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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Apple is set to unveil a series of changes to its iTunes Store that represent significant shifts in its longstanding approach to the business of selli

Apple Inc.'s final appearance at the Macworld trade show has opened with a focus on new software for Mac computers.

unveiled a new version of its iLife media software as well as a new 17-inch MacBook Pro during its keynote speech at the Macworld trade show.

Separately, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is set to unveil a series of changes to its iTunes Store that represent significant shifts in its longstanding approach to the business of selling songs online.

Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of marketing, is giving the Macworld speech, instead of Chief Executive Steve Jobs, whose sudden cancellation last month sparked concerns about his health, eventually leading to his disclosure Monday of a hormone imbalance condition.

Shiller, in his opening remarks, thanked the large crowd for coming to the speech, joking that he was worried no one would attend without the attraction of Jobs.

"It is an honor to be here, there's so much going on across the world," Schiller said. Early reaction on the blogs was that Schiller was holding his own in his first prominent presentation, although one blog said he was speaking faster than Jobs.

Apple shares rose 70 cents to $95.28 in midday trading.

The first hour of the speech was dominated by updates to Apple's software line, which remains an important element for the company, but more as a driver to buy the company's Macintosh computers and its iPhone, rather than boosting its top and bottom line.

Key changes to the new iLife 09 software revolve around digital photo storage and, more specifically, associating a location to a photo, or geotagging.

Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Google Maps has been added to help organize photos by location. The new software from Apple also has face recognition that allows for searching through photos by someone's name.

ILife 09 also has been updated to include new features like musical instrument tutorials, taught by music stars like Sting, Sarah McLachlan and John Fogerty.

ILife '09 will be available this month for a suggested retail price of $79.

After that, Apple unveiled changes to its iWork software, which includes products for presentations, word processing and charts. The new version is available now for a suggested retail price of $79.

The new 17-inch MacBook Pro includes a new Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) chipset and has the same aluminum unibody design that Apple's been incorporating into its notebook computers. Unibody refers to a manufacturing process where the computers frame is carved from a single piece of aluminium.

The new MacBook also includes a battery that will last eight hours and can be recharged 1,000 times.

Apple followers had expected the company to use this keynote speech to show off its bench of talent and relatively young executives to help ease concerns about just how good Apple could be without Jobs at the helm.

Schiller spent the first 20 minutes on stage alone, followed by Randy Ubillos, Apple's chief video architect.

As for the iTunes price changes, The Wall Street Journal said songs would cost either 69 cents, 99 cents or $1.29 each, depending on how desirable they are considered. Apple is likely to sell the "vast majority" of the songs for 69 cents, people familiar with the matter told the newspaper; however, they said, the handful of the most sought-after songs - which generate the vast majority of sales on the service - would likely cost $1.29.

Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs has long said that a simple pricing structure was crucial to the iTunes Store's success. It is unclear what prompted the change. An Apple spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment, but more details were expected to come from Macworld.

In addition, Apple followers also suspect possible announcements about a refresh of the company's desktop computers, a smaller iPhone and an Apple " netbook," which are lower cost, streamlined laptops.

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