iPods Headed for the Grave

This week, Apple announced that iPods are in a nosedive. Meanwhile, we are seeing evidence that the Nano is about to get a camera. My response is "Why?" The old clickwheel iPod isn't dead yet, but it's definitely dying.

I have a 160GB Classic, as I thought I needed it. But with a 32GB iPhone, I end up leaving my iPod at home, even when traveling. I once had a fantasy that I'd sync a ton of video to it, to serve up. That fantasy was never realized, though, because these days it easy to just plug your laptop into a TV. I like having an iPod Touch in the house, however, because when my kid wants to watch videos, I'd rather give her that than my own phone. Besides, some apps like Sonos' controller and Apple's Remote are better suited to a device that lives in the living room. An iPod Touch with a camera makes sense, getting a step closer to the iPhone; it's an equally intuitive device for people who want to keep clear of AT&T.

Put a camera in the Nano, and the opposite occurs: It becomes a mystery object, something unlike all other products in the universe, and not in a good way. It would be something to learn, with even more buried mystery functions than it has right now.

Let's be honest, the Nano is built to play music. Video playback on that tiny screen is a joke, accelerometer or not, and I have never met a soul who actually stores calendars and contacts, or uses any other mini-app or game. Putting still more tech into the Nano is a mistake that companies other than Apple would make—sure, it will be "neat," but it's impractical and a waste of development.

The Classic is a different story, one of diminishing demand. Hard drive players are almost nowhere to be found, and there's discussion of late that the 1.8" hard drive is headed for extinction, because flash memory is finally cheap. I think Apple will still sell a Classic, at least until they can pop out 64GB flash iPod Touches for under $400, but I don't think they'll do anything to modify the current Classic in any meaningful way, and they certainly aren't going to go all the way to 240GB, even though it's possible.

If the Classic is justifiable for music library owners like me, but mostly a non-starter, the Nano's raison d'etre is being a "value" option. It's cheaper than the iPod Touch, which hovers at the $230 only to distance itself from the 16GB Nano, at $200. If Apple dipped that iTouch to $199, they'd sell fewer Nanos than they are selling now.

Screw the camera—what Apple should do is lower the Nano price even more. Samsung and SanDisk sell 8GB players for less than $100 now, and you can even find a few 16GB players in the $130 range. That's $50 to $70 lower than what Apple charges, and nowadays, most of those devices will play anything you buy from iTunes—little or no manipulation required. Meanwhile, almost all PMP development from other companies is geared to building a cheap iTouch replacement, not a Nano clone.

As Apple itself declared during their earnings call, "We expect traditional MP3 players to decline over time as we cannibalize ourselves" with iPhone and iPod Touch. They readily admit that iPod Touches sell like hotcakes while demand for clickwheel iPods has slackened. It's just a puzzle that when these devices should be on life-support, Apple seems to be want to push them further. [iPod/iTunes]