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Microsoft's new Xbox 360 to be released Nov. 22

By Compiled from staff and wire reports
Published September 19, 2005

Microsoft Corp. will begin selling the Xbox 360, its new video game console, on Nov. 22.

The release date of the console marks the start of the transition to the next generation of game consoles from the top competitors in that market: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.

Video game industry analysts said it is too soon to tell how much benefit Microsoft would gain by being the first out of the gate. Sony plans to release PlayStation 3 in the spring, and Nintendo has not given a release date for its next console.

Still, several analysts said Microsoft should enjoy strong demand, particularly among hard-core game players, which could give Xbox 360 a lead in marketing against Sony's PlayStation 2, the best-selling game console to date.

When Sony introduced the PlayStation 2 in North America in November 2000, it sold 1.1-million consoles over the holiday season, said Evan Wilson, an industry analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. Wilson said it will be possible for Microsoft to sell 1.5-million consoles in North America during the coming holiday season.

"The demand is higher at this point than people were expecting," Wilson said. He said specialty video game retailers, like Electronics Boutique, told analysts they already have sold out their allotment to consumers through advance orders.

The company said previously it planned to sell a base model for $299 and a premium version for $399, which is to include a wireless controller and high-definition television connectors designed to appeal to enthusiasts.

Volkswagens to have digital music player connections

Leave the CDs at home.

With digital music players becoming more ubiquitous, Volkswagen AG is offering a stereo component that lets motorists plug in all manner of portable digital players - not just iPods - and manage their tunes and podcasts on a dashboard display.

Although the in-dash CD player has yet to go the way of the eight-track, digital devices with USB connections, be they fancy iPods or simple key chain drives, seem now to be portable music's future.

Volkswagen, Europe's biggest automaker, is making the USB connection an option on its Golf, Golf Plus and Touran models in December and on remaining models next year.

Just plug your device into a built-in console in the center armrest. The option comes in two varieties, one for the iPod, another for other USB-based players. Up to six of the player's folders will be displayed on the car stereo system, and the radio buttons can be used to scan, search or shuffle your mix.

The setup will cost $240.

Microsoft introduces three graphics, layout products

Microsoft Corp., the world's largest softwaremaker, unveiled three products for designing graphics and layout in software programs and Web pages to compete with Adobe Systems Inc. and Macromedia Inc.

The products, branded Microsoft Expression, will be released starting in 2006, said Forest Key, group product manager in Microsoft's developer tools division. The announcement comes as Microsoft is trying to persuade developers to write programs for its new Windows and Office software due for release in the second half of next year.

The company has been stepping up competition with Adobe and in April announced a technology that will rival Adobe's PDF file format for sharing digital documents. Microsoft is hoping to sell more software by appealing to graphic designers who will be able to translate their ideas directly into code rather than through software developers.

Google testing service used in blog searches

Google Inc. began testing a search service for Web logs. "Blog Search will help our users explore the blogging universe more effectively, and perhaps inspire many to join the revolution themselves," the company said at www.google.com/blogsearch

Google's database includes only stories posted on blogs by publishers who have alerted monitoring services. It does not include traditional news Web sites, weather or stock quotes. Blog searches can be saved and will be updated automatically when a pertinent item is received.

"The 800-pound gorilla just entered the blogosphere," said Charlene Li, principal analyst with Forrester Research. She added that Google's experience at understanding how to present search results with relevance (putting the most important entries higher up) will be "the secret sauce to Google's blog-search success."

Li suggests that other blog search services, like Technorati or Feedster, could be in for some tough times not just with Google in the game, but with expected offerings in blog search from major portals. "Their arrival will tighten the noose even more on smaller players," she wrote on her own blog.

Device routes cell phone calls to hearing aids

For hearing-aid users, digital cell phones have not been a big advance; they create electronic interactions that often lead to irritating buzzing and feedback. The ELI hearing aid from Starkey Laboratories (starkey.com) uses the Bluetooth wireless technology now included with many cell phones to avoid interference by, in effect, moving the telephone into the hearing aid.

The tiny device, which is available for about $300, plugs into the bottom of most hearing aids that are designed to be worn behind the ear. Incoming calls are routed directly from the phone to the ELI and then the hearing aid. A tiny microphone on the end of the ELI device picks up the users' side of the conversation and transmits it back to the phone.

There is one catch: Only about 30 percent of hearing aids currently in use are behind-the-ear models. For users of in-ear models, Starkey has a variation of the ELI that is worn on a necklace. Like the main model, it communicates with the phone by Bluetooth, but it links to the hearing aid with old-fashioned analog wireless technology.

Jerry Ruzicka, Starkey's president and chief executive, said the connection still is clearer than when a digital cell phone is used directly.

Nonprofits can be included in cell phone recycling list

Nonprofit groups in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties that collect cell phones for recycling can submit information for a list that will be published in Personal Tech. Information should include the group name, contact person, address, phone number, e-mail and/or Web address, what is accepted and what is done with the donations. Information should be sent to personaltech@sptimes.com

Join discussion on Tech Times blog

More technology news. More links to interesting sites. More discussion of the tech issues of the day. Join Times personal technology editor Dave Gussow, left, at the Tech Times blog (www.sptimes.com/blogs/tech) where he posts regular updates. Readers are invited to post comments and questions there as well.

[Last modified September 16, 2005, 09:21:02]

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