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Apple CEO Steve Jobs has unveiled the next two generations of iOS, updates that will bring multiplayer gaming and high-definition photography to iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches next week and wireless printing and media streaming in November.

At the company's heavily promoted “special event” in San Francisco on Wednesday, Jobs also introduced an Apple TV that will fit in the palm of your hand, a service called Ping that is billed as a social network for music a la Twitter, and a fresh lineup of iPods.

Jobs said iOS 4.1 will be released next week and will deliver a new service called Game Center to all three devices. It will allow users to play immersive games with friends or match them with other players looking for partners. Similar to live services offered by Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation, it will work across a wide range of games – except that they run on mobile devices rather than clunky consoles.

iOS 4.1 devices equipped with cameras will be able to create high dynamic range (HDR) images, a trick long known to non-newbie photographers. To create an HDR image, multiple photos that are identical except for their exposure level are merged into one, allowing for a greater dynamic range between the darkest and lightest areas of an image. With only three levels of exposure, iOS 4.1's HDR is somewhat limited, but it should, for example, improve washed-out backgrounds or too-dark foregrounds in backlit shots.

Not that Apple is resting on its laurels. iOS 4.2 will bring wireless printing to the devices, filling a gap that has been obvious since the iPad's debut earlier this year. The new OS, which is scheduled to ship in November, will allow users to print documents over Wi-Fi connected printers.

It will be accompanied by a new feature called Airplay. It's similar to the Airtunes feature that allows users to stream songs from their devices, except it will work with pictures and high-definition video as well.

Among other things, Airplay is designed to make a new version of Apple TV more appealing. Released four years ago this month, the Apple television console has “never been a huge hit,” Jobs conceded. He said all that will change with a new model that's scheduled to ship in the next month. The slimmed-down device was no bigger than a deck of cards, and comes with its own HDMI, 802.11n Wi-Fi and ethernet connectors. It will cost $99.

Jobs demonstrated how an iPad running iOS 4.2 can seamlessly begin streaming video or slideshows to Apple-TV connected televisions. That allows users to remotely start, pause and rewind shows with the use of their handheld devices.

He also unveiled a new alliance with the Fox and ABC networks to offer rentals of high-definition TV shows for 99 cents, a significant reduction from the previous price of $2.99. The device will also stream movies from Netflix and, of course, iTunes, as well as display content from YouTube and Flickr. The goal, Jobs said, is to offer a “silent, cool and small” device that's less like a computer to make it more appealing in living rooms.

High-definition movies rentals will cost $4.99 and titles will be available the same day they are released on DVDs.

Jobs also unveiled iTunes 10, a refurbished media player that will allow users to share song lists and other music-related information in much the way people microblog content on Twitter. Users can use Ping to follow artists like Lady Gaga or a small circle of friends. iTunes 10, which is available immediately soon, also offers a few more cosmetic changes. Among other things, it offers a hybrid view that adds album art to list view. And in a nod to the demise of the compact disk, it also comes with a new logo that ditches the image of the CD.

The event also demonstrated new iPods across almost the entire category. iPod Touches will offer a 326 ppi retina display and will be driven by the same A4 chip in the iPhone. Prices start at $229 for an 8GB version. iPod Shuffles and iPod Nanos have been drastically reduced in size. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

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