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Apple Launches Latest iPod

After getting kicked around in the desktop world, Apple Computer is hoping a pair of new iPods and its partnership with HP will help maintain its massive lead in digital music players and online music sales.

The firm launched a new 20GB model for $299 and a 40GB model for $399. The two stark white digital audio players, out today, are the fourth generation of the iPod device family since its debut. After some delays with its suppliers, Apple also confirmed that it will ship its colorful iPod mini to international markets starting July 24.

The new units now include a click wheel similar to Apple's iPod mini, as well as an improved 12 hours of battery life and the ability to recharge over FireWire or USB ports. The company said it decided to drop production on its 15GB iPod in favor of a price reduction. Apple is reportedly working on a 60GB iPod. While Apple execs declined to comment, Toshiba inadvertently slipped the news out a few weeks ago that it was contracted to develop such a drive for Apple.

Already, Apple has found a big buyer for the new iPods. Greg Joswiak, Apple vice president of hardware products, told internetnews.com that Duke University will distribute the new iPod to approximately 1,800 of its incoming freshmen as a learning aid. The University will also provide supplementary content like lectures and audio books in iPod-friendly ACC format that students can purchase. The new 20GB and 40GB versions also allow for playback 20 percent slower as well as 20 percent faster for speed-listening to a long novel or carefully reviewing a professor's notes.

"This is all part of our strategy to be number one and stay number one," Joswiak said.

Overall, iPod has been a shot in the arm for Apple. The company is boasting upwards of 860,000 units shipped in the last three months (50 percent market share) and prides itself on 70 percent dominance in all songs bought online. Apple even reached its milestone 100 million songs downloaded last week. The iPod also helped Apple achieve a positive quarterly financial position with earnings of 17 cents a share and a 30 percent boost in revenues, up to $2.01 billion, topping $1.94 billion forecasts.

But the Macintosh maker may soon see its greatest revenues from its iPod family, as HP chairman and CEO Carly Fiorina said her company would debut the HP version of the iPod starting in September. The announcement is the fruition of a deal announced back in January that allows for an HP-branded digital music player based on Apple's iPod specifications.

Siobhan O'Connor, HP vice president of brand communications for consumer products, told internetnews.com that HP decided to wait for the fourth generation iPod mainly because of its overall consumer experience.

"HP looked at all the different options in the field and we thought this iPod was heads above the rest," O'Connor said. "The USB charging is really important to our customers, as well as the additional battery life and the ease of use with the click wheel."

Joswiak said HP's relationship is very important to Apple, because of its ties to the PC world.

"HP has been very supportive in pre-installing iTunes on their desktop systems," Joswiak said. "They expect to do a great distribution, which is important for our iPod ecosystem.

The Apple/HP partnership is also a swipe at Dell , which is trying to sell its own music player. The company offered its own 15GB Dell Digital Jukebox music player for $99 to customers who send in an iPod for recycling.

"When you are not selling many of your players, you have to resort to some drastic stunts," Joswiak retorted.

Another revenue stream for Apple comes to it via third-party partners such as Griffin and Belkin. Joswiak said there were more than 200 accessories created specifically for the iPod that allow multiple functions like recording voice, taking pictures and accessing broadcast radio stations. And while Joswiak said the iPod ecosystem is robust, Apple has no immediate plans to open up the development process beyond the Cupertino campus.

"We haven't positioned the iPod to develop outside software and we have not opened up the APIs because we are still innovating and still coming up with new ideas," Joswiak said. "If we did open it up, either we would have to slow down production or yank our third parties away from their work."

Joswiak pointed out that there is currently one software development program available from Apple. The company is making some specifications available as part of the iPod's "NotesOnly" mode (also called Museum Mode), which allows for custom or restricted user interfaces for special purposes.

Beyond that, Apple said it is currently looking for developers that are interested in developing accessories.