Apple slims down Mac, iPod

Apple Computer plans to attack the low-end of its primary markets this year with smaller versions of the Macintosh computer and the iPod music player, Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs said Tuesday at MacWorld.

During a keynote address to the rapt audience of Apple fans, Jobs unveiled the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle, along with several enhancements to the forthcoming "Tiger" version of Mac OS X. Both the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle are designed to attract mainstream users who may be familiar with Apple's other products, but are unwilling to spend the money on the full-featured versions, Jobs said.

The Mac Mini is a complete Macintosh system not much longer or wider than a compact disc, and shorter than an iPod Mini at only two inches (4.9 centimeters). It features Apple's G4 processor, a generation behind the G5 processor currently shipping in Power Macs and iMacs.

Apple will release two versions of the Mac Mini on Jan. 22. The least expensive model will cost US$499 with a 1.25GHz G4 processor, 256M bytes of PC2700 (333MHz) DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 40G-byte hard drive, a DVD-ROM/CD-RW optical drive and a Radeon 9200 graphics processor from ATI Technologies. The other model costs US$599 with a 1.42GHz processor and an 80G-byte hard drive.

The iPod Shuffle is Apple's vision of a low-cost music player that is extremely easy to use, Jobs said. The earlier versions of the iPod came with hard disk drives ranging from 4G bytes for the iPod Mini to a 60G-byte iPod Photo. The iPod Shuffle can store either 512M bytes or 1G byte of data on flash memory.

Most users will put music on the iPod Shuffle, but it can also be used as a portable USB (Universal Serial Bus) device, Jobs said. The bottom of the iPod Shuffle snaps off to reveal a USB attachment which can plug directly into a PC or a Macintosh, he said.

Coming off a fourth quarter in which the company sold 4.5 million iPods, Apple now holds 65 percent of the market for digital music players, Jobs said. The remaining chunk of that market is held by a variety of flash-based players that will now compete with the iPod Shuffle. The 512M-byte version of the iPod Shuffle will cost US$99 while the 1G-byte version will cost US$149, and both are available immediately.

"We've just begun the era of digital music," Jobs said. Apple now takes in more revenue from iPod sales than it does from selling computers, according to the company's third-quarter earnings release.

Keynote attendees greeted the Mac Mini and iPod Shuffle with sustained applause and cheers, as they did just about every new feature or product shown during Jobs' two-hour presentation. Most attendees had already gotten news of the new products through leaks posted on various Apple enthusiast Web sites over the past month, which prompted a lawsuit from Apple.

But that couldn't put a damper on the enthusiasm of the attendees at the San Francisco show. While awaiting Jobs' arrival, conference goers danced on chairs to music played over the sound system by Apple-friendly artists such as U2 and the Black-Eyed Peas. Audience members whooped and whistled at some of the new features in the Tiger operating system, which is expected to ship in the first half of this year.

The Dashboard feature was probably the most well-received addition to Mac OS X. Dashboard integrates a number of helpful applications that Jobs called "widgets" into the bottom of a Mac's screen, such as a weather report window, a currency converter, a dictionary and countless others.

Apple also released a new office productivity suite called iWork. IWork costs US$79 and features a new version of Keynote, Apple's presentation software, and Pages, a new word-processing application designed as an update to the venerable Appleworks.

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