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Apple Unveils IPod Speaker System

Posted by iMark - 2006-03-02

CUPERTINO, Calif. - Reaching further into living rooms, Apple Computer Inc. on Tuesday introduced a speaker system for its iPod music players and a revamped Mac Mini computer that will let users access music, video and photos across their home networks.
The new Mac Mini includes Apple's Front Row software, already found on the newest iMacs, so users can connect the computer to their televisions and control their music, videos, or photos with a remote control.

An added feature of the Front Row software will let users locate and share media content from other computers within a local wireless network. This means a user can play songs or stored TV shows that are pulled off a computer in another room in the house.

The new Mac Mini looks much like its previous incarnations but is the first to include Intel Corp. chips. Apple said the $599 model that has a single-core chip operates up to three times faster than its predecessor. A higher-end, $799 model that has two computing engines in one processor runs about five times faster, Apple said.

Hoping to broaden its share of the PC market, Apple is in the process of switching its computers away from Power PC chips made by IBM Corp. and Freescale Semiconductor Inc. The new Intel-powered Mac Mini — the third Macintosh computer to make the switch in less than 60 days — puts Apple halfway through the historic migration.

The petite, almost book-sized computer with the Front Row media features more closely competes now against Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Media Center PCs, which are similarly designed to act as a digital media hub for homes. But, unlike Media Centers PCs, Apple's Mini lacks a TV tuner and digital video recording capabilities.

Still, analysts say Apple's latest moves show the Cupertino-based company is continuing to dip its toes deeper in the consumer electronics arena.

"Both these products are a way to get more people slowly hooked into the Apple brand in the living room, sort of like what Sony did in its heyday," said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at Current Analysis.

With the $349 iPod Hi-Fi system, users can dock their portable players into the speakers and use a remote control to operate it from afar. That means there's no longer a need for a cabinet full of CDs, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said during a presentation at company headquarters.

"It's home stereo reinvented for the iPod age," he said.

All the products are available now.

The iconic iPod player has fueled Apple's growth in recent years and led to a booming industry of accessories ranging from speakers to clothing, as well as an increasing number of cars that come equipped with iPod-ready stereo systems.

Apple's new boombox-like speaker system will compete with its accessory partners, but senior vice president Phil Schiller said Apple will continue to support members of the "iPod economy." He said there's enough room in the market for a range of products.

"It's all about the iPod lifestyle," Schiller said in an interview.

Indeed, Apple has become the pacesetter for digital media products, and the company's shares have more than doubled in the last year amid lofty expectations for ever more innovative products and services.

Apple has sold more than 42 million iPods since the original product debuted in 2001, and the online iTunes Music Store sold its billionth download last week.

As some rivals were unable to gain any traction and pulled out of the portable media player market, Apple saw its share in the U.S. grow to more than 72 percent in 2005, up from 56 percent in 2004, according to the NPD Group.

But a key competitor, Microsoft, isn't backing down.

Microsoft confirms that it is planning an "ultra-mobile PC device," code-named Origami. The company plans to release information incrementally through the Web site http://www.origamiproject.com, with the next tidbit expected Thursday.

Shares of Apple fell $2.50, or 3.52 percent, to close at $68.49 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock's 52-week range is $33.11 to $86.40.

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Next ....: Apple updates Front Row, iTunes, iPhoto

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