Apple on Wednesday announced a smaller, cheaper version of its Apple TV device for streaming movies and television shows over the Internet and into the living room. It also unveiled a new line of iPods, including a touch-screen Nano model.
The tiny new Apple TV system will let people rent, not buy, content. For first-run high-definition movies the day they come out on DVD, people will have to pay $4.99. High-definition TV show rentals will be 99 cents.
The price of the box is also being cut to $99 from $229. Cheaper options for streaming video had been available, including Roku's set-top boxes that start at $60.
Apple TV has been around since 2007, but it hasn't caught on with the mainstream. For one thing, it doesn't record shows the way TiVo and other digital video recorders do. And the need to synch the box with a computer was too complicated for most consumers, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said.
"We've sold a lot of them, but it's never been a huge hit," Jobs said.
The new Apple TV, which will be available within a month, will give people access to the high-definition version of top movies, though Jobs didn't say which movie studios have agreed to include their titles for streaming. Television episodes also will be available, including such hits as The Simpsons and Glee.
People who watch content from Netflix streamed over the Internet can also access their "instant" queue through Apple TV. Apple is offering rentals from Fox, ABC, ABC Family and Disney Channel, and BBC America. Jobs said he hoped other television companies would join once the service gains popularity.
Some media companies have raised concerns that the 99-cent television rentals would undercut higher-priced offerings for permanent download, which sell for $1.99 and $2.99.
Earlier, Jobs unveiled a buttonless touch-screen iPod Nano that people control with swipes across the screen instead of with buttons. It will cost $149 for the 8 gigabyte version and $179 for 16 gigabytes. Like previous versions, the Nano has a built-in FM tuner and can display photos.
Apple also updated the iPod Touch, adding video-chat features similar to the newest iPhone. It has a front-facing camera for conducting video calls with other iPod Touch and iPhone users over WiFi using Apple's FaceTime program. A camera on the back can be used for taking snapshots and recording video. Prices range from $229 to $399.
Jobs also showed off a new iPod Shuffle, the smallest, least expensive music player in Apple's line. Like the most recent Shuffle, the new one can speak the names of playlists and songs. But Apple backtracked from its last design, which did away with physical buttons on the music player. The new $49 device brings back the square shape and buttons of Apple's second-generation Shuffle.
Apple gave its iTunes software a minor makeover, too, and added some social features to help people discover new music and tap into what friends are listening to. The feature, called Ping, is likely based on the technology Apple acquired with the purchase of Lala.com last year.
The Ping section in iTunes 10 lets people "follow" friends, musicians and others, and see such details as what music they're buying and what concerts they're attending. The information will come in a long stream of updates, similar to the way Facebook and Twitter work.
Apple announced additional updates to the software that runs iPhones, the iPod Touch and the iPad. Next week, iPhone and iPod Touch users can download a free new version, iOS 4.1, that offers the ability to upload high-definition video over WiFi.
The iPad currently runs an older version of iOS than the iPhone 4 and the iPod Touch. It doesn't allow for much multitasking — running more than one program at a time — and it doesn't have folders for programs.