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Your iPod's Calling (Maybe)

14 Sep, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

There was something very telling about Apple's announcement this week of its spiffy new movie store.

Sure, there's content from only one studio right now, but if you're going to launch something with only one content partner, the Walt Disney Co. is nothing to sneeze at. There's a great selection of titles at iTunes to get iPod lovers going with movie downloads and it's sure to increase. After all, the whole TV DVD downloading craze basically started with two Disney-brand shows “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” and look at the iTunes TV show lineup now.

Anyway, it's not so much what's missing from the content lineup at this point that intrigues me, but what was missing from Apple's announcement Tuesday.

Sure, improved battery life and a bigger hard drive are two great things, nay, necessary things for a handheld movie player. And it's great that Apple increased the brightness of the screen. The upgraded compression codec will help too, especially for viewing the downloaded content on a larger computer screen or hooking the iPod to a TV. Image quality really suffered the larger the screen with the older iTunes downloads.

Still, what spoke volumes to me was the fact that the new generation of the video-enabled iPod still has the same screen size. There are plenty of players out there with bigger and better screens, capable of 16:9 widescreen viewing.

Why not Apple?

Industry watchers and gadget lovers I've spoken to over the last few days think it's significant that Apple held off on bumping up that screen size.

The rumor is that Apple is planning an all-encompassing iPod that is at once a media center and a cellular phone. It's a logical, if not exciting pairing. And, if the rumors bear out that Apple will team up with cellular provider Vodafone, that makes it even more interesting. Vodafone is a cellular mainstay in Europe, but has yet to anchor itself in the United States

The buzz is that Apple is planning an elaborate “media center” device that would work like an iPod, with a hard drive, with the same iPod interface, but with a bigger ‘widescreen” display for video and an integrated cell phone, which could also add a wireless Internet link to the mix. It feels like Apple is holding off on a truly significant player upgrade for the iPod as it readies such an entertainment Swiss Army knife as this.

One thing's for sure about Apple, it's a company that likes to dominate. Under that mentality, why would it get into a business that already has so many strong players — Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, et al. — unless there was a way to truly stand out.

Cellphones that play video, that store MP3s or are iPod compatible are an interesting diversions, but the playback quality and storage of these devices is far inferior to the iPod.

One device that does it all is a very attractive option. It will be quite interesting to see if, when and how Apple jumps into trying to dominate that landscape as well.

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