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Tuesday, January 22, 2008, 03:40 pm PT (06:40 pm ET)

Apple: iPod touch is now a "mainstream Wi-Fi mobile platform"

During its quarterly conference call Tuesday, Apple outlined a new vision for the iPod touch, saying it hopes the product will mark the beginning of the first true "Wi-Fi mobile platform" rather than continue to exist solely as a high-end extension of its digital media player business.

Echoed multiple times during the question and answer session of the call, the vision hinges around the expandability of the touch-screen player to offer more than just music, photo, and video playback.

"We believe one of the iPod [touch's] future directions is to become the first mainstream Wi-Fi mobile platform, running all kinds of mobile applications," company executives said.

The iPod touch led a significant amount of Apple's iPod shipment growth during the first quarter, particularly in Japan. Though US iPod sales came in relatively flat year-over-year, the Apple executives said they were happy to sacrifice sheer unit volume in the short term for a long-term objective.

While the executives didn't explain what the iPod touch's future directions would entail, the statement marks a reversal of Apple's previous approach to the iPod line. While introducing the fifth-generation iPod a few years back, chief executive Steve Jobs said that the device remained "all about the music" — a statement now challenged by equal attention to web browsing and other wireless data features.

This altered focus became clear with the announcement of the Cupertino, Calif.-based firm's January software upgrade for the iPod touch. The software — which is free with all newly manufactured units and $20 for existing owners — adds e-mail, Google Maps, and widgets, rendering the device all but identical to the iPhone outside of calling features.

Apple's strategy is expected to become clearer still when the company releases an official SDK in February, which will explain how third-party developers can write their own programs for both the iPod touch and the iPhone, offering a means of expanding both devices beyond what Apple itself can provide.