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Apple Showtime: New iPods, new iTunes, same old razzmatazz

Last night we fought our way through the throngs at the Apple Showtime event and managed to get some photos of the new iPods...

The Apple faithful and their MacBooks gathered in London last night for a live satellite broadcast from the Apple Showtime event in San Francisco. With journalists and guests from all over Europe flocking to the event in the hope of movie downloads and new iPods, the 600-seat theatre at The Mermaid Conference and Events Centre was packed with people and technology.

Apple Europe chief Pascal Cagni warmed up the audience with a reprise of the launches over the last year and the promise of nine Apple Stores for the UK by the end of 2006. Apple is also going to enlarge its flagship store in London's Regent Street.

And then we moved on to the main event, a live broadcast of Steve Jobs' presentation in San Francisco. It started badly, with the announcement that the new version of the 5G iPod has a screen that's 60 per cent... brighter. There was a certain amount of settling down into chairs in anticipation of a long list of minor updates, but things picked up when Jobs moved on to the new nanos. As expected, they have aluminium cases and come in five colours. Apple has also managed to double the capacities to 2GB, 4GB and 8GB, while making them 0.4mm thinner.

Jobs also showed the TV commercial for the new nano. Crave was astounded when the London audience applauded... satellite broadcast, folks, it's a one-way transmission.

Following the introduction of the new Shuffle, Jobs demonstrated iTunes 7. Loudest applause of the night came after he revealed that it will automatically download album art -- free of charge -- for CDs you've ripped yourself. Also well received was the news that you'll be able to transfer purchased music from one computer to another using your iPod, as long as both machines are authorised to the same iTunes Music Store account.

After 'one more thing' (movie downloads, but only in the US), it was time for 'one last thing', a sneak peak at 'iTV'. The name provoked titters from the UK members of the audience, although Jobs was quick to point out that it's only an internal code name. Whether it ends up being the iTV or the BBC (bulging box of content, perhaps), the Mac Mini-styled device connects to your television and allows you to stream iTunes content from your computer to the big screen, via Wi-Fi.

Afterwards there was a crush in the Showcase area as journalists attempted to photograph, film, scratch or steal the new devices.

CNET.co.uk reviewer Chris Stevens models the new iPod shuffle, which has an aluminium case and a built-in clip for attaching it to your clothes. As with the other iPods, you can have it engraved -- but you'll have to think of a short message.

Jobs described the Shuffle as "the most wearable MP3 player", although you'll need to find something to clip it to. Unlike the nano, it only comes in one size, 1GB, and one colour, silver. Crave thinks Apple missed a trick here, because if you're going to wear it, surely you want to make a statement with it, and with the price set at just £55, fashionistas might buy several.

Unlike the previous model, which plugged straight into a USB port, the new Shuffle comes with a dock. No doubt this helped to keep the size down, but it does make it less convenient to charge.

The new nanos are reminiscent of the iPod Mini, with the same casing and the same rounded sides. The 2GB costs £99 but only comes in silver, so you'll have to pay £129 for the 4GB version if you want colours. Black commands a further premium -- it's only available on the £169, 8GB model.

Like the original nano, the aluminium nano slides easily into your pocket. It also slipped from our fingers and bounced on to the floor, with no apparent harm done (but don't try this at home).

CNET.co.uk reviewers Chris Stevens and Andrew Lim elbowed through the crowds to bring you a video report on the new iPods -- find it in the Miscellaneous section of our new Video Archive. -ML