Apple Launches Music Store, New iPods

Bringing to a close months of speculation and rumor, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took center stage Monday at the Moscone Center in San Francisco to announce the launch of the iTunes Music Store and fresh iPod models.

Built directly into the newly released iTunes 4, the Music Store features 200,000 songs from the five major record labels, each available for $0.99 without a subscription fee. Full albums can be purchased at discount rates depending on the number of tracks, with standard albums priced at $9.99.

Jobs said Apple aims to correct failures of rival music services such as Pressplay and Rhapsody by offering album art and free 30 second previews of every song in the iTunes Music Store library. Downloaded songs can be copied to an unlimited number of CDs and iPods, as well as played on three separate Macs.

For some artists, music videos are available free of charge.

"Apple is the first company that has brought together the entire eco system of the digital age," Jobs said as he announced the company's oft-criticized "Rip. Mix. Burn." slogan would be replaced by "Buy. Mix. iPod."

Each song is encoded in AAC, the MPEG-4 audio format developed by Dolby, at a bitrate of 128kbps. Jobs said Apple had used digital masters, rather than CDs, as the source for the encoding to ensure the highest possible audio quality.

iTunes users navigate the Music Store using the application's built in browser, and can purchase tracks or albums with a single click. The service stores credit card information for expediting music purchases and downloads.

Songs downloaded from the iTunes Music Store are appended to a special playlist, which can be used in other applications including iPhoto and iMovie.

Because of its dependence on iTunes, the new service is currently available only to Mac OS X users. Apple is rumored to be developing a version of iTunes for Windows and Jobs said the Music Store would support Windows by the end of the year.

To help push the iTunes Music Store, Apple released third generation iPod models, sporting a dock with audio out and a customizable main menu. Apple has added new backlit touch buttons as part of the iPod's "no moving parts" navigation.

The new iPods will ship May 2, with the 10GB model retailing for $299 USD and the 15GB model priced at $399 USD. A 30GB iPod, the largest ever released by Apple, will cost $499 USD.

Current iPod owners can upgrade to software revision 1.3 supporting AAC in order to take advantage of the iTunes Music Store, but will not otherwise benefit from the features added to the new iPods. Those wanting to rate songs or edit "On-The-Go" playlists directly on the iPod, play solitaire, write notes, or set an alarm must purchase the newest models.

"With the new iTunes Music Store, you can now buy music online and transfer it right onto your iPod for listening wherever you want," Jobs said.

In classic Apple fashion, however, the iTunes Music Store remained mostly unavailable after its launch. Users constantly encountered "Error 504" and "Credit card processing is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later." messages as Apple worked to iron out the kinks.

iTunes 4, which also requires QuickTime 6.2, is available for download via FileForum. More information can be found on Apple's new Web site, AppleMusic.com.

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