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Hot off the Press "Release"
Tech-Edge staff report 6/21/02

Windows connection links to iPod grow, where's Apple?

MediaFour plans to release its XPlay program on Monday, the company's first Windows application for connecting PCs to Apple's iPod digital music player.

Kept a big secret, Apple may be close behind with its own Windows-to-iPod software, Needham analyst Charles Wolf wrote in a Friday research note. Wolf said the release of Windows syncing software could boost the iPod to 10 percent of the portable digital music player market.

Independent Windows software developers have been rushing to fill a void that Apple left when it unveiled the iPod last October. The shirt-pocket-size digital music player is built around a 5GB hard drive and can hold more than 1,000 MP3s encoded at a 160-kilobits-per-second bit rate.

Apple released a new and bigger 10GB iPod with a 2,000-song capacity this March. $100 more than the 5GB iPod which sells for $399.

Technology Business Research analyst Tim Deal said, "As soon as iPod came out, there were already third-party developers trying to port it over to a Windows environment, and it's good in a sense because of increased sales to Windows users. It's good in the short term. But the overall objective of the iPod was to create additional value in switching to a Mac. That's good for marketing and bolstering the Mac's position."

MediaFour software, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, is rushing ahead of most developers trying to get a finished product out the door. Most Windows-to-iPod utilities are in the beta, or testing, phase. TrentSoft makes EphPod, free software with similar features. But to make the most use of EphPod, iPod owners must buy MacOpener from software maker DataViz for $50.

MediaFour will release the final version of XPlay on Monday at the TechXNY trade show (formerly PC Expo) in New York. XPlay will sell for $29.95. The software allows iPod owners to manage songs on their PC or transfer them to the device. They can use either the provided XPlay interface or Windows Media Player for Windows XP.

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The release of Windows syncing software could mean a big boost in sales for Apple, Needham's Wolf wrote.

"Based on a reasonable assessment of demand, the iPod could capture about 10 percent of the portable music player market," Wolf concluded. He said that the projections of 10 percent market share in 2003 translate to $115 million in earnings and sales of $650 million. "We confirmed just this week...that Apple will also introduce a product that ports the iPod to Windows this summer, possibly as early as Macworld ( news - web sites) New York on July 17," Wolf wrote. "We have no details on the product. But given Apple's attention to design and ease-of-use, we think it will be a turnkey product that just works when it's plugged into a FireWire port."

But offering Windows versions of software for Mac-only products is not without precedent. Apple, for example, offers a Windows utility for managing AirPort 802.11b wireless base stations.

Because the device also can be used as a portable hard drive, software companies have been creating other types of applications for it, such as programs for storing contact lists. Part of iPod's appeal is its small size, but another selling point is the speed at which songs can be transferred from a computer to the device.

Unlike other portable music players, which use USB 1.1, iPod connects using FireWire. USB 1.1 transfers data at 12 megabits per second compared with FireWire's 400mbps. The difference amounts to seconds versus minutes when transferring songs to an iPod. Competitors have taken note of iPod's small size and convenience and have started bringing similar Windows-based products to market.

Toshiba plans to release an iPod-like music player, the Gigabeat MEG50JS, in Japan on Saturday. Like the original iPod, the Gigabeat uses a 5GB hard drive, but it connects to PCs using USB 2.0. That means a faster transfer rate than FireWire, as USB 2.0 moves data at a maximum rate of 480mbps.




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