Newsweek has posted its cover feature on Apple's unannounced latest version of its digital-music player. It shows the fourth-generation iPod to be something of a hybrid of the iPod and its 4GB mini sibling.

Gone are the four control buttons in favour of a mini-style clickwheel - a return to the original iPod's minimalist controls.

The new iPod is expected to be smaller than the current model, but not as tiny as the mini. The top capacity will remain at 40GB, with a 20GB model also available.

The rumoured 60GB version is not set for release at this date. Currently 15GB, 20GB and 40GB iPods cost £249, £299 and £399 (including VAT) respectively. However, prices are expected to be cut. In the US, the 40GB unit will ship for $399 and the 20GB model will sell for $299, a $100 reduction in price. Apple is no longer selling a 15GB model. In the UK this could translate as £249 (including VAT) for the 20GB iPod and £299 for the 40GB model.

Thinner, cheaper

In the Newsweek article author Steven Levy describes the iPod upgrade: "The considerably tweaked fourth-generation iPod will roll out this week. It looks a bit different, operates more efficiently, has a few more features and costs less."

The new iPod features an enclosure that's 1mm thinner and includes a streamlined clickwheel similar to the iPod mini's.

"It was developed out of necessity for the Mini, because there wasn't enough room [for the buttons]," says Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who appears with the new-look iPod on the Newsweek cover (pictured). "But the minute we experienced it we just thought, 'My God, why didn't we think of this sooner?' ".

Apple will claim that the new iPod boasts a 50 per cent improvement in battery life to 12 hours between charges. This is accomplished, Apple says, not by a heavier battery but diligent conservation of power.

Rumours that the fourth-generation iPods will ship in a variety of colours appear unfounded, with Apple sticking to iconic white plastics. In a Macworld Reader Poll of over 600, white remained the most popular choice, followed by a strong showing for black (29 per cent favouring this option), purple (11 per cent), blue (11 per cent), orange (7 per cent), red (5 per cent), and yellow (3 per cent).

The new iPod models include "more efficient menus", including a top-level "Music" entry and single-click shuffling of music libraries. Users will be able to create multiple on-the-go playlists, and delete individual songs from them. Levy claims that audiobooks are easier for users to find, and can take advantage of features that play audio at slower or faster speeds while maintaining natural-sounding playback.

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