Apple defied expectations about its relations with movie studios Tuesday by introducing the iTunes Movie Rentals service with titles from...
SAN FRANCISCO — Apple defied expectations about its relations with movie studios Tuesday by introducing the iTunes Movie Rentals service with titles from the six major and several independent studios.
Chief Executive Steve Jobs unveiled the service, available as part of its iTunes software and online store, during his keynote presentation at the annual Macworld Exposition.
“We’ve never offered a rental model in music, because we don’t think people want to rent music,” Jobs said. But people typically watch a movie just once, he said, and rental is “less expensive — it doesn’t take up space on our hard drive when we’re done.”
Besides the rental service, Jobs unveiled a revised stand-alone high-definition home entertainment adapter, a software update for the iPhone, and a high-performance super-thin laptop, the MacBook Air.
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Not mentioned or discussed — but widely expected in usual preshow rumors — was an iPhone that uses a higher-speed network or a demonstration of software built with a tool kit expected in February for developers who want to create applications for the phone.
But the scope of the rental service was something of a surprise.
Before Macworld, rumors flew that Apple had had enough conflicts in its flat-pricing strategy and other factors that some studios wouldn’t participate in a rental service.
Jobs dispelled that Tuesday.
Movie rentals are $2.99 for older films and $3.99 for new releases in standard definition; HD downloads, where available, are a $1 more.
The service is expected to have 1,000 titles by the end of February; 100 HD titles are available today.
Rented movies can be viewed on any Mac or Windows system with iTunes, on an iPhone or any recent iPod, and via a revised Apple TV, the set-top device the company introduced last year.
Movie viewing can be transferred from one device to another during the 24-hour rental period; a viewer can start watching on one device and finish on another, Jobs said.
He said the company had sold 7 million movies through its existing purchase-only offerings, which he said “did not meet our expectations.”
Jim Gianopulos, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, joined Jobs on stage to discuss an additional feature tied in to Fox-released DVDs: iTunes Digital Copy.
The iTunes-compatible copy of a title will be included on the DVD at no extra cost, which can be used just as if it were purchased from the iTunes Store. The first inclusion is on the “Blue Harvest” DVD of the popular animated series “The Family Guy.”
Tied with the movie rental service is a major software upgrade to the Apple TV, a networked HD adapter billed at the 2007 Macworld as a way to synchronize content with a single Mac or PC, much like an iPod, and stream content from up to five networked computers, to play back on high-definition sets.
The revised software turns the now $229 device into a completely stand-alone device that can purchase or rent movies, buy music and television programs; view YouTube videos and photos; and store and stream networked content.
Existing Apple TV owners receive a free software update.
Tim Beyers, a senior analyst with The Motley Fool said, Apple TV shows Apple “wants to own the living room. They’re not content to let Microsoft and the Xbox get in the way of Apple being in your TV.”
The Apple TV now competes directly with Vudu, a $399 “black box” television adapter, and Amazon Unbox, which has a partnership with TiVo.
Microsoft’s Xbox Live service offers HD rentals, and several computer-based rental services such as CinemaNow have limited or no arrangements for playback on portable devices.
For the personal computer audience, Jobs revealed the MacBook Air, a compact, lightweight, high-performance 12.8-by-9 inch laptop weighing 3 pounds. It has a 13.3-in. screen and an 80-gigabyte hard drive of the kind typically found in iPods.
A full-sized keyboard is part of the design.
The laptop is from 0.16 to 0.76 inch thick along its shortest edge, and costs $1,799 in a base configuration with a 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB of RAM. An expensive and fast 64 GB solid-state drive — no moving parts — is available for an extra $999.
The MacBook Air has no Ethernet port, optical drive, or FireWire ports. It’s reminiscent of the first iMac model, which eschewed the then-de rigeur floppy disk drive.
The laptop does have the latest Wi-Fi (802.11n) and Bluetooth technology, however.
Apple also updated its iPhone software on the heels of selling 4 million units in the first 200 days on the market.
Apple says third-quarter 2007 market research, the most recent available, gives it 20 percent of the U.S. smartphone market, competing with phones like Research in Motion’s BlackBerry.
No 3G iPhone
Pre-show chatter speculated Jobs would show an iPhone using third-generation (3G) data networking. Its failure to appear makes it likely that such a phone is as much as six to nine months away from the market, and that Apple was avoiding cannablizing current sales.
While several changes were cosmetic, Apple did add location-based mapping, allowing the included Maps program — which uses Google data — to roughly find an iPhone’s users current location without a GPS (global positioning satellite) chip.
The iPhone update will also allow owners to customize the phone’s home page and create bookmarks of specific parts of a Web page (zoomed and panned to a precise location) that can be added to one of up to nine home screens.
The Wi-Fi-equipped iPod touch will be upgraded with the new location and home pages features and include a mail program and a few other widgets that are part of the iPhone; existing owners will pay $20 for the upgrade.
Amid a broad decline in the stock market Tuesday, Apple shares fell $9.74, or more than 5 percent, to $169.04.
Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column in the Personal Technology section.