RealTime IT News

Mini iPod On Apple's Plate

When Apple Computer czar Steve Jobs takes the stage for his annual state of the company keynote next week, the Macintosh mastermind will announce a new iPod and a host of other product upgrades internetnews.com has learned.

Sources close to the company say Apple will introduce entry-level versions of its popular music player with a smaller storage capacity and a sub-$300 price tag. The devices will come in either 2GB or 4GB versions with the option of different color casings -- a departure from their classic white shells.

"That's the strong rumor in the valley at least," said industry analyst Rob Enderle. "I'd put it at 70 percent chance of happening, but you can never really tell with Apple. They, and the firms that design for them, circulate products for test all of the time."

Apple is currently producing the third generation of its digital music player. The latest iPods range from a 10GB model for $299 to a 30GB model for $499. And while the iPod has been one of the great success stories for the company in 2003, it is receiving stiffer competition from rivals like Dell and HP.

Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg is not convinced about the advent of a Mini iPod saying, Apple enthusiasts are not going to see a radical departure from the company's current offerings. (Jupiter Research and InternetNews.com are both owned by the same corporation.)

"If Apple can preserve the existing line and still make money off it, they will do it," Gartenberg said. "They won't be announcing the lowest-priced MP3 player, because they are more about offering a quality product. The best we might see is a color display screen, because more and more people are using iPods to store photos and would want to show them to friends."

But new iPods are just one example of a basket of goodies that Apple is expected to announce at next week's Macworld Conference & Expo in San Francisco. This is the 20th such gathering for the Macintosh faithful and the Cupertino, Calif.-based concern is expected to Appeal to its avid fans mostly by freshening up its existing lineups.

To that end, the Macintosh-maker is expected to extend the number of desktop models running its IBM-based G5 processor. Mac watchers also expect the company to refresh its iMac and eMac lineups with speed bumps and software additions. Sources anticipate that Apple will add capacity and functionality to its Xserve (server) and Xserve RAID (storage) hardware, in order to help cultivate more interest in the line.The company has even gone as far as coordinating with the show's producers to launche a special section of the show for enterprise IT managers, dubbed MacIT. The sessions will offer information on Mac-based servers, services, security, IT management, integration and networking.

Outside of Apple's orchard of announcements, a bushel of exhibitors are planning to showcase new products at Macworld. For example, Chaparral Network Storage said it will introduce its new RIO eXp Storage Solution, part of its RAID storage family.

Likewise, CRYPTOCard said it will introduce CRYPTO-Server X, the first authentication solution designed specifically for Mac OS X. CRYPTO-Server X makes it easy for organizations to positively authenticate all local and remote users attempting to access a VPN or Web-based system.

Many of the specific details on the improved Apple products are speculative. Apple is traditionally very closed mouth prior to all of its keynotes, and Jobs always seems to be one step ahead of the online rumor mills.

One announcement Apple won't want to hear will come from some dissatisfied iBook users.

Michael Johnson, who runs the Apple critique site BlackCider.com, said his group is planning a class action lawsuit based on complaints from iBook owners who say they are plagued by display problems and logic board failures.

"We just passed the 400-person mark on people who want to be named as participants in the suit," Johnson told internetnews.com. "These are people who just happened upon my site while trying to figure out what went wrong with their machines and from people who caught a few news articles on some obscure online tech magazines."

A spokesperson for Apple was not available for comment.