Apple's 'Columbus' to chart new markets

Apple is looking at planting a flag in the virgin territory of set-top boxes and internet devices as a new range of products, code named 'Columbus' take form in its Silicon Valley headquarters.

According to Apple expert, Cliff Joseph, writing in yesterday's Independent, the firm's recent share price recovery on Wall Street is as much due to rumours about the Apple Media Player (Columbus) as it is to the recent return to profitability.

Several other companies, including Microsoft with WebTV, Sky, BT, BIB, and BDB are planning set-top boxes that will offer Web connection in addition to interactive TV services in the UK in the next twelve months. Apple's device is believed to do all of this plus it would also act as an all round entertainment centre, playing music CDs and DVD movies.

The advantage that Apple has over some of the competitors in this business are that it can deliver all of the software through the Mac OS and QuickTime technologies, in addition to having the hardware manufacturing know-how, that competitors like Microsoft lack. However, cynics point out that Apple have been here before, most recently with 'Pippin' which promised much the same range of benefits, but cut no ice with the American or Japanese public, and has so far failed to ship at all Europe.

Whether 'Columbus' floats or not, Apple are likely to be a player in the set top box market. They have considerable expertise here, and recently supplied set top boxes to BT for the world's biggest trial of interactive television, last year in Ipswich.