Apple refreshed its iPod line
today, announcing the long-expected touchscreen iPod among other things. The event was pretty wide-ranging, with a lot to chew on. The biggest early news was the announcement that iPhone owners will be able to create ringtones from songs they've purchased from the iTunes Music Store... for an additional 99 cents on top of the cost of the downloaded track. Perhaps this is an attempt by Apple to throw a bone to disgruntled record companies
, but it's likely to call attention to legions of mobile handsets other than the iPhone that will let user set MP3s and other types of audio files as ringtones for free. Apple also sliced the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200, to $399 -- indicating that demand has slowed as demand among diehard Mac fans and other early adopters has been filled. The price cut is probably also a reaction to the iPod Touch, which appears to be an iPhone without any phone, and a similar 8GB model of it has been priced at $299. This may prove to be an attractive alternative to the iPhone for many users, since it has a fairly similar feature set, outside cellular connectivity, including WiFi web browsing -- but comes at a lower upfront cost, plus without the need for a long-term contract with AT&T.
Perhaps the most curious announcement, though, was news of an Apple partnership with Starbucks
. iPhone and iPod Touch users will eventually see an extra icon on their screen when they're within range of a WiFi-enabled Starbucks. The application it leads to will allow them to see what songs are playing in the store, and buy them from the iTMS, and they can also access the iTMS without having to pay usage fees for the hotspot. On the face of it, it's a pretty underwhelming offering, just like all of Starbucks' previous attempts
at digital music downloads, and the fact that Steve Jobs claimed Apple had been working on it for two years is hardly reassuring. Despite Jobs' contention that the service is "very cool", it's hard to see it selling more iPods, or making much money on its own.