The New iPod touch
So—it’s fall, and, since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has done a fall event to introduce updates to its iPod product line. Every update to the iPod touch has been at one of these events.
Other than an alleged front panel with similarities to the alleged New iPhone part leaks, the most promising leak so far concerning the new iPod touch has been this case design. Interestingly, there are two holes on the back of the case—one that looks like a hole for the camera, with an elongated cutout what may, plausibly, be an LED flash (as on the iPhone 4/4S), and another that is of similar size to the maybe-camera hole, but without the elongation for a flash.
So what does that mean?
Well, let’s go back to the beginning. Apple introduces the original iPhone, and it’s “the best iPod we’ve ever made”. So, logically, shortly thereafter, Apple introduces a new iPod that is essentially the iPod app form the iPhone, plus a few other iPhone apps that give the iPod touch the features of the other iPod models (Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Settings), plus Safari—allegedly so that you can log onto WiFi networks that use web-based authentication, so that you can then buy music through the iTunes store.
Except, that’s not the way consumers and the press see it. When the iPhone was introduced, it was introduced as “a phone, a breakthrough internet device, and a touch-screen iPod”. And now, this iPod touch, which was originally just supposed to be the touch-screen iPod portion of the iPhone, has two of the iPhone’s three flagship features. It is, to quote everybody, “an iPhone without the Phone”—at least in terms of the three flagship features.
But it’s missing apps, like Mail. Some users hack the iPhone apps in; others complain that Apple is holding back. Apple introduces a software update that includes the missing apps, and really does give the iPod touch the capabilities of the iPhone without the phone.
Why do you want the iPhone without the phone? Because you don’t want to have to commit to monthly service or a cell phone contract. Why not just by the iPhone sans service to get your “iPhone without the phone”? Because the iPhone sans service is unsubsidized, and therefore expensive (if it’s even available at all, but let’s assume it is).
So Apple offers the iPod touch as an inexpensive, contract-free “iPhone without the phone”, by cutting out cellular hardware, using less expensive components (screen, camera, etc.), and (presumably) taking a lower margin on the sale.
Which leads us to a conclusion—the primary purpose of the iPod touch is to be a cheap iPhone.
But there’s another product that’s been described as being the iPhone without the phone, but bigger: the iPad. The iPad is, at the low end (i.e. the iPad 2), butting right up against the most expensive iPod touch you can buy, at $399.
But if the widespread rumors are correct, Apple’s going to release an iPad mini (or iPad Air, or iPad Jr.. If the rumors are correct, it is, in both size and price, intended to compete with the Amazon Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7, which puts it somewhere in the $199–$299 range—squarely in iPod touch territory!
So, if you can get an iPad for the price of an iPod touch, why buy an iPod touch?
Well, there’s the size. But that’s not much of a marketing pitch. But it’s not out of the question that the iPad Jr. takes over most of the sales in that price range, while the iPod touch picks up the scraps, selling to people who need something pocketable that don’t want an iPhone or an iPod nano.
Maybe Apple has the iPad Jr. as the $199–$299 iOS device, and the iPod nano and shuffle are left to be the dedicated music player devices (and current rumors have the iPod nano becoming more iPod touch-like). That’s certainly a nice, clean product line, but I don’t’ think Apple’s ready to kill the iPod touch yet (in part due to the parts leaks mentioned above).
So, then, what can Apple do to make the iPod touch compelling against the iPad Jr.?
They could figure out a way to make it a much better music player. It’s already more portable than the hypothetical iPad Jr. Maybe it has more memory. Maybe Apple comes up with something that I haven’t been able to conceive of. But if there’s a compelling feature in addition to pocketability that Appel can pitch, the iPod touch manages to earn its keep.
Or, maybe, just maybe, the iPod touch gets a new focus on photography. It already does HD video—the iPod touch makes a nice HD video camera, plus “pocket computer” features and music player features, all for what a Flip video camera used to cost1. Samsung certainly thinks there’s a market for a “smart camera”. And then there was that very fascinating (but, let’s be honest, likely false) rumor that Apple has been working on a top secret digital camera project. If there’s any credence to that rumor, perhaps the iPod touch is the secret camera? The iPod touch’s camera has lagged behind the iPhone’s, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Honestly, those are the only two things I can come up with that the iPod touch could do better than the iPad Jr.—music player and digital camera—and both concern pocketability. It’s hard for me to think how Apple could make the iPod touch a more compelling music player than both the iPad Jr. and the iPod nano. But it’s easy to imagine how the iPod touch could be a better digital camera than the iPad Jr.—and the iPod nano currently has no camera.
But, could something be done to make the iPod touch a better camera than the iPhone? Certainly better optics are an option (although they would inevitably compromise the iPod touch’s “thinnest iOS device” status). Or—and here’s where I circle back to the start, and the question of the second hole in the leaked iPod touch case—what about a second lens, for 3D photography? A two-lens, 3D camera would certainly explain what look to be two holes for camera lenses in the leaked iPod touch case, and would make the iPod touch more compelling as a camera than the iPhone or iPad Jr.
Really, I don’t think that’s the case. Unless Apple introduces a ton of glasses-free 3D displays and newly 3D capable operating systems very soon, there’s really not much point to taking a bunch of 3D photos. Even on the Nintendo 3DS, which has a 3D display, the unit’s 3D camera is pretty much a cute trick.
The iPod touch 3D was almost a nice, neat way to wrap up the leaked case design and the intrusion of the iPad Jr. into its price range, though… Oh well. Hopefully this provided some nice food for thought.
Update: A speaker is probably the most likely purpose, and the iPod touch will continue being the smallest iOS device you can buy—maybe that’s enough to justify its existence. A more out there, but clever idea (Cindy’s, by the way) is that there could be a projector (although I tend to think that would bend up on the top or bottom rather than front or back due to mechanical issues). Perhaps if they’re pushing the camera angle, it’s a second lens—wide angle, zoom, fish-eye, or what have you. Anybody got any other ideas?
Update 2: Well, I was right that Apple’s pushing camera functionality—although it sounds like the new iPod touch “just” has the iPhone 4’s camera. But that mystery hole in the leaked case? It’s for a pop-up post that you can attache a lanyard to. Which, while maybe a little boring, is still a handy feature for a camera.
Remember when Apple positioned the iPod nano as a Flip-killer? Apple’s not afraid to have a multi-purpose gadget that people can buy for multiple reasons. And it turned out that the Flip did a fine job of getting itself killed. RIP Flip. ↩