To the extent that such a thing can be called official, it’s official: Apple has confirmed that its “traditional MP3 player business”—iPod nano, classic, and shuffle—is declining, and now expects the declines to continue as the iPod touch and iPhone platforms grow in popularity. The message is clear for those who want to hear it: Apple’s future labors will be focused on multi-touch products, and more specifically, in pocket devices that do more than just play music and videos.
As iLounge’s Senior Editor, my beat is breaking news, and I see the comments that are posted by readers on a daily basis regarding stories we post. Over the last few weeks/months, I’ve noticed comments pointing out the fact that our News column—and, to a lesser extent, other portions of the site—has become increasingly focused on the iPhone and iPod touch. Several especially wacky comments have implied that we’re somehow skewing our coverage towards iPhone and iPod touch products in an effort to gain more page views. As most readers realized before Apple’s announcement, that simply isn’t the case, and for those who don’t understand, I’m going to explain why.
Let’s start at December of 2006. While some iPod enthusiasts were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about Apple’s decision to keep the fifth-generation iPod design around for another year, the second-generation iPod nano was a hit, and new, genuinely exciting accessories were popping up on a weekly basis from developers and manufacturers all over the world. We were flooded with speakers, wireless attachments, and cases to an extent most people will never realize. Plus, fans of iTunes had the Apple TV to look forward to—finally, an iPod-like product with high-definition output for TVs! Sure, the enhanced iPod 5G and iPod nano 2G were more like their predecessors than not, but goodwill towards Apple was quite possibly at an all-time high.
Then came January, and the introduction of the iPhone, and from that point on, nothing was the same. The iPhone became Apple’s latest “revolutionary” product, and iPods became second fiddles, deliberately held behind in features relative to the more expensive new toys. News remained fairly balanced between iTunes, Apple TV, iPod, and iPhone products for the next year, all the way up to Apple’s iPhone OS 2.0 event in March of 2008. That’s when things changed again. While no one predicted the explosive popularity of the App Store, one thing was very much apparent after the event—Apple was laying the foundation for its future multifunction devices, and had decided that the iPod touch and iPhone were going to be its focus going forward.
The last year and a half have shown that to be true, as the iPhone 3G expanded the iPhone’s capabilities with GPS, the second generation iPod touch gained a speaker—notably, the first iPod to ever sport one—and the iPhone 3GS expanded the platform yet again with a compass and video camera. Simultaneously, the App Store raced ahead of competitors, besting even the most ambitious Apple expectations, with more than 1.5 billion downloads and over 65,000 apps available. During the same period of time, electronic accessory development very significantly cooled off, in part because of iPhone-specific engineering challenges, and new authentication chips that Apple requires; the other part was that few companies were coming up with truly breakthrough accessories. Our coverage has continued to track the major developments in iPod and iPhone hardware, software, and accessories just as we did in the past, only the proportions of each type of coverage have shifted as hardware has become a June/September affair, software has become daily news, and accessories have become less common.
Over time, Apple’s touch-sensitive devices are going to continue to grow in importance. Today, the iPod touch is now as much a computer as any iPhone, and each iteration continues to improve in functionality. At the same time, the iPod nano seems to be getting more iPhone-like with every update, now sporting Cover Flow, an accelerometer, and, if reports are correct, a camera in its upcoming 2009 update. As soon as Apple can figure out how to get a usable build of iPhone OS running on a device of roughly the same size, you can bet that it, too, will be opened up to apps, enhanced games, and more.
Why bother? Because the cost of adding more than just music playback functionality to a device has fallen so significantly over time that a $149 iPod nano—and cheaper competitors—can now play photos, videos, and games as well, consuming so little space that an iPod shuffle almost stops making sense as an alternative. At some point, the only thing stopping a device from being app-capable will be its lack of screen surface area, not whether it can hold the processors, flash RAM, and battery to run the iPhone OS. That time is coming fast.
All of this is a long way of saying that it’s not that we’re ignoring the “traditional” iPods, but rather, it’s obvious where the market is moving, and we’re reporting on it as it changes. In time, the iPod classic will likely disappear, and the iPod nano might even become an iPod nano touch. Who knows. The point is that we report on the news that is happening now, and we don’t control it. If we could write about new applications and game development going on for Click Wheel devices, believe us, we would, but every indication is that this is not happening. Instead, the iPhone, iPod touch, iPhone OS, and App Store only become more important each day, as it becomes more and more clear that the future of the company’s portable devices—indeed, the future of the iPod—rests with these components rather than those from year’s past.
Recent polls have made clear that not all of our readers own an iPhone or iPod touch, and we understand that it’s frustrating for some users to see these devices dominate the news cycles. From an editorial perspective, we’d love to be able to share more news about the iPod nano, iPod classic, iPod shuffle, and Apple TV, but the truth of the matter is that they’re sitting in the shadows these days. When there is news to report on these devices, you can be sure that we’ll bring it to you. Until then, our advice is to enjoy the iPod(s) you have, and try not to get too worked up—at some point, when you’re ready for your first iPhone OS device, you may even be glad that so many developments have taken place to set the stage for your purchase.