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Apple pops iPod

Cute, but 'me too' hard disk-equipped MP3 player

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In answer to our previous question, Apple's so-called "breakthrough digital device" is called the iPod, but as we feared, it also proves to be a 'me too' product.

Designed with Apple's usual flair, iPod is ultimately nothing more than an MP3 player with a built-in hard drive, little different from Creative Labs' Nomad Jukebox.

Apart from its looks - cannily styled to tie in with the popular iBook's glossy white - iPod offers close integration with Apple's MP3 software, iTunes (version 2, coming soon), and provides a 1394 connection rather than the usual USB link, which doubles up as the unit's power supply, feeding its Lithium Polymer battery with electricity from the host Mac's FireWire bus or via the 1394-enable mains adaptor.

The hard drive is an unspectacular 5GB, and the price a whopping $399 - £329 in the UK. However, the drive can be used as a removable hard disk and is capable of holding a 1000 songs at MP3's 160Kbps compression rate. There's enough RAM in the device for 20 minutes of non-skip playback, Apple claims. The battery lasts for ten hours between charges.

By comparison, the Nomad Jukebox contains a 6GB hard drive and costs around $220. It weighs 14oz (the iPod comes in at 6.5), doesn't look as good, isn't as compact and takes longer to grab tracks, but who cares when it's not much more than half the price?

Well, if it works for Sony, it could just work for Apple. Sony's products are generally more expensive than rival items, but the Japanese giant makes sales on the strength of its brand and the quality of its goods. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has long said he wants his company to be more like Sony, and iPod the latest step in a strategy that takes in the iBook and Apple's retail stores-cum-showrooms.

Jobs' plan isn't dissimilar to ex-CEO Gil Amelio's scheme to pitch Apple as the Maglite of the computer biz - in other words, offering the same products, but with more flair, better design, higher quality and (more importantly) a weightier price tag. All we have to do now is see whether consumers consider Apple in the same light as Sony/Maglite and spend all that the extra cash for a logo. ®

Bootnote SpyMac's attempt to out-guess Mac users as to what Apple would come up with today proved almost totally wrong. As we said, it sounded too much like a compilation of all the main rumours to have been spread about what Apple has been up to over the last couple of years. However, the new site did at least get the iTunes 2 bit right. Nice try, guys.

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