iPod: The 2007 Handicap

By Richard Menta 9/2/07

Now that the iPhone is officially the hottest mobile device pundits expect that the next generation iPod will take its design cues from that groundbreaking device. But what about features? Will Wi-Fi and widescreen finally join the iPod feature-set? Quite probably, though we will need to wait and see. Apple announced a press event for September 5th and many expect Steve Jobs to unveil the new iPods.

As the iPod rumor mill explodes with gossip ranging from the logical to the truly bizzarre, here are some thoughts on which rumors have the most validity, at least for the next generation of iPods.

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16GB iPod nano. Odds = Sure Thing - Creative just introduced two 16GB flash units. Apple will follow.

Multi-touch Widescreen Display with Glass Protection. Odds = 9:5 - Now that it's available on the iPhone the full sized iPod will adopt it too. Will the new iPod look like the iPhone sans phone? Quite probably as Apple likes a uniform look on its product's.

WiFi and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. Odds = 9:5 - The iPhone has it so it makes sense that the top end iPod will have it too. This will ignite a wave of new bluetooth peripherals for the iPod/iPhone.

iPhone Interface = 9:5 - The navigation on the iPhone just seems like a natural evolution for the iPod line.

iPod with OS X. Odds = 2:1 - You don't need OS X to run WiFi or Bluetooth, but if the code is already written for OS X why write it again?

Safari for iPod = 2:1 - If the new iPods have OS X and WiFi it will have Safari for Net access.

iPod with 160GB drive. Odds = 3:1 - Samsung introduced the Spinpoint N2 160GB 1.8" drive last month. Chances are very good it is going into the next version of the iPod

iPod nano with Video. Odds = 4:1 - With the full iPod moving to widescreen the nano could move to handle standard 4:3 aspect ration video, though the present 1.5" display is too small. The problem is the nano's faceplate is quite narrow and we doubt Apple will make it any wider. A 16:9 display lengthwise along the nano's body would allow for a bigger screen withouth increasing the footprint, evolving the nano into a smaller, non-touchscreen version of the full iPod. Then again, for simplicity sake the nano might just stay audio-only.

Solid State iPod. Odds = 20:1 - Apple can easily go flash memory for all flavors of the iPod, but flash is still expensive. Also, flash chips production is at full capacity right now and video files tend to eat up the MBs. While flash will inevitably replace hard drives it probably won't be this September.

Bluetooth 2.1+EDR. Odds = 30:1 - If the iPod does go the Bluetooth route can they really utilize a standard that was only approved by the Bluetooth standards body a month ago. Since Apple practices just in time manufacturing it's possible to jump straight to 2.1, but the timing is tight.

Replaceable Batteries. Odds = 40:1 - Lithium-ion batteries eventually lose capacity, even if you keep them boxed on the shelf. This has rendered perfectly good electronic devices useless unless those batteries are easily replaceable, which the iPod's are not. Last year we rated the chance of the iPod getting replaceable batteries at 18:1. Unfortunately, Apple has shown no desire to include this feature, not even for the iPhone. At $600 the iPhone is a pretty expensive device to discard after a couple of years. In business they call it designed obsolescence. We call it a shame.

Talking iPod. Odds = 45:1 - Apple touted text-to-speech technology in the early Mac commercials and it was a key selling point of their 840AV Mac in the early 90's. A talking iPod certainly is useful in situations where it is preferable not to divert your eyes, say during driving or running with your Nike + iPod. The patent for a talking iPod that hit the Net last year validates the idea, but we have heard nothing about it since then.

iPod with Mail = 50:1 - Not everything on the iPhone makes sense for the iPod. The iPhone has several ways to access mail, but a Wi-Fi iPod would always be searching for an access point. Besides, adding mail to the iPod might be too much for a company that likes to keep it simple...or is it?

BitTorrent for iPod = 80:1 - Brahm Cohen's BitTorrent company has the tenative blessing of the movie studios, which makes a deal with Apple at least palatable. The ultra-efficient µTorrent, which Cohen and company purchased, takes up only 218KB of space and they just ported it over to Mac OS X. Such a feature would certainly mate well with a Wi-Fi widescreen iPod, particularly if Apple uses the technology as part of a Wi-Fi iTunes store. The recent fallout between Apple and NBC will see that network pull its shows from iTunes. This gives Apple at least some impetus to entertain the idea to supply content. BitTorrent on an iPod is a compelling feature for the consumer. I just don't think it is on Apple's immediate plans. The open source community is another matter. Developer Sindre Sorhus already created µTorrent Mobile for Wi-Fi portables.

iPod with Camera = 100:1 - Most mobile phones have cameras and mediocre ones at best. For the iPhone Apple inserted one because consumers have come to expect it. It won't appear in the iPod.

iPod Wireless Home Entertainment System = 100:1 - An iPod connecting via Wi-Fi to a 48" Apple flatscreen with built-in Apple TV and wireless surround system sounds enticing. So does a peripherals market of wireless DVDs, cable boxes, speakers etc. While the idea of making the spaghetti chain of cables go away is compelling, can Apple get enough throughput from 802.11n?

iPod with Satellite/HD Radio/DAB. Odds = 200:1 - XM and Sirrius are in merger after financial difficulty and both HD Radio and its European counterpart DAB have met with consumer indifference. Unless the negative trends reverse these once promising technologies are out of play.

Diet iPod = 1000:1 - All of the flavor, none of the fat.

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The Creative Zen 16GB flash player is available on Amazon

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