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Apple Announces Plans to Branch into TV, Social Media for Music

For the last several years, Apple has been a trailblazer when it comes to computers and music players, but the company has recently announced several plans to expand the breadth of their products and services. Earlier this week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled a slew of new software, programs and devices that will be yet another step in the company’s efforts to dabble in all forms of media.

One of the headline innovations is Ping, a social network for music fans that has been integrated into the latest version of iTunes. Much like Twitter, Ping users will be able to follow friends to find out which artists and songs they’re listening to. The new social network will also allow users to receive breaking news from their favorite bands and receive the most up-to-date concert listings. In the same vein as the Genius feature, which was introduced a couple of years ago, Ping will work to help users discover new music that is catered to their tastes.

Ping will be available for iTunes on all platforms; however, it is now only available to 160 million users in 23 countries. As you can probably imagine, Ping will be directly tied into the iTunes music store, which will inevitably help drive up sales of digital music for Apple.

The realm of social media is new for Apple, and its new competitors are already beginning to take notice. Many of the top music-related social media sites have already issued statements pertaining to the release of Ping and its potential to affect their business model. Sites like Pandora and Zune Social have already garnered large market share in this area, but Apple’s reputation in the music industry may be enough to propel it past competitors. Many analysts are suggesting that the debut of Ping could spell disaster for sites providing a similar service, such as iLike, Last.fm and MySpace.

The other major announcement from Jobs was a new and improved Apple TV set-top box. It’s smaller and cheaper than the earlier model, which was widely considered a flop. With the new unit, customers will be able to rent TV shows from leading networks like Fox and ABC, as well as stream movies from Netflix and video from YouTube. Instead of storing content on the device itself, all of the video viewed through Apple TV will have to be streamed from a computer or the internet. This feature will allow users to stream a range of content from their computer, iPhone or iPad directly to their home TV.

The Apple TV unit itself will cost $99, while TV shows and movies will range anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99 for the latest HD movies. Unlike Ping, the success of Apple TV isn’t a given, as Apple doesn’t have any previous presence in the field and faces competition from Google, video game consoles and similar products from startup companies.

In addition to Ping and Apple TV, Jobs also showcased the newest versions of the iPod Shuffle, Nano and Touch, all of which feature some of the most significant changes to the products since they were first introduced.

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