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Victrola, Betamax... And iPod?


Could Apple's iconic MP3 player become obsolete?

Today's the big day - and no, I'm not talking about Tom Wopat's 57th birthday.

Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs will unveil some shiny new products in just a few hours and -- though Apple's press events are usually shrouded in secrecy -- Jobs has tipped his hand. Ads for the "Let's Rock" convention contain a modified iPod display, which implies development on the MP3 front.

Numerous leaks about the new 4G Nano have already surfaced, leaving little to the imagination. Updated MacBook laptops are unlikely, given the event's theme, and it's too soon for a new iPhone.

Unfortunately for Apple, the outlook ain't so good.

An increase in data capacity and a decrease in price for existing devices are a no-brainer. While some are predicting a revamped iPod Touch, most conclude Jobs will show off a newly updated version of iTunes.

Pretty ho-hum expectations, for a company that relies on dazzle.

Despite introducing a touchscreen to its iPod line, Apple has kept its top-selling MP3 player essentially unchanged. And yes, sticking with what works has been very wise, to the tune of nearly 200 million units sold worldwide.

But the fact remains that something new will eventually come along to unseat the iPod as the world's most coveted MP3 player. And without offering the new features customers demand, that moment gets ever nearer.

Up till now, Apple's competitors have essentially been trying to take down a fighter jet with a pea shooter. Other devices may boast more universal file support and wireless capabilities, but none could match iPod's infinitely friendly user interface and ultra-slick design. As soon as a developer revolutionizes the way we access our music files -- and finds a way to deliver it in an attractive package -- Apple's in serious trouble.

Of course, Apple could just beat everyone to the punch. Possibly later today.

Rumors (or pipe dreams) persist of Jobs blindsiding attendees with a completely unexpected new iPod feature. Perhaps a wireless subscription service. Maybe a cloud music link that'll tap into music similar to your current playlist.

Or how about just removing the damn DRM from the iTunes Store?

As it stands, Apple struggled through 2 major setbacks this quarter: The failure of the MobileMe switch from .Mac accounts and the very buggy software on the new iPhones. If Jobs doesn't step up and deliver today, the company could face a heretofore unimaginable monster: The dissatisfied Apple customer.
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