Nano Steals The Spotlight From iTunes Phone

Sept. 14, 2005
As expected, Apple introduced an iTunes cell phone last week (Fig. 1). But the company immediately upstaged the device with the concurrent introduction of a new music player, nano, which replaces the iPod

As expected, Apple introduced an iTunes cell phone last week (Fig. 1). But the company immediately upstaged the device with the concurrent introduction of a new music player, nano, which replaces the iPod mini. Apple also introduced iTunes 5, a new version of its digital music jukebox and online music store.

Measuring 1.6 by 3.5 by 0.25 inches and weighing 1.5 ounces (compared with 2.0 by 3.6 by 0.5 inches for the mini), the nano comes in a 2-Gbyte version with room to store 500 songs (average 4 minutes each, with 128-Kbit/s AAC encoding), and a 4-Gbyte, 1,000-song/25,000-photo version. Prices are $199 and $249, respectively. Both models are said to work for approximately 14 hours between charges. The nano is available now in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, in classic iPod in white or black.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs drew attention to the nano's use of solid-state flash memory, a technology based on SanDisk TransFlash. After innovating with a 2.5-in. hard disk from Toshiba America Information Systems in the original iPod, and a 1.8-in. Toshiba disk in the mini, Apple migrated to flash to gain smaller size and better reliability for the smaller-capacity (1-Gbyte, 240-song) shuffle introduced last January. The firm has now quadrupled the shuffle's capacity in a credit card-size form factor that incorporates custom chips and a miniaturized circuit board.

The nano features a 1.5-in. color screen for album art, photos, or games; a Click Wheel for one-handed navigation through albums and playlists, and Auto-sync technology for automatically downloading music, photos, or Podcasts from an iTunes digital music jukebox. It also has new stopwatch, world clock, and screen lock applications.

Like the shuffle, the nano can be accessorized, with options such as lanyard headphones ($39) that enable a user to wear the device around the neck; a set of tubes ($29) in pink, purple, blue, green, and clear; and armbands ($29) in gray, pink, blue, read and green. A dock is also available for $29. Because the nano uses the same 30-pin dock connector as the original iPod and the iPod mini, it can be used with all accessories designed for those products.

The nano comes with earbud headphones, a USB 2.0 cable, and a CD with iTunes for Mac and Windows. It requires a Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later, or a Windows PC with Windows 2000 or XP, and a USB 2.0 port.

The new iTunes 5 digital music jukebox/online store, a free download from, includes a new Search Bar; the ability to organize playlists into folders; a "Smart Shuffle" feature that makes shuffling less random, and automatic syncing of Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express contacts and calendars with iPods.

The iTunes phone, called the ROKR (or "rocker") E1 is manufactured by Motorola Inc. and marketed by Cingular Wireless. It's priced at $250 with a two-year cellular service contract. A slab (versus flip) phone measuring 4.3 by 1.8 by 0.8 inches, the ROKR is rendered in two-tone silver, and features a color display said to be capable of displaying album art, plus Apple's iTunes software.

The phone can store 100 songs or their equivalent in audiobooks or Podcasts. Content must be downloaded from an iTunes jukebox on a Mac or PC via USB cable because Cingular does not plan to offer an iTunes service for buying songs directly over a cell-phone connection.

Users can switch between phone and music modes by pressing a dedicated music key. In lieu of an iPod-style click wheel, the ROKR employs a five-way navigation button. Other features include built-in dual stereo speakers, and stereo headphones for mobile headset implementation. Users can listen to their music while messaging or taking photos, but music is automatically paused when a user takes a call.

The design of the ROKR phone is similar to that of the ultra-slim RAZR, which Motorola introduced last year. Both phones feature Freescale Semiconductor's DSP56631 dual-core baseband processor and MC13777 quad-band GPRS front-end IC, which are available in Freescale's i.250-21 cellular platform.

The baseband processor integrates a DSP56600 DSP with an ARM7TDMI-S microcontroller. Functions include on-chip memory, receiver ADCs, a receive and transmit synthesizer, a transmit power amplifier control, and a voice codec. The front-end works in GSM/DCS (global systems for mobile communications/digital-communications services) and GSM850/PCS (personal-communications services) quad-band GPRS class 10 cellular radios. It has a receiver portion that works in very low intermediate frequency (VLIF) receivers as well as in direct conversion receivers (DCRs).

"We took the analog baseband capability that typically has been included as part of the RF solution-or else required a discrete chip-and integrated it with the digital baseband," said Kent Heath, director of cellular operations in Freescale's Radio Products Division.

"Including analog baseband functionality in the digital baseband allowed us the flexibility to optimize the RF portion cost effectively in a high-speed SiGe process." Heath added that the RF transceiver features integrated low-noise amplifiers (LNAs) that support all four GSM bands (Fig. 2). "Discrete LNAs are much more common, but our technology allows us to integrate LNAs into the RF transceiver, which makes the whole chip set much smaller with no penalty in performance."

Other components in the ROKR include a power amplifier, and power management, audio, and LiIon charge control/protection circuits. Freescale's i.250-21 platform has an MMM6022 integrated power amplifier module, an MC13717 integrated power management and audio solution, and an MC13718 LiIon charge control/protection IC.

The 50-W transmit power amplifier module features an antenna switch for quad- and tri-band GSM handset applications. The power management/audio circuit contains voltage regulators, a voltage multiplier, microphone amplifiers, audio filtering and amplification, a 32-kHz oscillator, and a multiplexer to drive a general-purpose ADC on the baseband processor.

"The fundamental problem in designing an ultra-thin handset was to achieve the best partitioning in the smallest form factor for the lowest cost," said Heath. "One of the more difficult decisions we faced was where to put the analog functions, both for the RF chain and for the audio portion." He noted that Freescale used its SMARTMOS power-management technology to integrate power management and audio features in a single chip, simultaneously, thereby eliminating noise-related issues. The i.250-21 chip set also hosts SiGe transceivers, high-speed CMOS for the baseband DSP and MPU cores, and "different flavors" of GaAs for power amplifier functions, according to Heath.

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