We should be used to it by now, but we still get excited whenever a new iPod is due to be released. All signs point to something happening in the near future – it could be a small, sporty iPod, a high-end video player, or something in-between. While we wait for the official announcement, the big question is: what new features will the fifth-generation “iPod” contain?
While it’s obvious that Apple will continue to enlarge the iPod’s capacity – 80 GB hard iPod-sized drives are already available – and will probably improve battery life, we’ve focused on ten other features that we think would be both useful and marketable in a new iPod. No matter how much people beg for an obscure feature, Apple’s decision to include it will depend largely on the bottom line – and the company’s ability to make it easy to use.
So without further ado, here are the top ten features we’d like to see in the next iPod. Once you’ve looked over the list, add your own suggestions to the comments thread below!
1. User-Replaceable Battery. Until recently, the biggest complaints about iPods were always focused on their batteries: that they don’t last long, both per charge and in overall life. A user-replaceable battery, as found in most portable devices such as cellphones and competing MP3 players, would change the design of the iPod, but allow iPod owners to replace dead or discharged batteries easily. This would not only delight the legions of iPod users who want much longer battery life, but would also sell lots of batteries.
2. Gapless Playback. Another common complaint is that the iPod cannot play back songs without gaps. To be fair, most MP3 players can’t do this either, but it’s still annoying, especially to fans of classical and live music. There’s are workarounds – ripping entire albums as single tracks, or joining tracks together – but these are hacks, since you can no longer view their contents or access individual tracks. This needs to be fixed.
3. Crossfade Playback. Crossfade playback makes songs segue rather than stop and start abruptly; if your playlist is carefully constructed, this makes for a non-stop musical experience. You choose a length for crossfading, in seconds, and the first song fades out for the same number of seconds as the following song fades in. iTunes already does this, so why can’t the iPod? There are technical answers, but a solution needs to be found.
4. More Interactive Entertainment – Downloadable Games. Why not add game play to the iPod? Not just the few simple games that come on the iPod already, but downloadable games, sold inexpensively through the iTunes Music Store, that can be installed and played on the iPod? This may require a bigger screen, but if Nintendo’s hugely popular Game Boys are any example (they are), perhaps not. The biggest challenge here: controls. Apple’s current control scheme is heavily biased towards rotary (wheel) controlled games, which were never as popular as games with joysticks and buttons. iTempest 2000, anyone?
5. An Open Platform. Many software developers and publishers would like to see the iPod become an open platform so they can offer software to extend its functions. But there is both good and bad in this idea. On the pro side, this would quickly allow the iPod to do much more: imagine better PDA-like features, or document security features for backing up files and transferring documents, or other innovations from third-parties. The con side, however, is that the iPod would be like any other platform, and crashes and software incompatibilities would be inevitable. It seems more likely that Apple would choose a very select group of companies to provide iPod software, and not open the platform entirely.
6. Video Playback. Steve Jobs has said that people don’t want to watch videos on a small screen. But he has never said that they don’t want to watch videos on an iPod, especially an iPod with a new form factor. Video seems an obvious extension of the iPod’s capabilities now that iTunes supports video management and playback. But what would a video iPod look like? Here are some concepts submitted by iLounge readers:
7. Radio Receiver and Transmitter. This encompasses several functions. First, a radio receiver (AM/FM) would allow iPod owners to listen to programming other than their own music – it could be nice to be able to listen to sports or news on an iPod from time to time. While satellite radio or DAB (digital audio broadcasting) could be nice, they’re not popular enough to be likely iPod pack-ins. As for FM transmission, this would simplify in-car iPod use. Instead of buying an aftermarket FM transmitter, having one included with the iPod would mean that anyone could use their iPod in a car at any time. We think that Apple’s much more likely to include AM/FM reception than a transmitter, though, because of…
8. Bluetooth and/or WiFi. Bluetooth – specifically the increasingly common Bluetooth 2.0 standard – would allow users to finally get rid of pesky wires and use wireless headphones, a much dreamed-about iPod feature. But there’s more. Built-in Bluetooth discovery would allow iPodders to connect with each other in public places: say, buses, trains, or coffee shops. If there was a way of making contact with that user (say, sending a signal that pops up on their screen), that could turn the iPod into a social device. By comparison, if the iPod had built-in WiFi, it could stream music directly to an AirPort Express, and perhaps allow for wireless syncing with WiFi-enabled computers. The transfer rate would be slower than FireWire or USB2, but unless you have a lot of music to sync, it would be acceptable.
9. Adjustable Equalizer and Support for Custom iTunes EQ Settings. iTunes lets you adjust its own equalizer to your preferred settings, in addition to the presets that it provides, but the iPod doesn’t support custom EQ tuning. Adding support for these custom settings, and providing a custom EQ interface on the iPod, would greatly improve apparent sound quality, allowing users to fine-tune audio to their specific headphones or speakers.
10. Reactive Volume Control. When walking through a city or riding a bus, you’ll hear your music perfectly for a while, then notice that it fades away as background sounds get louder. If the iPod had a reactive volume control capable of detecting ambient sound, it could increase the volume as background noises get louder, and decrease it when ambient sounds get lower. However, this would have to be limited to protect users’ ears; a sudden burst of volume around you (such as a siren or jackhammer) shouldn’t increase the volume of the music more than a few decibels.
Okay, we promised a top ten list, but here’s one more.
11. More Special Edition iPods. Specially engraved iPods may not be all that exciting, but unique casings definitely are. We could easily imagine a Grateful Dead iPod with the band’s signature lightning-bolt skull and accompanying “digital box set” from the iTunes Music Store, a Coldplay iPod or a Rolling Stones iPod. Regardless, any addition to the band-specific model, which has so far only seen a U2 iPod, would be welcome.