iPods: Steady as she goes

When last we met to discuss the fate of the iPod I suggested that the majority of the iPod line would live on and, in describing the shuffle, summed it up with “There just isn’t a good reason to not sell the shuffle.” If only I’d written “not sell the current iPods just as they are” and stopped, I would have been hailed as The Great Prognosticator.

But no. I had to keep my big yap flapping and imply that the 2010 nano was no great shakes and needed some kind of design change, that the iPod classic was finally going to meet its maker, and that the next iPod touch would be best served with 3G circuitry and a pay-as-you-go plan. Because that’s the way it always goes, right? New year, new iPod line.

Not this year. While Apple is certainly not giving up on the non-iOS iPods, the company is not putting a great deal more effort into them. Today’s iPod shuffle is exactly the same as the one sold last year. The “new” iPod nano is $20 to $30 less expensive than it was before depending on which model you buy, but it’s the same hardware outfitted with a software update. (Those who purchased their watchband nano last year can upgrade to the new software via iTunes.) And the 160GB iPod classic hasn’t changed in years and remains priced at $249.

This certainly lessens the excitement around iPods. This holiday season you’re not going to hear “Ooh, that new chocolate flavored implantable iPod nano is just want I want!” Rather, the more utilitarian “Mom, I just put my nano through the wash, can you get me another one next time you’re at the mall?” sounds about right.

And that makes sense. Apple’s mobile focus is on iOS, which these iPods will never run. Though iPod sales have dropped, these devices continue to contribute to the bottom line. Apple’s nicely tied up the low-to-mid portion of the music player market with the shuffle and nano and isn’t in the habit of ceding markets to competitors. And where’s the harm in continuing to sell a hard-drive-based, high-capacity media player to those who want to carry around a significant portion of their media library on a single-purpose device?

And what of the iPod touch? When talking of the touch I managed to get this much right: "iOS 5 is the real driver in this round of iOS updates." And that largely sums up the “newness” of the latest iPod touch. Other than now being available in white and offered in a less-expensive-by-20-bucks 8GB model, the excitement comes in the form of iOS 5’s new features—the same features that those of us with 3G and 4G iPod touches will also enjoy.

[Christopher Breen is a senior editor for Macworld.]

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