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Wednesday, August 22, 2007, 09:05 pm PT (12:05 am ET)

Apple to usher in era of Mac OS X-based iPods

Apple Inc. will use a media event next month to unveil a new breed of iPod digital music players that have been injected with the company's most vital asset — the Mac OS.

The move will culminate a multi-year effort on the part of the Cupertino-based electronics giant to form a new platform of digital devices around the common core of its legendary operating system software and expertise in industrial design.

Three of Apple's four business segments — the Mac, iPhone and Apple TV — already rely on derivatives of the Mac OS. In surgically replacing the iPod's Pixo-influenced OS with a modern-day variant of its homebred software, the company will have effectively scaled the Mac OS across its entire product matrix.

Internally, Apple is much further along, according to sources, who say the company will again tap an embedded version of the Mac OS to form the foundation of yet another business segment and digital device family in 2008. In the meantime, however, the company's efforts will reportedly focus on maturing its already established product families.

People familiar with this year's plans say Apple's iPod roadmap for the fall now calls for as many as four new models — most, if not all, will employ NAND flash — including major evolutions of both the flagship video iPod and iPod nano lines. It's these two iPod product families which are expected to receive the Mac OS treatment, though to varying degrees.

Sources in the Far East — where Apple manufacturers its digital music players — have recently vouched for sightings of a "full screen" iPod, which they believe will finally make its debut ahead of this year's holiday shopping season. The players are said to run a derivative of the Mac OS-based iPod software introduced as part of the company's iPhone handset back in June.

What's interesting, however, is that the Apple has also been working on Mac OS-based iPod software for models that will retain their click-wheels — such as third-generation iPod nanos. Interface concept videos recently published and then pulled from MacRumors consisted of genuine Apple material to this effect, AppleInsider can confirm.

The videos illustrated intentions on the part of the gadget maker to carry over software design aspects from the iPhone, in addition to tying in features of its just-released iLife '08 digital lifestyle suite. In particular, they demonstrated widespread use of vibrant album art, Leopard-style interface overlays, a world clock widget similar to the iPhone's, and a new photo feature that would allow iPod nano users to browse their iLife '08 photo "Events" via a CoverFlow interface controlled by a physical click-wheel.

Exactly what may be in store for the remaining iPod models is admittedly unclear. However, one could simply represent modest improvements to the entry-level iPod shuffle, while the other could be one-in-the-same with much-rumored second iteration of iPhone.

Those people familiar with Apple's digital media player plans say an official unveiling of this year's offerings is on tap for mid-to-late September.