What Is an iPod? The Identity Crisis of Our Favorite Device

9to5Mac recently posted an article titled, “Does Apple have to kill the iPod?” that has a lot of people talking. Though I definitely don’t agree with all of the logic presented, the overall topic is one that I’ve been considering myself for quite a while.

The entire line of iPods seems to be in a state of uncertainty. Read on too see why I think that iPods aren’t going away anytime soon but are indeed ready for some major changes.

Why Apple Won’t Kill the iPod

The term “iPod” is synonymous with digital music. When we think of one, we think of the other. Sure, there are plenty of other personal digital music players but, all Apple fanboy biased aside, the world bulks these players into two categories: iPods and everything else.

“The world bulks these players into two categories: iPods and everything else.”

As the first (and perhaps only) digital music player most of us ever owned, the iPod changed the way we listen to music. I’m not saying this so we can all hold hands and sing songs to the wonder of Apple, I’m merely pointing out that there is in fact a serious legacy associated with this device, one that is still profitable enough that Apple won’t be killing it any time soon.

People love iPods, and as long as that statement holds true, Apple will keep the assembly plants churning them out. They’re simply not about to killing this long-running cash cow, but that doesn’t mean that some serious thought isn’t being given to just what the future of the iPod will be.


The official iPod Family Shot, note the exclusion of the iPod Classic

The iPods: A Family Stranger Than Yours

One this is for sure, the iPod is definitely undergoing a major identity crisis at the moment. This isn’t localized to one device but is spread across the entire line of iPods.

“The form factor of the Nano has fundamentally changed so many times that I’ve lost count.”

There are currently four iPods: Shuffle, Nano, Classic and Touch. Let’s start with the Nano, which has perhaps gone through more identity troubles than any other Apple device. The form factor of the Nano has fundamentally changed so many times that I’ve lost count. It’s been tall and thin, short and squat, square and everything in between.

The Nano’s identity used to be wrapped up in its tiny size, but the Shuffle came along and challenged that idea. Then it was a great device for watching widescreen video. Next, this idea was taken even further and Apple decided that the Nano should be a device for actually recording video, so they threw a video camera in it, which interestingly enough wasn’t even capable of snapping a still photo.

This idea apparently failed because it was immediately scrapped in the next iteration in favor of the non-widescreen, no camera, square touchscreen device we now know as a Nano. Will Apple stay in this form factor for a few years or continue to completely rethink what the Nano should be?

In its current form, it’s an awful lot like the Shuffle, only with a screen, which leaves us wondering why the Shuffle even needs to exist since the Nano is so small. Fortunately though, perhaps more than any other iPod, the Shuffle has a pretty clear identity. The size and shape keeps changing, but ultimately it’s the cheapest, simplest and tiniest way to own an iPod. At $49, it’s an iPod you can afford to break and lose, which lots of people definitely need. If the Nano gets any cheaper though, the two will butt heads. It’s easy to imagine Apple merging these two lines if they can’t come up with a way to differentiate them more.

“Fundamentally, it’s the truest iPod and yet Apple seems to be subtly abandoning it.”

Next up is the Classic, the closest thing we have to that big white brick that Apple gave us in 2001. Fundamentally, it’s the truest “iPod” and yet Apple seems to be subtly abandoning it. As Weintraub pointed out in his article, when Jobs said that “the entire line” of iPods got an update, the Classic was left out completely.

The Classic’s biggest problem is of course that 40,000 songs in your pocket for $249 is becoming somewhat of a niche market. Why go overboard with storage you don’t need when you could go after the much more impressive, App Store compatible iPod Touch? Which brings us to the best iPod on the market, which ironically seems headed the way of the iPod Mini.

The iPod Touch: A Doomed Product?

The iPod Touch has the most interesting story of any iPod. The fact is, it’s a fantastic product that’s well-loved by consumers. Getting an iPod Touch for Christmas is hitting the motherlode, it’s a music player, gaming device, camera, computer, and television all rolled into one.

The major problem with this of course is that the iPhone is also all of these things. The iPod Touch was once a way to get most of the benefits of the iPhone in a cheaper form that wasn’t tethered to a carrier. I myself bought a first-gen Touch in favor of dropping Verizon to go for an iPhone.

“The proverbial nail in the Touch’s coffin seems to be the fact that the iPhone is on the precipice of being carrier-independent.”

However, economies of scale have paid off. iPhones are not only better than ever, they’re cheaper than ever. Further, the proverbial nail in the Touch’s coffin seems to be the fact that the iPhone is on the precipice of being carrier-independent.

When the iPhone costs a couple hundred dollars, does more than the iPod Touch and doesn’t require a cell contract, where does this leave the iPod Touch? What advantage is there to buying an iPod when you could simply get the phone?

Many are suggesting that the iPod Touch will soon have 3G capabilities, but this only compounds the problem! If Apple takes this move, then it’s simply one step closer to turning the iPod Touch into the iPhone.

For this reason, ever since day one of the iPod Touch, many of us have been wondering how long the product could hold up in the years to come as a truly independent product that isn’t just an iPhone in a different box. The simple fact is, Apple needs to either find a new way to seriously set the iPod Touch apart or drop it completely in favor of one device that is capable of being an iPhone, an iPod Touch or both. Again, it’s a successful product so don’t be surprised if Apple has a few new tricks in its long-term plan before giving up on the iPod Touch.

What Is an iPod?

This article holds only problems, not answers. The point is simply that iPods as we know them are in an incredibly interesting state of flux. None of us knows how many products will be in the iPod line this time next year, what they will look like, or even what they will do!

The term “iPod” has become so fuzzy that none of us really know it means. Is it a music player? An all-in one entertainment device for everything from photography to gaming? Something to slap a watch band on and wear on your wrist?

That magical time of year is here when Apple once again tells us what “iPod” will mean for the next 360 days or so. I can’t guarantee what Apple will give us, but I do know one thing: no matter how much we love or hate it on announcement day, the crazy things will be on the top of all our holiday shopping lists within a month.