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Back to school with Apple

Going back to school used to mean taking an apple to the teacher, but Apple Computers Inc. was heavily into back to school mode itself this week.

Going back to school used to mean taking an apple to the teacher, but Apple Computers Inc. was heavily into back to school mode itself this week.

On Wednesday apple introduced two new digital music players: the iPod Nano and the Motorola Rokr cell phone.

The iPod Nano is about one-third the size of an iPod Mini, and thinner than a pencil. In fact, Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Nano by pulling one out of the small coin pocket of his jeans.

"The iPod Nano is the biggest revolution since the original iPod," Jobs said in San Francisco. "It’s breathtaking. You won’t believe it until you hold it in your hands."

While that kind of hype may be intended to boost sales, analysts anticipate the size, cuteness factor and price of the Nano will mean it’s a huge seller leading up to Christmas.

Like the iPod Shuffle, the Nano uses solid state flash memory, compared to the iPod Mini and regular iPods that use a small hard drive to store songs. A 4-GB Nano, which will hold up to 1,000 songs, is $249 US. A 2-GB model, capable of holding 500 songs, is $199 US. The Nano comes in black or white.

The Rokr cell phone, meanwhile, holds up to 100 songs, which can be downloaded from a computer using a USB cable. The phone uses the iTunes software to play and organize songs and has a special button on the keypad with the iTunes-style green music note.

It will sell for about $250 US and includes a two-year service contract with Cingular Wireless. No word on what service it will be matched with in Canada.

The Rokr cell phone, a collaboration with Motorola, has been anticipated for months. But it’s not the first cell phone to store and play music. In 2000 Sprint began selling the $400 US Samsung Uproar, the first cell phone with a built-in MP3 music player. In fact, according to Microsoft, there are about 70 wireless Smartphones or mobile devices on the market capable of playing digital music. Most use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile or Windows Media software.

While Apple has about 75 per cent of the MP3 market, the cell phone market is about 13 times larger, with an estimated 774 million cell phones to be sold this year.

"An Apple iPhone could be a large, untapped growth avenue for Apple," Gene Munster, senior research analyst for Piper Jaffray Co., said in a report issued this week.

Tracking after Katrina

Back in 1989 when "the big one" rocked the San Francisco Bay area, knocking out phone lines and power to many regions, one way people got in touch with one another or found out how friends and relatives were coping was through the Internet.

The Bay area, of course, has always been one of the most wired places and in 1989 use of the Internet was more common in the region than it was through most of the rest of the world.

In the 16 years since, we’ve all become a little more Internet savvy, and the net has become a lot more user friendly.

But this week, following the disaster Hurricane Katrina has wreaked on Louisiana and Alabama, the Internet has – despite the best of intentions – become something of a problem.

Various groups, from the Red Cross to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to concerned individuals with computer skills, have set up on-line databases to help track hurricane refugees.

"Although the Internet makes it simple for people around the world to help out with disaster relief, confusion and frustration have reigned as refugees, families and volunteers are forced to sort through as many as 50 websites to check on loved ones," the Associated Press reported.

"There really needs to be one place where people can go and get information," Trisha Denny was quoted by AP. Denny, a Phoenix resident, was using to check on loved ones, but despaired: "There’s always the possibility that somebody I knew and cared about has posted somewhere else."

Volunteers from a church in St. Francisville, La. spent the weekend submitting data on about 500 refugees to five separate databases. "It’s incredibly slow when you have to input each one," Ritchie Priddy told AP. "What’s aggravating is they are not in the same format so it’s not like you can cut and paste."