Apple Computer has created a fourth-generation iPod that offers a slimmer case, click-wheel navigation and significantly improved battery life.

The two new models offer greater capacity for the same price as the current lineup. A 20GB iPod now sells for $299, while the top-of-the-line 40GB model retails for $399. Apple had been selling a 15GB version for $299, a 20GB version for $399 and a 40GB model for $499.

Apple trumpeted the news on its Web site Monday morning, but the details were first revealed Sunday as part of a Newsweek cover story on the iPod and its impact. The magazine's cover shows Apple CEO Steve Jobs holding one of the new, still-white models. In January 2002, a splashy new iMac was featured on the cover of Time.

The battery in the new iPods offers 12 hours of battery life, up from an 8-hour rating for the current models. The jump comes from better power-management features, rather than a higher-capacity battery, according to Newsweek. The click-wheel interface is similar to the one Apple introduced in January with its iPod Mini.

There are also software advances, including the ability to listen to audio books at a faster or slower rate, as well as ways to create and edit more than one playlist from the iPod itself. Previously, only one playlist could be made and songs could be added, but not removed.

The iPod has been a boon to Apple's sales and profits, with the company now selling roughly as many iPods as Mac computers.

The new models represent the fourth generation of the portable players. The first 5GB iPod debuted in October 2001, selling for $399 and featuring a mechanical wheel that spun to navigate through a library of songs. The iPod has kept its basic design since, though the wheel has become touch-sensitive, rather than mechanical, and the device has also slimmed down from its original size.

Meanwhile, competitors including Sony and Dell have introduced new hard-drive-based models, though none has yet to approach the iPod in terms of market share or as a cultural icon.

The Apple Web site said that the company is now taking orders for the new iPods, but did not indicate when they would become available. An Apple representative was not immediately available for comment.

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