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As expected, Apple has extended its successful iPod music player to carry and display your photos. Two new iPod Photo models, slightly heavier than the regular iPod, and with a color screen and support for an AV cable that allows the photos and albums stored on the iPod to be displayed on a TV screen, were added to the line-up today.

And thankfully, the first photo that appears as the device is booted won't be that of U2 singer and global pontificator, Bono, as some feared. He appeared on stage today in an unrelated product announcement, a trial balloon for a concept suggested by the RIAA's Cary Sherman. iPod PhotoCary's dream device, he said when the iPod was first launched, would be a portable media player preloaded with RIAA-compatible locked music. Well, it's almost here, but more of that in a moment.

The new photo-friendly models feature a 60GB or 40GB hard disk, better battery life and a 220x176-pixel 65,000 color screen. iPod Photo syncs with Adobe's excellent Photoshop Album software on the PC (and Photoshop Elements, too) and Apple's own iPhoto on the Mac. At $599/£429, the top-end model is an ounce heavier than the previous 40GB iPod. In July, Apple cut the price of the high end iPod from $499 to $399. The new 40GB photo iPod weighs in at $499/£359. Apple suggests that shipments from its online store will begin within two weeks.

Underneath the hood, Apple has reduced the amount of skip-free music playback and beefed up the battery, claiming 15 hours of continuous audio playback, or five hours of slideshows, for the iPod Photo. iTunes 4.7, released today, will support the new models.

"Get Brownie Points for Sharing", claims Apple in the accompanying press release, encouragingly. Although we think they probably don't mean like this...

The social, self-filling iPod: more music, and more friends

...which is how the next generation of truly useful iPod hardware should work. For now, thanks to the included AV cable, multimedia slideshows created on the PC or Mac will be playable on granny's TV - the major selling point of the new model.

Amidst dire predictions that the phone will eventually replace the iPod, by subsuming many of its features, and much clamor for Apple itself to produce an 'iPhone', the company seems unphazed. Speaking here earlier this year, Symbian founder Colly Myers said he didn't see a future for 'Sporks', smartphones that combine several underwhelming function areas into "something that isn't a very good spoon or a very good fork". An under-appreciated factor in Apple's iPod strategy is that it focuses on doing a few things very well. More importantly, perhaps, and often over-looked, is that the 'Pod' is personal computer accessory and not a personal computer replacement. It takes data created on or acquired through a PC to places where the PC doesn't usually go. Contrast this with Bill Gates' approach, which is to drive the PC into places where it shouldn't go and doesn't belong - at least not in a form recognizable as today's Windows PC.

As a promotional gimmick, Apple has also introduced an all-black 20GB 'U2 edition' iPod which entitles the lucky U2 fan to buy them all over again ... at a discount. Perhaps the cunning Apple CEO left this requirement down the back of the sofa, when he sold his $10m New York apartment to Bono. Or perhaps it's the only way Bono can get his G4 Cube repaired? Stoive, ye drive a hard bargain... ®

[*] "Includes an iTunes Music Store coupon you can use to save $50 when you purchase The Complete U2, a digital boxed-set that includes more than 400 songs and more than 25 rare and unreleased tracks", according to Apple.

Related stories

Apple preps 'black iPod' U2 limited edition promo
Apple profits leap as iPod sales rocket
Love DRM or my family starves: why Steve Ballmer doesn't Get It

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