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Airlines in tune with Apple

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- From 2007 airline passengers will be able to connect their iPods to in-flight entertainment systems and watch their favorite videos without fear of running out of battery power.

Apple, manufacturer of the portable media player, has agreed to install iPod connections on planes of four major carriers.

Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Dubai's Emirates, and United Airlines will begin offering their passengers iPod seat connections, which power and charge iPods during flight and allow the video content on the devices to be viewed on seat-back displays.

Service at participating airlines will begin in the middle of next year, Apple said. Other terms of deals were not disclosed.

Apple has sought to expand the possible uses for its market-dominating iPod, including deals to build iPod ports into new-model cars. The announcement came as rival Microsoft Corp. launched its Zune digital music player Tuesday in a bid to challenge the iPod.

While many travelers now use laptop computers or portable DVDs players to watch videos, those devices have limited battery life.

All airlines are "looking to upgrade their entertainment systems, especially for longer distance flights," said Ray Neidl, senior airline analyst at Calyon Securities. "This is just one way of doing it."

To date, Apple has sold nearly 70 million iPods and more than 1.5 billion songs through its iTunes music store. It has also made popular TV shows and movies available for purchase and download through its Internet store.

But with more than 75 percent of the U.S. market for digital music players, analysts have voiced concern that there is limited room for growth in iPod's market share. Apple has responded by introducing new versions of the device, including a new video iPod and iPod Shuffle.

By striking deals to have iPod outlets in cars and now airlines, the computer maker is also expanding the uses of its hugely popular music and video system. At the same time, airlines are searching for ways to keep customers loyal, even as many cut back on services to control costs.

In a statement, United Airlines said that the deal is part of its broader plan to upgrade international first- and business-class travel.

"There is significant value in offering a superior in-flight entertainment experience to our first- and business-class customers during their international flights," said Graham Atkinson, executive vice president and chief customer officer.

Calyon's Neidl said he believed Apple and other airlines would soon announce similar deals.

"It's a nice add-on, makes customers happier, keeps them out of flight attendants' hair," he said.

Originally Apple announced that Air France KLM would be installing the system, too. However a spokesperson for the airline denied that they had agreed a deal with Apple.

"It's very premature what Apple are saying," said a KLM spokesman, noting that there have been "informal contacts" between Apple and the airline.

"We have no idea if this is technically feasible, if it's financially viable, or if customers want it," he said. "At this moment, we have absolutely no intention of introducing it on board."

Reuters contributed to this report.


story.ipod.jpg

The ubiquitous iPod will soon have a home in the skies, as Apple agree a deal with four major airlines.

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