Backstage: Naming the new iPod [Updated] | iLounge Backstage


Backstage: Naming the new iPod [Updated]

[Editor’s Note: Following publication of this Backstage entry earlier today, iLounge’s editors received confirmation from Apple Computer that the new color-screened iPod is officially considered part of the fourth-generation iPod family, rather than the fifth. We thank Apple for this clarification, and now anxiously await versions 5 of both iTunes and the iPod. The article below has been modestly edited to reflect the new information.]

It’s the unfortunate result of preserving a single product name across five different products: controversy over how to differentiate one “iPod” from another. For years, iLounge has been labeling iPods by “generation,” starting with the second-generation (2G) iPod released in 2002. On visual inspection, the only things that changed from the first iPods to the second were a non-moving Scroll Wheel controller and a different top surface, featuring a built-in cover for the unit’s FireWire port. But as a differentiator between functionally separate iPod models, the naming convention stuck, and became widespread.

Click on Read More for the rest of the entry, including pictures of the iPod family.


Apple has since used the “generation” reference in its own press releases, including last July’s announcement of the fourth-generation iPod, the first full-sized iPod to include a Click Wheel controller. And even in settlement papers for the lawsuit over defective iPod batteries, lawyers from both sides used “generations” to differentiate between the first three iPods, accompanying the numbers with explanations of the physical differences between models. The screenshot above comes from Apple’s online store, and appeared shortly after the “latest generation” iPod was announced. But it didn’t say what generation that was, exactly.



Why does Apple publicly keep the same name instead of using iPod 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 version numbers? Part of it is undeniably brand preservation, and the simplicity of continuing to focus all of its marketing dollars on one behemoth called the iPod, rather than focusing on the differences. Another part is probably perceived customer satisfaction - fewer current iPod owners will feel the loss of cachet if they can still claim to own the company’s most-hyped product, at least in title, even after Apple has released an upgrade.

So how should the world know when a new “generation” of iPod has arrived? In the past, the question has never been whether a major technological improvement has merited a new generation, but rather whether a materially different product has been sold as an “iPod,” minus any suffix. Storage capacity changes alone were not relevant in changing generations; Apple changed the capacities of the third-generation iPods, for example, without changing anything else about the iPods, and then referred to the subsequent Click Wheel iPod as the fourth-generation device.


Along the same lines, the current model iPod mini has been dubbed the “second-generation iPod mini,” as its dramatically improved battery life, slightly new body colors, and presentation as the “new iPod mini” set it apart from its first-generation relative. Similarly, if Apple releases a follow-up to the iPod shuffle that’s still called the iPod shuffle but differs in some way other than capacity, the new device will most likely be a “second-generation iPod shuffle,” but if not, it’ll be a “first-generation iPod sport,” or whatever Apple calls it.

The generational confusion we’re dealing with today comes from two sources: Apple’s decision to phase out the iPod photo name, and the strong demand of iLounge readers for an “iPod” that’s more significantly improved over the fourth-generation than the iPod photo. So while the current color-screened iPod is technically the fifth model to be called “iPod,” Apple doesn’t appear to be ready to call it the “fifth-generation” device. Why is this? The company may be waiting to release the “fifth” versions of iTunes and the iPod at the same time. Since iTunes is up to version 4.9, this hopefully won’t be too far off.

By the same token, we can’t just call the new iPod the “color iPod;” the next iPod will certainly also be a color iPod. So what do we do for next year’s model - call it the “second color iPod?” Fifth-generation would work the best, as it’s more future-proof and better references the iPod’s storied history. But if Apple says this isn’t the fifth-generation, “color fourth-generation,” it is.

Names aside, Apple’s still working on new designs, no matter whether people call the new iPod “fifth-generation,” “fourth-and-a-half generation,” or “color iPod.” If you’re upset about a name because you think Apple’s resting on its laurels and won’t release something better - and soon - just think back to last year’s late July release of the fourth-generation iPod. It only took Apple three months to unveil the more powerful iPod photo, and less than a year to do away with the black-and-white fourth-generation design altogether.

Apple’s not pausing. If anything, it’s moving faster than ever before, and quickly making its best technologies affordable to the masses - no matter what you want to call them.

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It’s important to note, however, that the “second-generation” designation given to the new iPod minis was given by Apple themselves.  As far as I know, “fifth-generation” hasn’t been used by Apple to refer to the iPod/iPod photo merger.

Posted by raekwon on June 30, 2005 at 5:01 PM (CDT)


I don’t care what it’s called - I’m getting the new one from work to demo to customers, so no more 4th gen for me! Yippie!

Posted by Aptmunich on June 30, 2005 at 5:07 PM (CDT)


If Apple does release an iPod video or something like that, I’m calling the 6th Gen right away!

Posted by MikeM on June 30, 2005 at 5:08 PM (CDT)


As far as I’m concerned this is not the 5th Generation - it is merely a revision of the 4G.

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on June 30, 2005 at 5:20 PM (CDT)


I’m leaning towards the side of calling this a 5th gen iPod.  Although it doesn’t have the drastic changes made from the transition of 2G > 3G > 4G, with the chnages to interface and other major revisions, it it still a big chnage in that there is no longer a B/W full size iPod.  Its more like the changes Apple did between the 1st gen to 2G iPod or more recently the ipod mini to 2G iPod mini changes.  Although the changes in the mini line did see an increase in battery life, not much else changed.  With this, all the full size iPods support photos and connection to a TV.  Maybe not the chnage we wanted, but something new and bigger than it looks at the moment.  Personally I might wait until the 6G iPod because my 3G still works great, but the long battery and beautiful color screen might make me chnage my mind.

Posted by Melis on June 30, 2005 at 6:20 PM (CDT)


It’s the 5th generation.  Whether or not people don’t think it is, it really is the new generation.  Between the 1G and 2G iPods, there was almost no change at all except with the scroll wheel.  The same thing happened here with the screen, so you’re going to be contradictory and say it isn’t a new generation just because a simple change such as an addition of a color screen and not some uge UI change?

Posted by Brad on June 30, 2005 at 7:23 PM (CDT)


It’s an iPod. Get over it.

Posted by Whatthe on July 1, 2005 at 2:09 AM (CDT)


While I think this should be the 5G, I guess releasing iTunes 5.0 and a 5G iPod is a better marketing gimmick.

I guess this is the 4.5G, then, eh?

Posted by anonms on July 1, 2005 at 2:38 AM (CDT)


Ah, should have some money on this :o)

Posted by Bob Levens in UK on July 1, 2005 at 5:33 AM (CDT)


I agree this is still the 4th Generation. While people do say the changes from 1st to 2nd Generation were not a great as the changes between 2nd to 3rd to 4th, one thing remained about all the changes: Disregarding the HD size and with the device off, you could easily tell which generation it was by it’s phyical characteristics and the changes made to them.

The 1st Generation had a wheel that would spin, the 2nd had a touch sensitive wheel and also changes to the Firewire port. The 3rd Generation had the 3 buttons and a docking port, the 4th Generation had the Click Wheel.

These new iPods look and feel the same as the ones that came out aroud July 2004.

Posted by croooow in Fairfax, VA on July 1, 2005 at 12:51 PM (CDT)


Continuing croooow’s idea:

The 1st Generation had a wheel that would spin, the 2nd had a touch sensitive wheel and also changes to the Firewire port. The 3rd Generation had the 3 buttons and a docking port, the 4th Generation had the Click Wheel and the new iPod has a color screen.

It is a major change to the product and it should justify a new generation.

Posted by Daveoc64 on July 1, 2005 at 1:27 PM (CDT)


Well, if the color screen is the thing that makes this a 5th Generation, then why didn’t the original release of the iPod Photo (Oct 2004, just 3 months after the 4th generation was release) get called 5th Generation? why make a big deal about the name now?

If this is the 5th Generation, we’ve been in the middle of the 5th Generation for 9 months now. and the 4th Generation was extremley short.

Posted by croooow in Fairfax, VA on July 1, 2005 at 3:03 PM (CDT)


The iPod naming also helps third-party accessories makers to properly name their stuff (“iPod dock for 4G iPods” etc)

The new iPod is not that new, after all. It’s the iPod photo with a smaller HD (and better battery life). If we were to name this as 5G, we should have done it for iPod photo when it was released, too.

Posted by KenGR on July 1, 2005 at 3:05 PM (CDT)


so is the 20 GB iPod with color screen 5th Generation and the 60 GB iPod Photo is 4th?

Posted by croooow in Fairfax, VA on July 1, 2005 at 3:15 PM (CDT)


I’m with croooow and KenGR. If we’re in the 5th generation, it started with the iPod Photo last year. And since no one actually thinks that was the case, I believe we’re still in the 4th generation.

Posted by Mike W in Silicon Valley, CA on July 1, 2005 at 4:51 PM (CDT)


Up until Apple said otherwise, my feeling was that the 4th generation iPods had a lifespan of July 2004 to June 2003, while the 5th generation (aka photo) overlapped the 4th from October 2004 to the present day. There’s nothing wrong with having two generations at the same time.

The real problem will be if the replacement device comes out soon and is also called just “iPod,” in which case a lot of people are going to be upset about the replacement of their “new iPods” with a “newer iPod.”

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on July 1, 2005 at 4:52 PM (CDT)


Apple has themselves said categorically that this new iPod is only an upgrade to the 4G iPod and is NOT the 5G iPod.  So the whole question is moot.

Posted by John M on July 1, 2005 at 11:26 PM (CDT)


I don’t like that Apple does not post infomation about future products.

Posted by REF on July 3, 2005 at 11:15 PM (CDT)


yup for me this is a revised 4th generation since no design changes were made and no real innovations included :)

Posted by ginalee on July 4, 2005 at 9:34 AM (CDT)


>Apple has themselves said categorically
>that this new iPod is only an upgrade to
>the 4G iPod and is NOT the 5G iPod.  So
>the whole question is moot.

Ipod-lounge has, originally and in most cases defined a new generation.  The color screen certainly is change enough for 5G. And it has been out for quite a while now.  We’re just awaiting ipod lounge’s declaration.

Posted by __redruM in Gaithersburg, MD on July 4, 2005 at 7:27 PM (CDT)

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