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Apple Releases Smaller and Thinner iPods

iPod sales have been falling, despite the inclusion of the massively popular iOS-based iPod touch in that category (see "Apple Reports $3.25 Billion Profit for Q3 2010," 20 July 2010). Some people, like Charles Arthur, writing in The Guardian, have even suggested that the iPod's declining sales might mean a general slowing of digital music sales.

Nevertheless, given the numbers Steve Jobs reeled off at Apple's special media event last week, it's clear that the iPod and digital music sales have been huge for Apple historically, and Apple isn't about to give them up. Apple has sold 275 million iPods so far (although that may include the iPod touch, which Apple appears to count as both an iPod and as an iOS device). In terms of digital content, the iTunes Store has so far sold 11.7 billion songs, 450 million TV episodes, 100 million movies, and 35 million books. Currently, 160 million people in 23 countries have iTunes accounts associated with credit cards.

So why have iPod sales slowed? The popularity of the iOS devices, of which Apple has now sold 120 million, is undoubtedly related, but there's also the simple fact that many people already own perfectly functional iPods and see no reason to replace them until they break. Each year's models are designed to entice people to replace existing iPods, but the fact is, apart from the move from the traditional iPod to iOS devices, there isn't much reason to upgrade a functional iPod.

That's not for lack of trying on Apple's part, and this year is no exception, bringing with it new models of the iPod shuffle, iPod nano, and iPod touch, all of which are available for pre-order now and will be shipping this week. (The 160 GB iPod classic remains available for $249 with no changes.)

iPod shuffle -- In redesigning the iPod shuffle, Apple reverted slightly to the design of the second-generation model, which was a squarish clip with buttons. (The third-generation shuffle relied on VoiceOver for controls, eliminating buttons entirely.) The new fourth-generation model is smaller than the second generation, but includes control buttons and the clip to attach it to your clothing.

VoiceOver and playlists are still supported, as in the third-generation model, as are the new Genius Mixes. Battery life is rated at 15 hours, and for $49 you'll get 2 GB of flash storage and a choice of five colors (silver, orange, blue, green, and pink).

iPod nano -- Only slightly larger than the iPod shuffle is the new sixth-generation iPod nano, which leaves most of its buttons behind in favor of a multi-touch interface on a 1.54-inch color display running at 240-by-240-pixel resolution. In other words, the new nano looks like a really thick postage stamp, and it's 46 percent smaller and 42 percent lighter than the previous generation. It does retain a top-mounted sleep/wake button and volume up/down buttons, and the bottom has a dock connector and headphone jack. A clothing clip is integrated into the back of the case.

Also shoehorned into that tiny space are an FM radio, pedometer, and Nike+, for tracking of casual exercise. However, the previous generation featured a video camera and voice recorder, and the capability to play video, features Apple has removed from the sixth-generation nano. That's probably due to the iPod touch gaining video capture capabilities - keep reading.

The new nano also features 24-hour battery life, supports on-the-fly Genius playlists and Genius Mixes, and comes in seven colors - the same silver, orange, blue, green, and pink as the iPod shuffle, plus graphite and a red unit that sends some of its profits to the Product (Red) program. An 8 GB unit will cost $149 and a 16 GB unit will cost $169.

Despite the multi-touch interface, it doesn't appear that the iPod nano is running iOS, and our sources concur. That said, its basic interface is similar. You can swipe left or right to move among pages of the Home screen, tap to select items, and touch and hold to rearrange icons on the Home screen. Double-tapping zooms photos, and the usual music controls are all handled onscreen as well. Although the nano's tech specs claim it has an accelerometer (for the Shake to Shuffle feature), you need to do a two-finger rotate gesture to rotate the screen if it's in the wrong orientation.

iPod touch -- Finally, we come to the real meat of the iPod announcements - the fourth-generation iPod touch that has taken over from the iPod nano as the most popular iPod of all time.

Not surprisingly, it looks a lot like the previous generations, but is even thinner. Equally unsurprising, given the changes in the iPhone 4, are the other new features, anchored by an LED-backlit, 24-bit color Retina display with four times as many pixels, running at 326 pixels per inch. Under the hood, it features an Apple A4 chip and a 3-axis gyro for improved gaming controls.

On the outside, even though it retains the old-style case rather than adopting the glass-and-stainless-steel look of the iPhone 4, the new iPod touch finally catches up with its sibling thanks to a pair of cameras: a rear-facing camera capable of recording 720p HD video at up to 30 frames per second and still photos at 960 by 720 resolution (which is less than what the iPhone 4's camera can produce for stills), and a front-facing camera that can do VGA-quality photos and video at up to 30 frames per second. Needless to say, the front-facing camera is designed for use with FaceTime, and can communicate with iPhone 4 users. Without the capability to make phone calls, the iPod touch can use an email address for initiating FaceTime sessions.

The new iPod touch features 40-hour battery life, ships with iOS 4.1, and will cost $229 for an 8 GB model, $299 for a 32 GB model, and $399 for a 64 GB model when it begins shipping this week.


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Comments about Apple Releases Smaller and Thinner iPods
(Comments are closed.)

Henry Newsom  2010-09-01 14:50
Sounds like a very nice upgrade. I have a 1st generation iPod Touch, which I still enjoy but would like to 'upgrade' (replace) except that these are pretty steep entry prices, still. Perhaps a happy result of this announcement will be lower prices for the 3rd generation devices?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-01 15:52
You might be able to get the previous generation at a discount as retailers clear stock, but Apple very seldom sells previous generations after a new release (the iPhone is the only example I can think of).
Henry Newsom  2010-09-01 17:04
Agreed, but that inventory has to go SOMEWHERE.
"it doesn't appear that the iPod nano is running iOS"

Why in the world do you think that? You really think they'd create a 4th OS that behaves very similarly to iOS?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-01 15:56
Well, they certainly didn't say anything about it running iOS, so at best it would be some seriously cut-down version. I can't quite imagine there's enough room in there for the necessary processing power and support chips. I'm checking with Apple PR now.
I apologize for the tone of my reply. It's entirely possible it doesn't run iOS, I just don't think we have enough information to say one way or another.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-02 07:36
I'm now nearly certain it's not iOS, but that information didn't come from Apple PR.
M. Perry  2010-09-01 16:15
You're right. Apple would be selling more iPod touches if they added features more quickly. That department seems to be dominated by Scrooges who run around muttering, "Bah, humbug. Why would anyone want GPS or a decent camera."

I'm a good illustration. I'll replace my 2-g touch when the new models include GPS and a decent camera with focus and flash. Until then, a new touch just isn't worth the hassle and expense.

Apple has already developed the technology. It makes no sense for them not to offer it.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-02 07:37
And I think this is even more true of the traditional iPods, where it's hard to add significant features, given they do what most people want them to do pretty well. There will always be some replacement sales, as they break or wear out, and as new customers grow up wanting iPods, but I think the big rush for traditional iPods is over.
Nancy Kleinrock  2010-09-01 18:35
So, Adam, I'm waiting for you to do your next "putting the world together" run with a new Nano clipped to your shorts. If it survives the sweat, I'll be impressed and perhaps in the market for one. Personally, I think the new Nano will seem like a step down from the prior model for most people, but a Shuffle-sized unit that can play both podcasts and FM radio would suit me fine -- if it doesn't short out when damp.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-02 07:41
Indeed - for runners, I think the new iPod nano is pretty impressive, combining as it does an actual interface in a device only slightly larger than an iPod shuffle. The form factor and clothing clip is great.

But with all of these things, I have to wonder how people wear them when exercising. Do people really not sweat in the summer heat? Do they never get caught outside in the rain?

I'm sure there will be waterproof cases appearing shortly for the new iPods - if nothing else, the constant release of new models keeps the case companies on their toes.
Nancy Kleinrock  2010-09-02 15:31
I've had reasonable success running with the second-generation Shuffle, and I definitely put it through its paces in terms of getting damp (I do, however, protect it from heavy downpours). Over the past few years I have only shorted out two on hot, muggy days, and one of them ultimately revived. With yet another, I once lost the ability to control the volume, but it was fine the following day.

A case that minimally covers the controls and 30-pin port would go a long way toward making the new Nano a viable running device. Wearing it as a wrist device would do the trick (other than in the rain), but it probably wouldn't be happy if I were to trip on a rocky trail.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-02 16:05
I've heard that if you get an electronic device wet, the best home remedy for drying it is putting it in a bag of rice.

I like the idea of an iPod nano wristband, but then again, I want that for my iPhone too. (Though not for running...)
Durbrow  2010-09-07 06:46
Is the iPod nano worth it compared to the previous generation? No camera, no video. Why would people buy when they can get an iPod nano previous generation for under $100 US?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2010-09-07 06:48
Realistically, I think the answer is that you won't be able to buy a previous generation iPod nano for long, so the comparison becomes moot as soon as stock is depleted. The new one is also much smaller, which some people like, and the multi-touch interface is likely cool (whether it's better than buttons remains to be seen).

Apple's answer to the camera and video question is the iPod touch now.
Oshkosh  2010-09-07 08:42
Please be advised that Apple announced new iPod models on September 1, 2010. These new iPod models are NOT ELIGIBLE for the Back to School promotion. (which ended Sept 7th) Rebate claims submitted in conjunction with these new products will not be honored.

Found in the midst of a full page of fine print -- so they have another way to get rid of the obsolete models.
We have around a dozen older iPods that were abandoned as "broken" when the only thing that "broke" was the battery. We replaced the dead batteries, and all, except two with dead motherboards, work well.

It bothers me a lot that Apple has moved toward disposable electronics over the past few years, after having some of the easiest computers to open and upgrade in their towers.

It would be easy to make the iPods and iPhones so you could open them easily and change the batteries--and they won't be ugly. Apple has been very cynical in making it increasingly difficult to open their devices, so that most owners will simply buy new ones. Apple is NOT green as long as computers [Mini, iMac, MacBook, MBP] and devices [iPod, iPhone, iPad] are disposable, i.e. can't be opened easily to change batteries or drives. Shame on Apple.