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Week in review: It's Apple season

Apple is shiny and ripe as it unveils a tiny new iPod and a Motorola cell phone that holds music downloaded from iTunes.

It's harvest time in Apple country, and the season's new crop includes a diminutive new iPod to replace the popular Mini, as well as an iTunes cell phone.

Both were unveiled at a much-hyped press event in San Francisco this week.

The new iPod Nano, which is thinner than a pencil and roughly the size of a business card, uses flash memory rather than the small, spinning hard drives used in Minis. It replaces the beloved Mini line--Apple's best-selling version of the iPod--and costs more per gigabyte than its predecessor.

The 2GB Nano sells for $199, and the 4GB Nano sells for $249. The 4GB Mini sold for $199, and the 6GB version sold for $249.

Extending the iPod/iTunes franchise into a new market, Apple and Motorola also unveiled the Rokr, a color-screen cell phone that can hold music downloaded from iTunes.

The product had been expected since July 2004, when Motorola and Apple announced plans to collaborate on a music-capable phone. The Rokr can hold 100 songs and will be available in Cingular stores and online for $249.

News of , as well as an updated version of iTunes, got CNET News.com readers weighing in. Many, like "Paul R," were impressed with the iPod Nano--its size, its lack of moving parts and its color display. "What's not to like?" he asked.

But others, such as self-described Machead David Thomas, wondered whether Apple "jumped the gun" in eliminating the Mini because the Nano might be too small to be user-friendly. The Mini "had to be the most popular version because it was the best ergonomically," he wrote.

Many readers were let down by news of the Rokr phone, which they said wasn't news at all. Reader David Dudley flashed back to about 2000, when Samsung released a phone that played MP3s, he wrote. "The point is--playing an MP3 on a phone is nothing new and has been done before. The difference here is that Apple is bringing it to the masses with a bigger bang," he wrote.

But by late Thursday night, the majority of the almost 2,300 voters in a News.com poll said cell phones doubling as music players make "the perfect combo."

The two new music players introduced by Apple Computer on Wednesday are not only smaller than the existing iPod Minis, but they probably cost more to make, too. By using flash memory rather than miniature hard drives, Apple likely increased its component costs for the Nano, analysts said.

Other analysts were debating whether the time is right for more mobile phone/digital-music player hybrids.

Sony followed the Apple hype by announcing on Thursday that it will sell advanced Walkmans later this year, aiming to move out of Apple's shadow in a market the Japanese company created a quarter of a century ago.

Workplace trends and troubles
In the latest sign of better times ahead for techies, a new study has found that chief information officers plan to increase their hiring in the last three months of the year.

Another report due out this week from job search service NimbleCat shows that California remained dominant in August when it came to new tech jobs posted online.

Meahwhile, Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at Salary.com, sees a trend in which workers are goofing off more, partly because they're putting in more hours on the job. What's more, he suggested, personal and professional time are blending.

Google announced on Thursday that it hired Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, as the search giant seeks to build a network foundation for its future Internet applications. What does he have to bring? Some big ideas for Google Earth and mobile phones, for starters.

Speaking of Google hires, a Washington state court judge plans to issue a ruling Tuesday on whether former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee will be allowed to immediately begin setting up a China development center for the search giant. The tech heavyweights squared off this week in court.

Microsoft will also take aim at rival Google next week with a new Web development plan. The company plans to open access to its MSN and other public Web sites to let developers assemble new applications that build on those sites--a technique used successfully at Google and at other Web companies to promote their properties.

Also of note
Scientists from MIT explained how they have developed a new material for more effective fog-resistant glass and plastics...Police have arrested a call center worker for alleged theft of customer information that the firm was handling for its clients...Diesel-powered cars and cars with gas-electric hybrid engines are likely to become much more common...The sun on Wednesday unleashed one of the largest solar flares on record, and further activity could disrupt communications links and electrical power grids...A new Trojan horse displays text from the Koran if people visit Web sites that may be pornographic, Sophos warned.