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Next-gen iPod details emerge

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Update Apple is set to announce the fourth generation of its iPod portable music player this week. And in a rare moment of generosity - or perhaps 'spin doctoring' - the company gave its old pal, Newsweek's Steven Levy, a sneak peek and the chance to write about it ahead of the launch.

Apple iPod 4th GenApparently, the new model is slimmer - by all of 1mm - and incorporates the previous model's control buttons back onto the scroll wheel not unlike the first iPods and just like the iPod Mini. The scroll-wheel colouring is darker, but the player itself remains white.

Crucially, Apple has got the battery capacity up to the point where the player can deliver 12 hours' playback - up 50 per cent. According to Apple, it doesn't use a bigger battery, it just ekes out the charge longer.

And with a longer battery life comes a lower price: $399 for the 40GB (down from $499) model and $299 (from $399) for 20GB. There's no 15GB model. UK pricing is £299 and £219, respectively. The 20GB model does not ship with a docking cradle.

The price cuts will no doubt help Apple maintain sales alongside HP's anticipated 'hPod' roll out this summer. Interestingly, there's no 60GB model on the list, as had been expected, so maybe HP's got that, or Apple's holding it back until HP ships. Either way, we suspect HP has been waiting for Apple to get the battery life up to 12 hours before shipping, and now, with generation four, it can do so.

Other improvements include faster menu access to key features, and clever audio processing of the kind already seen on Creative's Zen players which allows audio books to be read out more quickly or more slowly without the pitch of the reader's voice changing. ®

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