The Why Behind the 4GB Fourth-Gen iPod nano

The Why Behind the 4GB Fourth-Gen iPod nano 1

Apple is, at least most of the time, a global company. With the exception of the original iPhone, the products it produces are intended for sale across as many territories as possible, rather than just one or two countries. So when we heard yesterday from that’s German division was unexpectedly listing a 4GB fourth-generation iPod nano, we knew that there were only two possible scenarios.

(a) Amazon was mistaken, or

(b) Apple had produced a bunch of 4GB fourth-generation iPod nanos before realizing that it needed to boost storage capacities, and decided to try and quietly sell off the units outside of the United States.


Why would Apple ever do that? As we’ve said before, the company likes to portray itself as unconcerned about Microsoft’s Zunes or other competing products, but in reality, the iPod family can’t fall considerably behind its competitors without risking loss of market share. So when Microsoft preps a 16GB, $200 flash-based Zune, Apple has two choices: let it happen, or get a 16GB, $200 flash-based iPod nano out there, too. And when Microsoft upgrades its $250, 80GB hard disk player to a $250, 120GB model, lo and behold the iPod classic goes in the same direction. If you’re wondering why there was a lag in stores between the 8GB nanos and 16GB nanos becoming available, here’s the probable answer: the 16GB ones started production later. Much later.



The existence of the 4GB fourth-generation iPod nano strongly suggests that Microsoft’s new 16GB Zune—the announcement of which was scheduled to overlap Apple’s event in San Francisco—truly caught Apple by surprise. Clearly, there were enough 4GB nanos manufactured that Apple couldn’t just give them away to employees, or alternately scrap them, recycling the cases and circuit boards. Yet there’s no mention on Apple’s web site—even in Europe—that this model exists, and they’re only available from third-party retailers overseas. The asking price of 129 Euros is, not coincidentally, as modest a step down as Microsoft has taken with its 4GB Zune from its $150 8GB model.

So, Zune haters, you might want to say a quiet thanks to Microsoft this holiday season. If it wasn’t for the competition, you might not have gotten that $199 16GB iPod nano until next year…

  1. Although I believe you’re right, it’s hard to believe that Apple thought they could get away with offering an 8 GB $200 iPod nano as their top nano model for a 3rd year in a row.

    Thank you Zune team! (P.S. How about a flash-based Zune32 next Fall?)

  2. “This might explain why the colors are available for both models and not just the larger capacity model.”

    Probably not, since the 4GB seems to have all the colors.

  3. I doubt very much that Apple did this in response to the Zune. Over what, a one or two day period after the zune introduction Apple did the following?

    Redirected an ocean liners’s worth of 4GB Nanos from the US to Europe.

    Secured millions of additional flash memory chips in 8GB and 16GB capacity.

    Canceled millions of outstanding orders for 4GB flash memory chips.

    Changed Steve Jobs’ presentation, which is practiced and fine tuned a week in advance.

    Doesn’t really pass the smell test. In fact, it smells like Microsoft astroturfing suggesting that Apple follows Microsoft’s lead.

  4. @ed beck- No one suggested that this happened super close to the day of the announcement. If it happened, it probably happened a month or 2 ago (whenever the Zune 16 got leaked, which was a while ago). That would still leave Apple in a bind with some 4GB models either made or in production (too late to stop), and it would take a while to arrange the 16 GB chips, ramp up production, and get them distributed to stores (hence the delay). This would still have given Jobs plenty of time to polish his talk, and yet require Apple to do something with the 4 GB nanos already made (or else just eat the loss).

  5. I’m more inclined to believe that Apple had a fair amount of 4GB Flash chips to get rid of. As far as I know, none of their products use 4GB chips, and throwing remaining supplies into a limited supply of 4GB Nanos makes sense.

    Knowing that Apple buys flash chips in very large quantities, had they actually intended to market 4GB Nanos, I think we’d be seeing a lot more.

    To say that Apple was going to max out the Nano at 8GB again seems a little illogical, but maybe…

  6. My 16GB nano from the very first round of shipments to Apple stores came with firmware 1.02, and that was only released last week. These 16GB nanos are very, very fresh off the assembly line.

    Steve Jobs didn’t insert the “hopefully” about the 16GB nano’s availability into his keynote by accident.

    This very much passes the smell test when you consider that it’s the *only* model of new iPods that weren’t ready in the Apple stores the very next day.

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