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This week in Apple

Company is prepping a major announcement, dropping hints of something as critical to its future as the release of the original iPod.

Apple Computer is preparing a major announcement next week, dropping hints of something as critical to the company's future as the release of the original iPod in 2001.

The company sent an invitation to reporters for a "special event" being held Sept. 7 in San Francisco.

"1,000 songs in your pocket changed everything," the invitation reads, referring to the release of the first 5GB iPod nearly four years ago. "Here we go again."

Research firm iSuppli recently reported that Samsung Electronics was dedicating a large amount--perhaps as much as 40 percent--of its flash memory production to Apple, leading to speculation that the Mac maker was preparing a larger-capacity version of its flash-based Shuffle player, or even switching its iPod Mini to a flash-based technology.

However, Apple was dealt a blow when Creative Technology was awarded a patent for a user interface found in its portable media players and in competing devices, such as Apple's iPod. The digital entertainment company said that on Aug. 9 it received U.S. Patent No. 6,928,433, described as "automatic hierarchical categorization of music by metadata."

Creative applied for the patent--which it has dubbed the "Zen Patent," named for its Zen music player--on Jan. 5, 2001. But in a conference call with reporters, Craig McHugh, president of Creative Technology subsidiary Creative Labs, declined to specify what precisely will happen next.

Meanwhile, Apple did an about face when it launched a promotion for its no-frills Mac Mini computer, allowing customers to return the machine for a full refund after a 30-day "test-drive." However, a day later, Apple reversed itself.

The rapid retraction of the offer prompted plenty of speculation online among bloggers and those in the Mac community.

"This couldn't have been a promo which was initiated lightly. It had to have been approved by Steve himself. But was it too successful? Did more people try it than imagined? After all, any machines returned would have to be resold refurbished through (other) channels," one Apple fan speculated.

Some bloggers also suggested that Apple could have sold out of Mac Minis quicker than anticipated.