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Monday, September 04, 2006, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Apple to roll-out iTunes movies and 'one more thing'

The charismatic leader and co-founder of Apple Computer, Steve Jobs, plans to summon the worldwide media to a special event this month in which he'll usher in a new chapter in the company's digital media strategy, AppleInsider has learned.

Although the semi-official word out of Apple Americas is that invitations to the event have "not been sent" out, a seemingly inadvertent leak out of Apple Europe last week pinned the affair for Tuesday, September 12. It will be hosted by Jobs in a yet-to-be disclosed California location and beamed via satellite throughout the world.

Jobs will have much to talk about during the event, sources familiar with the chief executive's plans have said, including new iMacs and a much-anticipated update to the iPod nano. But the real push, they say, will be tied to the big screen.

After what has seemed like nearly two years of rampant speculation and unbridled enthusiasm on the part of its fans, the Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is ready to introduce its al la carte feature film download service as part of iTunes.

Though slightly battered in his negotiations with major motion picture studios, Jobs is expected to announce that flicks from at least one major studio will be immediately available for download starting at just $9.99 a pop. In very much the same way national television networks elected to join the iTunes video bandwagon after some initial hesitation, additional studios are likely to follow suit in the coming months.

For some time now, published reports have insinuated that Apple and Jobs would be unwilling to launch a movie download service without a wide, touch-screen video iPod player to coincide. But as he reclines with his feet perched on the sprawling Apple boardroom conference table, Jobs is likely enjoying a chuckle or two — he's been planning something bigger, something better, something everyone will want.

Just as he asserted that consumers are more eager to own their music tracks for 99 cents a piece rather than rent them on a monthly basis, he realizes that few are willing to plunk down ten bucks for a two-hour movie that they'll have to watch with their neck cranked towards a miniature screen resting in the palm of their hand. As someone at the forefront of the motion picture industry, he knows films are designed for the big screen and later adapted for the home living-room theater.

For these reasons, Jobs many months ago commissioned an elite group of Apple engineers to get the ball rolling on an intuitive hardware solution that would more closely tie the company's digital media strategy to the living-room. And so AppleInsider has been told, Apple has been quietly developing a video streaming device that will interface with an updated version of its iTunes jukebox software.

It's arguably been one of the most closely guarded secrets at Apple since the evolution of the first iPod digital music player, which forever altered the landscape of the music industry when it was introduced in October of 2001. Only a select bunch inside Cupertino have heard of the latest device and even fewer have seen it. Therefore, further details are few and far between.

Insiders can only presume the device will take up the form of a video-enabled version of Apple's existing AirPort Express wireless base station, which lets users stream their iTunes music tracks from their computers to their home stereo receivers. It also acts as a wireless 802.11 router and printing hub.

Though largely unconfirmed, there has been anecdotal evidence to support the notion that the streaming device may find its way into the AirPort Express product family. In particular, Apple last month began to constrain new shipments of AirPort Express modules to its US-based retail distributors, promising fresh shipments at a later date. In an August 6th filing, the company also reapplied for an 'AirPort Express' trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Still, it should be noted, that although the streaming device has been targeted for an unveiling during this month's affair, it has yet to receive Jobs' official stamp of approval. Insiders say spotted development of the device, most likely related to its embedded firmware, is still undergoing tests. And unless completely satisfied with its performance, Jobs could delay roll-out until a slightly later date.

Nevertheless, this month's media event will bear the fruits of several other Apple product initiatives. First and foremost, insiders have said, will be an introduction of the company's largest and most stunning iMac to date: a widescreen, possibly high-definition model, built around what appears to be a 23-inch display. As AppleInsider reported last week, existing iMac models will also be refreshed around Intel Corp.'s new Core 2 Duo mobile processors, formerly reference by the 'Merom' moniker.

With dozens of tractor-trailer-mounted container ships seen leaving Foxconn's Far East manufacturing facilities over the past week, Apple's next-generation iPod nano digital music players also appears to be a lock for the event.

As AppleInsider exclusively reported back in April, the company has been toiling away on a redesigned iPod nano that will feature controller chips from Samsung, at least double the storage capacity of today's models, and come clad in non-scratch metal alloy enclosures. Despite rumors of delays, it was also reported that the new players remained on track for an introduction this month.

This September promises to be the start of exciting new times for Apple, one of the self-proclaimed pirates of Silicon Valley. And it better be — Jobs and Co. are betting on it big time.