With Apple’s recent consolidation of the iPod photo and standard iPod lines (which we
covered earlier this week, and
reviewed today), there’s been a lot of back and forth around the Web about what exactly to call this “new” line.
Some have been tempted to call the remaining full-size models—20GB and 60GB, both with color screens—the “5th generation” of iPods. But this strikes me as misguided. “Generation” names have, since the first iPod, been used to designate significant changes in the iPod line. The 2nd generation iPod migrated from a scroll wheel that actually rotated to a “touch” wheel that didn’t, and gained additional software functionality. The third generation changed the entire layout of the front of the iPod—moving to touch-sensitive buttons, arranged horizontally, instead of the physical buttons around the touch wheel—and, of course, added the now-ubiquitous dock connector. The fourth generation again overhauled the controls, moving to the iPod mini-inspired Click Wheel. And Apple has separately added iPod mini, iPod photo, and, most recently, iPod shuffle models as completely different product lines.
But these “new” iPods—only one of which has actually changed—don’t provide such significant changes (which is why I use the word “new” in quotes). Apple simply reduced the price and size of the $349 30GB iPod photo, resulting in a new $299 20GB iPod with a color screen, while simultaneously dropping the monochrome 20GB iPod and removing the “photo” moniker from the remaining two models. That’s it. There’s no additional functionality, no design changes—nothing that calls for a “generational” reference change. In fact, even Apple doesn’t consider these “new” iPods to be significantly different: The 60GB model number—M9830LL/A—has not changed. The 20GB model number has of course changed, since it gained a color screen, but do we call the 20GB model “5th generation” and the 60GB model “used to be iPod photo”? No. These are simply updates—what we might call “speed bumps” if they were computers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think the changes Apple made earlier this week are great for prospective iPod buyers: You can now get what is basically a 20GB iPod photo, complete with color display and photo functionality, for the same price you would have paid for a monochrome, non-photo iPod last week. And you can triple your storage capacity for only $100 more. There’s never been a more appealing full-size iPod lineup. But from a hardware/design perspective, this was basically a consolidation and price reduction. It’s akin to the dropping of the 40GB iPod last fall—we didn’t start calling the remaining 20GB model “5th generation” then, and I don’t think we should call the unchanged 60GB model and the tweaked 20GB model a new generation, either.
So what do we call the new iPods? Apple’s official name is “iPod (with color display)”—not exactly a phrase that rolls off the tongue, eh? We clearly need a shorter name to fall back on when we’ve used “iPod (with color display)” too many times in one paragraph. Me, I’ll be using the term “color iPods” (as in, “the 20GB color iPod”). Sure, every iPod from here on out is likely to have a color screen, but I’ll bet that newer models will also have other significant new features, as well, making them truly “next generation” iPods… and beyond.