Remember when the iPod was a marvel of compact engineering? At a press event in San Francisco last week, Apple introduced the iPod nano, an ever-more diminutive music player that replaces the now-discontinued iPod mini and more closely resembles the original iPod design than the mini. (The new design was spoofed hilariously by Crazy Apple Rumors, which "reported" that new iPods would now include a coolness expiration date laser-etched to the metal backside.) Although not as small as the iPod shuffle, the iPod nano makes the iPod mini seem almost colossal: the iPod nano is 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) tall, 1.6 inches (4.1 cm) wide, and just 0.27 inches (0.68 cm) deep. It weighs 1.5 ounces (42.5 grams), and is available in white or black finishes. Apple offers two capacities of the iPod nano's solid-state memory: 2 GB (approximately 500 songs) or 4 GB (approximately 1,000 songs).
Like the regular iPod, the iPod nano includes a backlit color screen (with a diagonal measurement of 1.5 inches, or 3.8 cm), Apple's Click Wheel navigator, and the same dock connector that supports USB 1.1 and 2.0, but, surprisingly, not FireWire. Although the dock connector is the same size as in previous iPod models, if you try to connect its dock via FireWire, the iPod nano displays a message that FireWire song transfer is not supported, although the battery can be charged via FireWire. In another change from other models, the headphone jack is mounted on the bottom. Apple claims battery life of up to 14 hours with music playback, or 4 hours of slideshows with music.
Yes, slideshows. Just as with the current iPod model (and the iPod photo before it), you can load images onto the iPod nano. When the first iPod photo came out I scoffed at the small screen, but now I often see people sharing their photos on cellular phones, so clearly size isn't an issue. In fact, after playing with an iPod nano for a few days, I must belatedly admit that having photos at such convenient display is a lot of fun (owners of current color iPods are probably saying, "Duh!").
The photos are limited to the iPod nano's screen, however. Although you can buy an Apple iPod AV Cable or iPod Dock for the regular iPod that enables you to display photos on a television or projector, the iPod nano lacks that capability. Similarly, the Apple iPod Camera Connector - which makes it possible to transfer digital photos directly to the iPod's memory - is also not supported by the iPod nano.
The iPod nano includes a few features new to the iPod line. World Clock displays multiple time zones (with clock faces appearing white for daytime hours and black nighttime hours). A Screen Lock capability enables you to assign a security code to unlock the iPod nano's controls (turning the Click Wheel into a little combination lock), while Stopwatch is useful for keeping track of your time when exercising. It's unclear whether these features will make their way to other iPods.
This may be hard to believe, but Apple is also offering several accessories for the iPod nano, such as an armband ($30, in five colors), dock ($30), and iPod nano Tubes ($30 for a set of five colored snug plastic cases). I'm more interested in the $40 lanyard, however, which plugs into the dock connector and incorporates earbuds (available in October).
If there are any drawbacks to the iPod nano, they're related to the small size. I have fairly large hands, so it's not as easy for me to operate the Click Wheel with my right thumb as it is on a larger iPod because the iPod nano's wheel has a smaller diameter. But the more obvious potential trouble is that I'm sure a few iPod nanos will end up going through the laundry if people accidentally leave them in a shirt or pants pocket.
The iPod nano is available now for $200 (for the 2 GB model) and $250 (for the 4 GB model). And just for the record, TidBITS came up with the "nano" name in April, though our "sources" at the time attributed it to the consumer Mac line instead of the iPod.