Apple is planning this year's late summer music product refresh. Scratching the rumour machine, its plans could include improvements within iTunes, an upgraded iPod touch, a 7-inch iPad/iPod touch hybrid and a new headset combining iPod shuffle-like music playback with Bluetooth which should work like a dream with iPhone 5.

The iPhone 5 headset -- an iPod shuffle Apple's latest patent filing (Wireless headset with integrated media player) takes the iPod shuffle and transforms it into an essential item for any iPhone user. The description is of a device which integrates a Bluetooth headset, microphone and MP3 player.

The headset can be pre-loaded with music over USB, so you get to play music even when you aren't carrying or don't own an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

As reported by Wired, Apple already has patents for headsets which switch the music off when you take them off your head, for advanced noise cancellation for headset mics and more. However, as Wired notes the design of this device reflects that of the Bluetooth headset Apple briefly offered in 2007. This makes it possible development of this product isn't happening, but if it is, now is a perfect time to field a solution like this.

Why? Because there's approximately 316 million iOS devices in use worldwide. That's a huge market for an Apple headset, particularly one that integrates strongly with iOS 6, including the capacity to cue up tracks using Siri voice controls if the headset were twinned with an iPhone, for example.

The patent description includes a small display and start, stop and record buttons. The description also includes the capacity to listen to your voice messages.

That you can just use the headset at those times you might choose to leave your iOS device at home is an additional fillip, and means many in the low-end music player market (such as it is, these days) will choose an Apple headset just because they want an iPod or iPhone.

And, of course, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine a pair of compatible video glasses being bought into this equation at some future point for augmented reality applications and movie playback. Apple has been working on video goggle solutions for years.

The promise of iTunes 11

iTunes has seen lots of evolution since its original incarnation as the audio-focused Soundjam application, (History fans will know Apple acquired the software from Casady and Greene and morphed it into iTunes.) These days iTunes combines media management and acquisition tools, along with device management.

It is to be hoped Apple will be focusing on performance in the software, in an ideal world the device management features would morph into a second application in order to make the software run more smoothly, certainly reports claim the company is focused on under the hood improvements at this stage of development.

iTunes 11 will, of course, support iOS 6 with its iPhone 5 support, Apple Maps, Siri, iCloud and other interesting improvements. Content discovery will also be improved across apps, music and media as the company deploys discovery technologies acquired when it purchased Chomp.

The iTunes Store seems set for  redesign, with a focus on user-friendliness. Previous reports have claimed plans to introduce a Spotify-competing music streaming service within iTunes. The introduction of LTE support within the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 could underpin such a service, enabling users to stream whole chunks of music while on the move: likely including all the music you own via iCloud and music you don't possess in exchange for a small fee.

Apple is also focused on making iTunes more interactive, which will hopefully include Facebook support for its never-used "social network for music", Ping.

Finally, conjecture suggests iTunes may also gain new micro-payment options, in which users would be able to pop small amounts of cash into an account for use when making NFC transactions using an iPhone 5 as an iWallet.

That's in keeping with many of the ways in which NFC transactions are being tested globally. Many of these tests support small payments for small items, such as drinks at Starbucks and public transit fees. If Apple does move ahead to the iWallet, I suspect many of these new features will be launched in the US first.

New devices

It seems inevitable the iPod touch will be given a new processor, in keeping with the most recently-introduced iPhone 4S. This also implies some form of limited support for Siri.

There's also been a crop of recent claims Apple has a plan to introduce a 7-inch iPad. This could also be marketed as a dedicated iBook reader and aimed directly at Amazon's Kindle Fire -- a not unreasonable move, given the recent move by the DOJ to launch an investigation into Apple's relationship with publishers.

So there you have it, all the latest rumor, speculation and fantastical dreams as Apple approaches its late summer music product refresh. Have you heard any more claims which may inform this debate? Let us know in comments below.

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