Saturday, June 5, 2004

Apple Ups The Ante (Again)

Apple, despite its meager position in the domestic PC market, has done more than its fair share to define the digital music industry (especially for a company that, until a little over a year ago, was not a part of the digital music industry).

iTunes music player and its integrated music store, for Mac and PC, has set the bar for the distribution and merchandising of online music. The iPod, Apple’s tiny hard-drive-based portable music player (variously, depending on model, capable of carrying 1000 to 4000 songs) has become the most prolific and mimicked device in its market. HP, Dell, Napster, Connect…they’ve all been left rushing to catch up.

Time to reset the mark. Apple’s upped the ante again.

Now you can enjoy your iTunes music library in virtually any room of your house without an iPod and headphones.

This June, Apple released AirPort Express – the latest incarnation of its wireless network product – the world's first 802.11g mobile base station. With AirPort Express you can wirelessly share a single broadband Internet connection and USB printer, create an instant wireless network, or extend the range of your current wireless network – all improvements on the previous generation of AirPort.

But what AirPort Express brings to the table that is so exciting is AirTunes, an AirPort Express feature that plays your iTunes music wirelessly anywhere in the home or office. Just connect AirPort Express to your existing stereo system or a pair of stand-alone powered speakers and use iTunes to select where your music will play. It’s mind-blowingly simple.

AirPort Express with AirTunes performs all of this wireless magic on both Macs and PCs for just $129. And here’s something you can take with you – the new AirPort Express Base Station fits in the palm of your hand, weighing less than 7 ounces.

So how does it work?

When you select an AirPort Express device (a stereo or set of speakers) in the new iTunes 4.6 interface, that device becomes the primary audio-output source for iTunes. Music from your iTunes library, from someone else's networked library, or from your iPod will play from your Airport Express-connected home stereo or speakers. And this ability isn’t limited to MP3s or M4Ps. Any media playable by iTunes – including Internet radio streams and audiobooks – are now playable through AirPort Express using Apple's Lossless Compression technology.

Will AirPort with AirTunes replace the home stereo any time soon? Not likely. But, as the analog camera has become endangered by the digital one and CDs are threatened by MP3s and M4Ps, stereo receivers had best be on their guard. fb

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