The hurricane season is winding up as the baseball season winds down, meaning just one thing: An autumnal Apple event announcing the holiday season’s iPod line-up can’t be far off. Naturally, such an impending event causes me to ponder what Apple might have in store.
Clearly it’s time for a new generation of full-sized iPod. In iPodological Time—where a year in an iPod’s life-span is equivalent to the length of a human’s coffee break—the 5G iPod has bested Noah by a good couple of centuries. It’s time. The question is, will the 6G iPod have more in common with its rickety ancestor or its kissin’ cousin, the iPhone.
My money is on the latter. Good as Apple’s marketing department is, I can’t believe they’re going to be asked to re-tout the wonders of the clickwheel after the world has been wowed by pinching, flicking, and tapping.
Assuming that’s the case, which existing iPhone and iPod features will make the cut and which will have breathed their last with the 5G iPod? My guesses:
Touchscreen interface Obviously. You’re going to release an iPod without one of the iPhone’s sexiest features? I don’t think so.
Coverflow Obviously x 2. See above.
Headset with built-in controls My colleague, Dan Frakes, would like the next iPod (which he also believes will come in an iPhone-like form-factor) to bear more buttons. He’s right when he suggests that being able to control an iPod from your pocket is more important than similarly fiddling with your phone when it’s hidden away.
But Apple was willing to make countless third-party headphones incompatible with the iPhone for the sake of design. I fear that this kind of form-over-function philosophy may be part of the next iPod’s design as well. Part of the attraction of the iPhone is its lack of buttons and I don’t see Apple giving that up without a fight.
And that fight may take the form of a headset that includes a clicker much like what we see on the iPhone’s headset. Click once to pause, twice to skip ahead to the next track, and you’ve provided just enough functionality to satisfy those iPod users who routinely shuffle their music. Make it a toggle switch with a center clicker so you can put Next on one side, Back on the other, and Play/Pause in the middle and you’re a step closer to view-less iPodding.
Keyboard Apple has done a reasonable job allowing the clickwheel to perform some limited input chores but even Apple wouldn’t call it a full-featured input device. Some current iPod features are hampered by the lack of a keyboard (read on for examples). Adding a keyboard to the next iPod would make for better iPod applications without threatening the iPhone.
Search The current iPod has a search feature—one where you can either skim through a list and see letters imposed over the display to show you where you are or by wheeling in a few letters to narrow the list of possibilities. The iPhone doesn’t have search but does include the tiny string of letters along the right side of a long list. Tap a letter in that list to be taken to the group of items that begins with that letter. At the very least, the tiny letters should be there. If we’re talking about high-capacity iPods that hold a vast jumble of media, searching with an iPhone-like keyboard would be nearly necessary.
Contacts and calendars The iPod now has them so I can’t believe Apple would feel adding contacts and calendars to a 6G iPod would cannibalize the iPhone market. Plus, in this regard as with others, it would be tough to justify removing existing iPod features, particularly when they’ve been translated to the iPhone. Add in the ability to create contacts and calendars with the iPod’s keyboard.
Photo application Again, photos are now supported by the iPod and they’re one of the iPhone’s Wow features. No reason to make the 6G iPod any less Wow-ful.
Audio recording The iPod, as media player, has more justifiable reasons for recording audio than does an iPhone. It’s an existing feature and one that could be brought to the 6G iPod with the support of third-party microphone adapters.
Manual media management By default you can’t use your iPhone to store data nor can you manually manage media—plug it into another computer and drag media files to it. iPod owners routinely do this kind of thing as they move from computer to computer. The media companies may not like it, but it’s a feature that iPod owners are accustomed to and Apple would have a difficult time explaining their reasons for removing it.
Video out Given Steve Jobs’ demonstration of an iPhone’s interface being projected to the big screen, we know the iPhone can output video. If the iPhone can do it, so too can the 6G iPod.
Notes The iPod now supports displaying notes. Adding the ability to create them with the iPod’s keyboard doesn’t seem like a radical step.
Wi-Fi File this under “Man, would this be cool, but I’m not expecting it.” How great would it be if you could sync your iPhone wirelessly or purchase iTunes music directly on the iPod over Wi-Fi? Answer: Very.
The inclusion of Wi-Fi introduces a sticky issue, however. Once Wi-Fi is on the iPod how do you justify not also providing streaming YouTube content? And if you provide steaming media capabilities, how likely is it that customers are going to be content that they can’t stream content virtually anywhere (albeit slowly) because of the lack of an EDGE network equivalent? And then why not provide a browser too? And Mail. And Maps. And Weather. And… before you know it, you’re talking about an iPod that doesn’t make calls but is otherwise an iPhone’s twin and I doubt Apple wants to face the iPod As Internet Device issue.
Camera It could be done but it’s such a phone feature that Apple might want to let this one go.
Camera connectivity Although the iPod currently allows you to download pictures to your iPod (with the aid of an Apple adapter), it’s a feature that could go by the wayside. It’s a battery-draining process, it’s not a feature that a lot of people use, and as more people shoot RAW (and the iPod and iPhone are incapable of displaying RAW images until after they’ve been processed) fewer people could take advantage of the feature.
The incompatible headphone jack Lots of iPod owners are going to trade up to a 6G iPod and they’ll be righteously pissed if their expensive third-party headphones don’t fit their newest iPod. Including an adapter cable in the iPod’s box would be a half-measure and an admission that Apple made a mistake in designing an it-fits-only-our-headphones port similar to the one on the iPhone.
My crystal ball has clouded up. Have notions of your own? I’d love to read them. Use the Comments link below wisely.