Network: What's in Steve's box of tricks?

Apple Computer's secret project - to develop a new multimedia player to sit on top of your TV set - has the computer industry's rumour mill buzzing. Cliff Joseph reports.

Apple Computer is never far from the headlines, but the latest bout of speculation about the company is even more fevered than usual.

The rumours focus on a project code-named Columbus. Initially, it was thought that Columbus was a set-top box that could be used to connect a television to the Internet. It now seems that Columbus refers to a whole range of consumer products being developed by Apple. That range does include a set-top box that goes by the name of AMP: the Apple Media Player.

Apple isn't the only company working on Internet set-top boxes. WebTV, a company backed by Microsoft, has gained a lot of attention and is preparing a trial service in the UK.

The Apple Media Player would be different, as it would act as a kind of general purpose entertainment device that could also play music CDs and films using the new DVD format.

It is the versatility of such a device that is creating so much interest. Film companies that release films on DVD disks could put Internet links on to the disks, and AMP would allow people to watch the film and then connect to Internet sites that sell film merchandise. Music companies could do similar things with audio CDs, linking CDs to Web sites that sell concert tickets or music videos.

Those sorts of marketing opportunities have attracted attention from Hollywood. There are rumours that Disney and Sony are about to launch takeover bids for Apple. A more likely outcome is an arrangement whereby Apple licenses its technology to companies that want to use it. But whether these rumours are true or not, Apple's share price has doubled since the beginning of the year. The Wall Street Journal has even made a "Buy" recommendation on the strength of the AMP rumours.

Apple has tried to keep these projects secret but it has stopped denying the existence of the Columbus and AMP projects. When questioned at a recent conference, Apple's CEO and co-founder, Steve Jobs, simply replied: "I can't talk about that stuff."

What Jobs has said, though, is that Apple will make a concerted effort to regain its position in the consumer market later this year. "Apple has not built a great consumer machine in the last several years, but you'll see that change this fall."

In addition to AMP, it is thought that Apple will be developing other consumer products, including a home computer priced at less than $1,000, and hand-held devices to replace the recently abandoned Newton. Speculation continues that Apple is developing a network computer (NC), but such a product would rely on Rhapsody, the server operating system that Apple is developing. Rhapsody is several months from completion, so an announcement on NCs does not seem imminent.

There is also renewed speculation about Steve Jobs himself. Jobs was ousted in a boardroom coup in the mid-1980s but returned to Apple last year, after mounting a coup of his own, but said that he would only accept the CEO position on an interim basis, in order to see Apple through its management crisis. Apple said that it would announce a permanent CEO, but Jobs appears reluctant to relinquish control. This has discouraged potential candidates, such as the former IBM man Jim Cannavino, who is said to be unhappy with the idea of remaining answerable to Jobs.

Apple's board has been negotiating with Jobs for several months in an attempt to get him to stay on full-time. Their latest offer is said to be worth $250m. Jobs has yet to respond and the board is getting impatient.

To top it all, Gil Amelio, who was toppled by Jobs last year, is about to publish a book about his time at Apple. It is expected to make savage criticisms of Jobs, but the recent turnaround in Apple's fortunes means that Jobs' position is stronger than ever.

Many of these rumours should be clarified next month. Product announcements are expected, and a shareholders' meeting will put pressure on Jobs to make his mind up about the CEO position. One thing' seems certain. Its recovery may not be complete, but after two years of crisis Apple is back in the game.

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?