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Stalking the Apple event

“My time has passed. Ain’t nothin’ for it.”

Justified’s Mags Bennett’s hardscrabble acceptance of the inevitable loss of youth and relevance nicely sums up the end of the traditional iPod line as today the iPod classic disappeared from the Apple Store. While this iPod had its charms—primarily its storage capacity—the time for mid-priced single-purpose hard-drive driven music players has passed.

With the death of the iPod classic, we witness the last of the original 5GB white iPod’s line. No more hard drive. No more squarish screen. No more wheel control.

And, no surprise.

When Steve Jobs announced 2010’s iPod line-up he made no mention of the iPod classic, though Apple continued to sell it. That should have been a broad enough hint that the classic was on life support. What was surprising to many is how long it lasted. Today’s news simply applies the final layer of black crepe to the package. Apple has moved on. And when Apple moves on as it did with floppy drives, ADB, SCSI, ExpressCard, and Final Cut Pro—ready or not—we follow or are left behind.

Apple generally doesn’t leave customers in the lurch unless it has what it believes is a comparable or better option. In the case of the iPod classic, today’s most expensive iPod touch offers 64GB of storage and with the announcement of a 128GB iPhone 6, can a similarly storage-rich iPod touch be far behind? This may not quite match the 160GB of storage offered by the last iPod classic, but it’s sufficient for those who wish to carry around several weeks of music.

iTunes Match—the $25-a-year service that allows you to upload your music library to the cloud—is another way to justify the death of the iPod classic. Sure, you can’t carry all your music with you if you have a large music library, but with an iOS device in hand and a nearby Wi-Fi network, you can download the music that you neglected to load on to your device when you were last within syncing distance of your iTunes library.

Of course iTunes Match isn’t your only option for music in the cloud. With the touch’s Wi-Fi connection you can stream music from a variety of sources including Pandora, Beats Music, iTunes Radio, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio. Some of these services allow you to additionally download music to your iOS device. And, unlike iTunes Match, this isn’t music that you must own. In the case of Beats, Spotify, Rhapsody, and Rdio, you can access any of the millions of tracks offered by these services provided you continue to keep those subscription dollars flowing.

The iPod touch has some additional advantages. One is the lack of a hard drive. Though hard drives provide a lot of storage, they’re also far more delicate than flash media. I’ve spoken with several Apple ex-Geniuses and they’ve reported a fair number of returns of hard-drive bearing iPods that were used during workouts. The classic’s drive doesn’t spin all the time—it spins just long enough to load music into a cache—but when it is spinning it doesn’t take kindly to being bounced around.

And then there’s the utility of an iPod touch. While it may have iPod in its name, it’s far more than just a media player. Apple’s secure enough about the popularity of the iPhone that it doesn’t worry that the iPod touch will significantly eat into sales of Apple’s phone. And that means that Apple isn’t intentionally hobbling the iPod touch to drive customers to the iPhone—Messages and FaceTime are good examples of features that Apple could have reserved for the iPhone but chose not to.

And syncing. iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads can sync media and apps wirelessly. The old way required by the iPod classic—connecting a cable whenever you want to change its contents—seems archaic in comparison.

Despite all this, unlike the ingrate Brutus, I come to praise the iPod classic as well as bury it. The hard-drive based iPod had a great run. It was revolutionary when it was first released and helped change the way we acquire and listen to music. It spawned a renewed interest in music for those who’d long-ago given up on listening to more than the handful of CDs piled beside a dusty collection of VHS tapes.

So yes, it was a great idea at the time. But, given Apple’s current interests and the many alternatives to this lovable one-tricky pony, its time has passed. There ain’t nothin’ for it.

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