equation. Apple also announced the launch of the iTunes Wi-Fi Store along with a Starbucks deal where iPod Touch and iPhone users can connect at no charge to purchase music.

Starting next month, 600 Starbucks stores in New York and Seattle will be iTunes Wi-Fi compatible, with 350 Starbucks locations in the San Francisco area joining in November. When an iPod Touch owner enters or just passes by one of those coffee shops, a Starbucks icon will light up on the player’s display. Like the original iTunes, individual tracks purchased from iTunes Wi-Fi will cost 99 cents.

Apple watchers had predicted the company would eventually introduce an iPod that bypasses the computer. But while iPhone and iPod Touch can download music wirelessly, removing the need for a computer, that doesn’t mean a computer is completely out of the picture.

That’s because songs downloaded wirelessly to the iPod Touch and iPhone can then be downloaded to a computer’s iTunes library when the devices are connected. Also, if users wirelessly downloaded only a portion of the song, the computer will complete the download once the device is connected.


Speaking of iPhones …

Remember in June when news reports were filled with stories about people camping out overnight in line so they could be first ones on the block to own Apple’s latest gadget? When iPhones finally hit store shelves, the music player / cell phone / media devices were priced at $599 for an 8-gig model and $399 for a 4-gig iPhone.

Now Apple is cutting $200 from its 8-gig iPhone for a leaner retail price of $399 and will phase out the 4-gig phone. This goes against the way Apple usually does things; the company has been known to keep the original price of an item while introducing more bells and whistles as the years go by.

But with all the glitz centered on iPod Touch, iPhone and iTunes Wi-Fi, what about the gadget that started it all back in 2001? Was a little upgrade magic in store for the original iPod?

You bet. Of course, even before Wednesday’s announcement, the current iPod wasn’t exactly like the original. Apple did away with buttons in favor of a click wheel in 2004 and then upgraded to video in 2005.

Now called iPod Classic, the new units have up to 160 gigs of storage and come in an all-metal case. Top price is $349 and an 80-gig model costs $249.

And to think that only three years ago $349 bought you a 40-gig iPod capable of playing only music. Those were the days.


Sony Disconnect

Hear that?

That’s the sound of customers crying over the demise of Sony Connect. But don’t blame yourself if you can’t hear them. Sony Connect wasn’t exactly a household name. Not like Napster or iTunes.

Which is why Sony Corp. is shuttering its online music store, which sold downloads formatted in the company’s proprietary digital rights management technology called ATRAC.

Sony announced Connect’s demise at a Berlin consumer electronics trade fair as it rolled out two new lines of digital Walkmans – the NWZ-A810 and the NWZ-S610 – which handle WMA, MP3 and AAC formats, and play video as well.

The company also introduced a new audio-only Walkman, the NWZ-B100.

But it was news that Sony Connect is going bye-bye that captured the media’s attention. Launched in 2004, Sony Connect never captured a share of the downloading market. At least, not a significant enough slice of the pie to justify its existence.

Although no date has been given for the shutdown, Sony e-mailed Connect users stating that the store would not close before March 2008.

Ironically, the new digital Walkmans will not directly support ATRAC files, but Sony is offering software to convert non-secure ATRAC files to MP3s. So customers who purchased protected downloads from Sony Connect will have to convert the files the old-fashioned way – burning them to CD and ripping the newly burned tracks back to the hard drive.


No See TV On iTunes

At first, it was NBC Universal telling Apple it wouldn’t renew its contract and that the network’s TV programs would only stay on iTunes until the end of this year.

Then Apple fired a return salvo, saying it wouldn’t sell any programming from the Peacock’s new fall season.

The snafu is all about the price. ITunes sells programming from ABC, CBS, Fox, CW and 50 other cable outlets for $1.99 per episode. According to Apple, NBC wanted to more than double the wholesale price it charges the consumer electronics company for programs.

Contrary to Apple’s version of events, NBC says it never asked for that price hike, but instead wanted flexibility in packaging and pricing its programs. What’s more, NBC insists that Apple is contractually obligated to carry new episodes of returning shows, like "Heroes" and "The Office," until the end of the year.

But the current NBC / Apple dispute doesn’t mean NBC programming won’t have an online outlet. Only days after Apple said it wasn’t going to carry NBC Universal shows, the network announced plans to sell episodes on’s digital download service, Amazon Unbox.

To get things rolling, the network will allow free downloads of some of its new upcoming shows, including "Bionic Woman," "Chuck," "Journeyman" and "Life," before the shows debut on television. Other than that, the game plan remains pretty much the same, with episodes appearing on Amazon Unbox the day after they air.


The Zune Phone Cometh?

Is Microsoft planning a phone version of its Zune digital media player?


In sort of a general, maybe yes / maybe no kind of response, Mindy Mount, chief financial officer for the company’s entertainment and devices division, told investors at Citigroup’s global technology conference that such a gadget just might be a possibility.

"It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think, expect at some point there might be some integrated thing," Mount said, according to Reuters.

Apparently Microsoft has, at times, alluded to such an "integrated thing." When the company introduced Zune last year, it said a phone was in the works.

However, earlier this year at a CEO forum, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said a Zune Phone was not in his company’s future.

But never say never when it comes to Microsoft. There was a time when Bill Gates dismissed the Internet as no big deal. But that was back in the early 1990s.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in a Zune / cell phone combo, a YouTube search using the phrase "Zune Phone" will bring back someone’s idea of what a phone designed by Microsoft might actually look like. You just gotta love that rotary dial interface.