Speaker system lets iPod come home


CUPERTINO, Calif.-- --Apple Computer Inc. took its first steps into the living room Tuesday, introducing a speaker system for iPods and a new Mac mini that can stream music, photos and video from other computers.

Together, the two products provide "a clear indication that Apple intends to expand more into the home and move away from its on-the-go focus," said Gartner Inc. analyst Van Baker.

Unlike other PC makers - which have launched full computer systems designed to take their place in entertainment centers - Apple is taking a more cautious approach by slowly expanding the reach of one of the world's most recognized devices.

The iPod holds 78 percent of the digital music player market. Apple co-founder and Chief Executive Steve Jobs said iPod owners needed a top-notch sound system to share their music.

"People's music is not in CDs in cabinets anymore, it's in iPods," Jobs said. "So it's time to get the same high-quality listening experience as a great home stereo system."

The iPod Hi-Fi, the size of a typical boom box stereo player, is a high-quality speaker system with an iPod dock that sells for $349. The iPod Hi-Fi has two custom-designed wide-range speakers and a low-vibration bass system and is operated by Apple's palm-sized remote control.

The new versions of the Mac mini, Apple's smallest computer, run on single-core or dual-core processors from Intel Corp. and are up to five times faster than previous Mac minis.

Apple is in the process of switching its computers to Intel processors by year-end, from those made by IBM Corp. and Freescale Semiconductor Inc.

The Mac minis, which will sell without keyboards or monitors for $599 and $799, come with a technology called "Bonjour," which enables them to access audiovisual content on other computers on the home network, whether they are Macs or PCs that use Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system.

Apple has sold more than 42 million iPods since they were introduced 4 1/2 years ago. Now that the iPod rules among portable MP3 players, "we want to put the focus on music in the home," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president for iPod marketing.

"There are a lot of great accessories out there, but none of them really were the type of system that could replace your home stereo," Joswiak said in an interview. "To get into that league you're talking about a $1,000 system. We wanted something competitive with those type of systems, yet something in the iPod ecosystem, something much more affordable, a smaller, more flexible system."

The offerings will enable Apple to take back some of the money that has been going to the lucrative market of accessories developed by third-party vendors who sell cases, microphones, adapters and other gadgets.

"It appears Apple is trying to directly capture more of the revenue that is being generated by the 'iPod economy' that the company has created," Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray who follows Apple, wrote in a report to investors.

Terril Yue Jones writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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