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Web abuzz over iPod ‘refresh’

Apple is expected to unveil revamped iPods at a special event on Wednesday in San Francisco.

The internet is buzzing with speculation sparked by enigmatic Apple event invitations bearing an image of a silhouetted iPod-wearing figure dancing above the words ”The beat goes on”.

”It’s an iPod refresh,” principle analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley said. ”That is what the buzz is.”

Apple’s iPod has become the most popular MP3 audio player in the world since its debut in 2001. Its most recent addition to the iPod line is the matchbook-size Shuffle introduced a year ago.

The full-size iPod has not been updated since a video-playing ”fifth-generation” was introduced in October 2005.

A recent Apple earnings report shows an unprecedented year-over-year ebbing of iPod revenue growth as customers opt for cheaper models in the line.

”The iPod line is in desperate need of an update,” Enderle said.

Apple watchers theorise the California company is poised to reveal iPhone-inspired improvements such as enhanced wireless capabilities and a large-screen iPod for better video viewing.

A challenge facing Apple is that consumers are likely to expect iPods that mirror the innovations in the new iPhone, which the firm began selling in the United States in June, Enderle said.

”People will be expecting iPhone-level quality,” Enderle said. ”There is a real good possibility that people will be disappointed.”

Making an iPod model that amounts to an iPhone without cellphone capability would result in a daunting price tag, according to Enderle.

The $599 price of an iPhone is at a discount due to a $200 subsidy from telecom giant AT&T, which is the sole cellphone service provider for the devices. ”If you take out the subsidy, an iPhone is an $800 device,” Enderle said.

The timing of Apple’s event could be to buff its image in the wake of fall-outs with Hollywood and music studios that want more money for content sold on the iTunes online music store paired exclusively with iPods, said analyst Mike McGuire, of Gartner Research.

Apple announced in August that it will stop selling NBC television shows on iTunes because the studio wanted increased charges that would have more than doubled the price of each episode to $5.

A month earlier, Universal Music refused to continue making its catalogue of songs available on iTunes because it wanted a price hike for them — something Apple has firmly resisted.

Analysts agree that whatever Apple’s chief executive Steve Jobs has in store for Wednesday, all eyes will be on Cupertino, where the company has its headquarters.

”Apple generates more news just saying it’s going to make an announcement than other companies do with their announcements,” said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg, who declined to speculate on the event. — Sapa-AFP

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Glenn Chapman
Glenn Chapman
AFP technology correspondent

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