Farewell to 40GB

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The price cuts announced by Apple Wednesday will dominate most of the coverage surrounding the changes to the iPod mini and iPod photo lines—and for good reason. After all, a $199 iPod mini is a pretty significant development. Just as the iPod shuffle covered the low end of the market, the price of the new iPod mini gives Apple a hard-drive-based music player that breaks the $200 barrier. That price will undoubtedly make the mini an attractive buy to an entirely new class of consumer, including your cheapskate author.

But nearly as significant as what’s new with the iPod line after Wednesday's announcements is what's gone from the iPod line. I’m thinking specifically about the 40GB configuration.

As you might have heard, Apple dropped the 40GB iPod photo model in favor of a 30GB offering that also happens to be $150 cheaper than its predecessor. Because the 30GB mechanism uses a single platter for storing information as opposed to the two platters used by the 40GB mechanism, this new iPod is also slightly thinner and lighter than the older version.

What Apple hasn’t publicized nearly as widely is that the 40GB offering hasn't simply disappeared from the iPod photo offerings—the 40GB click-wheel iPod has also been dropped as well. If you want a full-size iPod but don’t care about the image-displaying capabilities of an iPod photo, your only option is the 20GB click-wheel model. (Don’t just take my word for it—check out Apple’s iPod page where the 20GB model and its U2 doppelgänger sit all by their lonesome.)

I have mixed feelings about the 40GB shuffling off this mortal coil. On the one hand, as a consumer, I like to have options, and I dislike it when those options get reduced. (I never thought I’d feel strongly about the gold-colored iPod mini, for example, until Apple dropped it from its rainbow of offerings.) On the other hand, if I wanted larger capacity than what the mini brings to the table, it seems like 20GB would be enough. And even if it isn’t, I can get a 30GB iPod photo for $349—$50 cheaper than what Apple had been charging for a 40GB click-wheel iPod with no color screen and no ability to show off photos. That's a pretty compelling option.

I’m less sanguine about dropping the FireWire cable as a bundled accessory from both the mini and the photo models. From now on, you only get a USB 2.0 cable from Apple when you buy one of those iPods. (You can order a optional FireWire cable, but you'll need to shell out $19.)

My colleague Peter Cohen outlines some of the reasons for dropping FireWire: it enabled Apple to drop standard pricing on the mini and the photo and USB 2.0 has become more ubiquitous, particularly on Windows-based computers. (They buy iPods, too, you know.) But that’s of little consolation if you own a Mac that doesn’t have a USB 2.0 interface. If that’s the case, your options are to either pay the $19 for the optional FireWire cable or suffer through the noticeably slower transfer speeds of plugging a USB 2.0 device into a USB 1.1 port.

It’s also interesting to note that the new iPod photo models, despite having the highest price tags in the iPod line, skimp on another, key accessory: the AV cable that connects your iPod Photo to a TV set, so you can show your family all those cool slide shows. It’s now—you guessed it—a $19 extra.

Are these omissions enough to keep me from finally buying that sub-$200 iPod mini I’ve had my eye on, or from recommending an iPod photo to a friend? Realistically, no. But although I do like having options, turning fundamental parts of a product into add-on options isn’t what I had in mind.

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