Thoughts on the Next Gen iPod

by James R. Stoup Feb 26, 2007

After seeing this year’s most recent keynote, and reading up on all the iPhone speculation, I have determined that I want one. Now, I’m not totally sure what I would do with it (because I already have a cell phone, a laptop, and three iPods), but that still hasn’t prevented me from wanting one. Badly.

However, as great as the iPhone is, it’s the phone component itself that I have the least use for. Now, I realize that the iPhone, as a phone, is way better than any other phone out there. But, at the moment, I just can’t afford to drop my current carrier, pay the $200 early termination fee, buy a $600 iPhone, and start up with Cingular. Maybe one day, but not any time soon. However, I might be in the market for a new iPod.

And it was this line of thinking that got me wondering what the next generation of iPods is going to look like. Because, as far as I’m concerned, Apple has only two choices: release an iPod that is an incremental update to the current version, or take the iPhone, strip out everything but the media features (i.e. the music & movie players), and sell that.

If Apple chooses the first option, expect the iPod to get a bigger hard drive (100GB would be my guess), longer battery life, brighter screen, and different colors. Like the Shuffles and Nanos, I would expect these iPods to come in the standard five matching colors. This would be an incremental update to say the least. But more importantly, it would send the message that Apple doesn’t want to compromise iPhone sales by making the iPods too cool.

In this case we can see the iPod reaching the limits of its functionality. And by that I mean that Apple’s position would become, “If you want music, buy an iPod. If you want anything more, buy an iPhone.” This is somewhat significant because it effectively limits the scope of what an iPod is. So, for anyone out there thinking that maybe the iPod would eventually grow into a super-PDA (think iPhone without the phone), you are SOL.

The second option would be for Apple to take the touch screen interface from the iPhone and graft it onto an iPod. Now, this approach has its own problems, the most significant of which (to me at least) is the iPod’s operating system. Apple can’t add the touch screen interface without also forcing the iPod to run OS X. But it wouldn’t even be the version of OS X that runs on the iPhone. Instead, it would have to be a heavily stripped down version that would only include the music and video portions.

To understand why this is necessary, one has to fully realize why this new touch screen interface is so amazing. It boils down to this: if Apple wanted to put a touch screen on the iPod but not run OS X, they could. However, it would be just like every other touch screen ever made. You use one finger as a glorified stylus to select what you want. You would get the same interface you find on PDAs and ATM machines. That interface is, for the iPod’s situation, inferior to the current click wheel.

Now look at the iPhone and all of the complex gestures you can use to interface with it. That added complexity has to be handled somewhere, either by running OS X or vastly expanding the current iPod’s software to handle the burden. And remember (because this is important), just getting it to work doesn’t count! Apple won’t ship an iPod whose user interface is harder to use than its current design. So, just because they can get such an interface to work doesn’t mean it will work well. The iPhone has a complex, open-ended operating system.  The current iPod has a very simple and very specific operating system. Welding a piece of the former onto the latter is not the recipe for a well-designed product.

I have no idea as to Apple’s long-term strategy in regards to these devices, but it seems to revolve around the question of whether or not to keep the iPod as a distinct product or ultimately merge it with the iPhone. Because in the long run, lower prices and better technology will make multi-function devices much more prevalent. If Apple wants to keep selling iPods in the face of future competitors they will have to adapt. And that means either adding more features (to justify the higher prices) or reducing the price (to stay competitive). I don’t know when Apple will stop selling iPods, but that day might be coming sooner than you think.


  • Well, as long as the phone does not feature 80-100GB of space there will be a need for high capacity iPods, which is unlikely to happen too soon as solid state is still not there in any way and HDDs are too slow & reduce battery life too much. Personally, I planned to buy a nano for a while, just for those occasions where lugging a full size iPod would be too much hassle, but I would not feel too restricted by only having say 4GB available. Guess what, I would always take my phone regardless, so the iPhone caters exactly to that demand. Regarding the interface, I think it has been said before that on a high capacity iPod that is also used according to its capabilities, navigating with the clickwheel can become a wee bit burdensome. So in fact, the iPhone’s music interface might be more effective as it makes it easier to jump directly from one end of the library to the other, set up on the go playlists… This does not even consider the rich media abilities of a high capacity device such as video, album art, ... . It would make sense.

    Yet another problem that has not been touched is device-misinterpretation / loss of product identity. I happen to own a Canon digital IXUS (or ELPH as they are called elsewhere, I think) which people constantly take to be a phone. “What a slick cellphone you have there”. No, sorry, it’s just a camera (Another, more notable exampe of this are camera/camcorder-phones by say SE or Nokia which strive to look more and more like cameras/camcorders and still do not manage to come after any of their tasks in a satisfactory way). The same thing could happen to the iPod/iPhone if they share the same design and even interface. Which is something Apple will likely try not to let happen as they are very keen on product differentiation. So my prediction is, the high end iPod will stay the same as long as solid state is significantly more expensive than HDDs. It will not take too long until we see 30GB iPhones though.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Feb 26, 2007 Posts: 371
  • I’m not sure I agree that the niceness of the touch-pad UI depends on the use of Mac OS X.  All the other phone manufacturers using the Synaptics touch screen have gone for a Flash-based UI, which I think makes a lot of sense both economically and technically if Flash can hack it, which it probably can.  (Remember those good old days when type 1 was the only font format, Display PostScript was all the rage and Adobe wanted to own the UI?)  The technology demonstrator certainly included a gestural UI, and could probably have handled two fingers if they had thought it worth while.

    The other thing to bear in mind is that, depending on what mood the Feds are in, we might actually be talking about future products over which SJ has had no influence…..

    IanKemmish had this to say on Feb 26, 2007 Posts: 1
  • $200 termination fee? Have you tried Cellswapper?

    aftermarket had this to say on Feb 26, 2007 Posts: 1
  • Have you tried Cellswapper?

    That is brilliant! What a fantastic business idea!

    If you went for the lower cost iPhone, that would take the cost from $800 to $500. Or less - there are these rumours…

    Benji had this to say on Feb 26, 2007 Posts: 927
  • Apple can’t add the touch screen interface without also forcing the iPod to run OS X. But it wouldn’t even be the version of OS X that runs on the iPhone. Instead, it would have to be a heavily stripped down version that would only include the music and video portions.

    This is actually a good point for other reasons. iPhone is an order of magnitude more powerful, being powered by chips designed for far more general purpose calculation-hungry applications than the ones in the iPod. The problem isn’t really the problelm of “bolting something on”, since OS X is highly portable. It’s just that the iPod is simple, and adding the sort of chips that are in the iPhone would make it very much more complex, sacrificing either price point or margins.

    However, I don’t think there is no possibility of making an iPhone-like interface for a simpler operating system. This article overstates the need for desktop class code for touch-screen interfaces. The true need for OS X in the iPhone is to deliver all the other functionality, with easy development and visually/functionally impressive results.

    Basically, what you’re considering, an iPhone without the iPhone, doesn’t need and wouldn’t benefit from the complexity of OS X. All it really needs is an interface driver.

    Benji had this to say on Feb 26, 2007 Posts: 927
  • as long as it comes with cover flow i’ll be satisfied-.

    nana had this to say on Feb 27, 2007 Posts: 63
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