Editorial: How Apple Quietly Killed $149 Video iPods… And More

As is always the case when Apple holds special events, today was a day to celebrate successes and new products—tons of app and song downloads, hopping retail stores, three new iPods, a new Apple TV, and of course, a new version of iTunes. Better yet, there were some real gains: the weak third-generation iPod shuffle received a proper replacement, the iPod nano gained a touchscreen, and the iPod touch received two cameras, an integrated microphone, and a Retina Display—plus some less obvious features, including 802.11n, a gyroscope, and HD video capabilities on both the recording and playback sides.

But once again, there were some inconvenient truths that were papered over by all of the announcements—an Apple trick in which the latest bright shiny things are used as a distraction from previously heralded features that have unceremoniously disappeared. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of things that have quietly changed with the latest round of iPod releases, some of which may impact your shopping during the holiday season.

The $199 price point. There used to be an iPod touch at the magic $199 price point—the one that Apple said last year was guaranteed to boost sales of its entry-level device. Now the base level price for an iPod touch is $229. Will this really matter? Possibly: we’ve already received some reader comments that the price difference will be a deal-breaker for their iPod touch purchases, though we’ll see whether the new features inspire new interest from a new and less price-conscious crowd.

The $99 price point… and the $79 price point. Apple also used to have mid-ranged iPod options at the $79 and $99 price points—both steps up from the basic model iPod shuffle, with higher capacity and then a special metal as upgrades. They’re gone, so if you want an iPod, you either go for the super-basic shuffle at $49 or the iPod nano at $149; there’s nothing in between. Our feeling: this doesn’t matter a ton. The basic shuffle’s price has dropped again to $49, and there’s always the new $99 Apple TV if you have some extra cash burning a hole in your gift-giving pocket.

If you want video playback or video recording in an iPod, you now have to buy at least a $229 iPod touch. Without mentioning as much on stage, Apple removed video playback, gaming, and video recording from the iPod nano—arguably huge features that had helped to justify the device’s $149 and $179 prices. So for the first time since the introduction of the third-generation iPod nano several years ago, users with an interest in video playback have to buy a substantially larger device—either the iPod touch or iPod classic—and video recording remains an iPod touch- and iPhone-only feature.

The iPod classic. Well, technically the iPod classic is still in Apple’s lineup, but it looks like it’s the same stagnant model as has been available now for years, complete with the 160GB hard disk that was almost secretively added to last year’s modest revision.

Apple keeps leaving the iPod classic out of these events, going so far this year as to claim that it was replacing all of its iPods—then doing nothing with the classic, as if it didn’t exist. It’s there at the same $249 price, seemingly just waiting for the axe to fall. At this point, Apple should just call it the iPod zombie.

Apple’s Earphones with Remotes and Mics? According to Apple’s pages, the three-button remotes that were previously integrated into the headphones packaged with the iPod shuffle and iPod touch are now gone; all of the iPods are shown as coming with the same plain old earbuds, which would mean that the iPod touch now needs to rely on its rear-mounted microphone for audio input unless there’s something else hidden inside, or attached as an accessory. Apple’s base model Earphones with Remote + Mic sells for $29 as an upgrade, with virtually all competing third-party models going for considerably more.

The iPod nano’s Nine Colors. Gone are purple and yellow, with shifts in tone and finish for the rest of the models back in the direction of the fourth-generation nano. Yellow never seems to have been a popular color for Apple, but we loved those purple nanos.