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Apple channels Pandora with iTunes 8

Asks $80 for ear buds

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Along with an iPod hardware refresh today, Apple's product announcement orgy unveiled an update to iTunes, some iPod software tweaks, and declared peace with NBC.

For those keeping score, most of the news had already made their rounds on the web weeks earlier through various leaks, speculation, and over-enthusiastic third-party accessory vendors.

Still, while ravenous fans already picked clean the meat of Apple's announcement before Steve Jobs had a chance to hit the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, there were still a few surprises.

Such as how much Apple will charge for a pair of half-decent headphones.

Spoiler alert: Eighty bucks. And that's not Confederate notes either, but actual US dollars. But we're griping ahead of ourselves. Let's move to what's new in iTunes.

iTunes 8

Available today is iTunes 8, which adds a fancy new intelligent playlist generator called "Genius" as well as some new browsing options.

Genius essentially functions like the soon-to-be-tits-up Pandora online radio service — or the Predixis plug-in for Winamp.

It examines what music the user is listening to, then generates a playlist according to what songs it thinks are complementary. Genius works not only with music, but television shows and movies as well.

A Genius sidebar also makes purchase recommendations from the iTunes store. Everyone's music preferences are beamed to Apple to be combined and analyzed for better a recommendation engine. The company claims this data is sent secure and anonymous, so nobody need know you play "MMMBop" on repeat in your darker moments. Rather, Apple won't tell at least.

Genius debuts in iTunes 8 today, and it's built into new versions of the iPod Nano and a software update to iPhones and the iPod Touch.

Apple also added Grid View to iTunes, which simply displays rows and columns of album art as icons. Grid View sorts music into Albums, Artist, Genres, and Composers — and basically functions like iPhoto's events icons.

iPod Touch 2.1

A software upgrade for the iPod Touch and iPhone adds Genius functionality to the devices. An icon below the track length indicator creates a Genius playlist out of the current song.

The software update will be available to previous-gen iPod Touch owners today with a 2.1 software upgrade. The upgrade is free if users are currently running version 2.0, $9.95 if they're running version 1.x.

A 2.1 upgrade for iPhone users is free to customers this Friday, and will supposedly improve battery life, drop fewer calls, fix stability issues, and increase the speed for iTunes backups.

The Nike+ app is being included with the 4G Nano and new iPod touch hardware. This workout was another bit of today's announcement leaked early. It displays exercise data, such as distance run, calories burnt, and number of workouts.

HD Television on iTunes Store

The resolution is being pumped up on the iTunes store, with high definition TV shows now being sold as an option.

Individual HD shows will now be available for $2.99, while standard definition programs remain $1.99. There's more shows too, as Apple and NBC have appeared to have buried the peace pipe. NBC is returning to iTunes this season with several of their more popular shows once again available.

iPod Accessories

A voice recording feature has been added to the new iPod Nano when the device detects a microphone attached. Recorders have long been a staple third-party accessory for iPods, but this round, Apple is offering its own recorder (sold separately of course, for $30).

That's a pretty good deal when compared to Apple's new headphones.

It's no secret that the headphones Apple ships with iPods are just one step up from a tin-can telephone in terms of clarity.

Still, people use them. Perhaps because it's convenient. Or maybe having a white cord snaking up the side of the head is somewhat of a status symbol (Or bulls-eye mark for muggers. Take your pick).

Apple will now offer a more suitable alternative with new in-ear headphones that sports volume and playback control built in. It also has two drivers each (woofer+tweeter) for a better listening experience than the standard set.

The hook? It's $80. Eight zero! Maybe it's Apple's own version of the iPhone's "I am Rich" app. ®

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