Apple leapt into the consumer-device market today with the release of the iPod, a “breakthrough” £329 digital-music player that can store up to 1,000 songs on a miniature 6.5-ounce, 5GB hard drive that fits in your pocket. The company also announced iTunes 2, the next generation of its award-winning digital-music software for the Mac that has been distributed to over six million users.

iPod will be available beginning in November, for a suggested retail price of £329 (including VAT). An iTunes 2 CD, earbud-style headphones, FireWire cable, and FireWire-based power adapter are all included. iPod requires iTunes 2.

The mini-hard drive, which is just 1.8 inches (4.6cm) across, and stores digital tunes at the 160Kbps (bits per second) rate, producing CD-quality sound, Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, said at a launch event at the company's headquarters.

According to Apple, iPod combines a major advance in portable music device design with ease of use and Auto-Sync, which automatically downloads iTunes songs and playlists into your iPod, and keeps them up to date whenever you plug your iPod (via FireWire) into your Mac.

“With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again.”

In a demonstration intended to show how easy the iPod is to use, Jobs showed how iTunes launches automatically when the music player is plugged into a Mac, and how the songs and playlists are downloaded to the device automatically.

"This has never been done before," Jobs crowed. "I don't think there is another company that could do this."

Digital hub takes shape The device fits with Apple's strategy to push its Mac OS X operating system as the hub for what Jobs called "the digital lifestyle." That idea, backed by other big PC makers, puts the personal computer at the centre of a network of devices including handheld computers, music players, and video and still digital cameras, where it acts as a central component for downloading, storing, editing and playing back files.

Apple's products for that vision so far include its iTunes, iDVD and iMovie software , and its desktop and laptop computers.

In the longer term, Apple expects to offer a version of iPod for Windows users, but right now the company is focused on its Macintosh customers, said Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple.

iTunes 2 iTunes 2 adds the three most requested features from iTunes users: MP3 CD burning, an equalizer and cross fading. Apple claims that new performance enhancements in iTunes 2 allow users to burn audio CDs up to twice as fast as before. iTunes 2 offers a richer audio experience with a new 10-band equalizer with over 20 presets.

“The world’s best and easiest-to-use digital music software just got better,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iTunes 2 seamlessly integrates with iPod to revolutionize the portable MP3 music experience.”

iTunes 2 will be available as a free download from beginning in early November. It will be included on every new Mac system beginning in November.

A CD in 10 seconds
iPod stores up to 1,000 CD-quality songs on its super-thin 5GB hard drive, and features up to 20 minutes of shock protection (thanks to 32MB of memory cache) for non-stop playback when running, biking or other activities.

Apple claims that iPod’s built-in FireWire port lets you download an entire CD into iPod in under 10 seconds and 1,000 songs in less than 10 minutes - 30 times faster than USB-based players.

iPod plays up to 10 hours of continuous music, powered by its rechargeable lithium polymer battery, and recharges automatically whenever iPod is connected to a Mac, using power supplied over the FireWire cable. Every iPod comes with a compact, FireWire-based power adaptor for travelling. iPod’s high-capacity 5GB hard drive doubles as a portable FireWire hard drive for storing presentations, large documents, graphic images and digital movies.

iPod plays music in the popular MP3, MP3 VBR (variable bit rate), AIFF and WAV formats and can support MP3 bit rates up to 320Kbps. Its upgradeable firmware enables support of future audio formats. For CD-quality sound, iPod is equipped with a high-output 60-mW amplifier that delivers 20 to 20,000 Hz frequency response for deep bass and crystal-clear highs. iPod’s earbud-style headphones are built with neodymium magnets for enhanced frequency response and high-fidelity sound.

iPod also features a 160-x-128-pixel high-resolution display, with a white LED backlight to give clear visibility in daylight as well as low-light conditions.

Ease of use
Simply rotate iPod’s scroll-wheel with your thumb or finger to quickly access your entire music collection by playlists, artists or songs. The scroll-wheel features automatic acceleration when scrolling through long lists so you can find your music in seconds. iPod also features customizable settings such as shuffle, repeat, startup volume, sleep timer and menus in multiple languages including English, French, German and Japanese. iPod can display song data in any of these languages, enabling users to mix and match songs from all over the world.

Simply plug your new iPod into your Mac with the supplied FireWire cable, and all of your iTunes songs and playlists are automatically downloaded into iPod at FireWire speed via Auto-Sync.

Whenever you plug iPod back into your Mac it will be automatically updated with your latest iTunes songs and playlists, usually in seconds.