To absolutely no one's surprise, Apple has announced a San Francisco-based special event for September. Like past September special events--where the iPod nanos and video capable iPods have made their debut--this one will surely focus on the iPod. (The invitation, with its title Let's Rock, iPod interface, and silhouette figure makes that clear to even unsubtle folks like me.)
And it comes as no surprise because in Apple's eyes, September means the holidays are a scant Autumn away. That can only mean that it's time to issue the latest batch of tempting portable media players. And, in turn, that can only mean that it's time for us iPod watchers to don our speculation hats and ponder what September 9 might bring.
The New Nano
September 2005 brought the original, scratchable iPod nano. 2006 introduced the tougher aluminum 2G nano. And 2007 saw the birth of the ittier-bittier aluminum, video-capable iPod nano we enjoy today. The iPod nano is Apple's most popular iPod--not too expensive, easily slipped into a stocking, attractive, and capable as hell. And because it is, the company can't seem to leave the thing alone.
Given how capable the nano is, what does it need? Right. A bigger screen. Although you can watch video on its 2-inch (diagonal) screen, viewing a letterboxed three-hour epic gives even the most robust of us a crashing headache. With the advent of the iPhone and iPod touch, those who enjoy video on the go are accustomed to watching that video in a widescreen view and on a display that can't be covered with their thumb.
So, that means a nano with a wide screen. And that's accomplished by returning to the old form factor--the hunk-o'-beef-jerky long iPod nano--and turning the thing on its side to watch video. Digg's Kevin Rose has foretold just such an iPod (complete with a picture he claims is a prototype of the device) and he's probably right. Such a nano gives us the change that Apple needs to sell customers yet another iPod and because it doesn't feature a touchscreen and performs only iPod functions, it doesn't eat into iPod touch and iPhone sales.
The "Big" iPod
If Apple does indeed issue a sideways iPod nano and maintains the iPod touch pretty much as it is, where does that leave the "traditional" hard-drive bearing full-sized iPod? Currently the advantages that iPod has is storage and a slightly larger screen. The use of flash memory in the shuffle, nano, and touch necessarily constrain them to holding only a small-to-medium-sized media library. The full-sized iPod, currently available in 80GB and 160GB capacities, makes it possible for those with heaping helpings of media to pack a good portion of that media with them.
But storage isn't sexy. And sexy is important if you want to continue to sell these things in large numbers.
What would bring sexy to the full-sized iPod--and keep its capabilities from being compared unfavorably to the iPod nano--is a similarly sideways display. Again, retool the form factor, keep the storage capacity up, and you provide zazz as well as utility.
The Littlest Shuffle
Much as I'd love to see another go-round of the iPod Flea parody, I'm pretty sure that Apple can't make the shuffle any smaller without also making it a pain in the neck to use (and keep track of). The current clip-on form-factor is darned convenient and, should Apple add some more capacity (4GB, up from 2GB for the "top-of-the-line shuffle), round off the edges, and slap on a few different shades of paint on the things I think they can be fairly confident of their chances of selling a boatload of them during the holidays.
A few weeks ago, in my Imagining a New iTunes entry, I suggested that it was time for a new version of iTunes. And by new I don't mean "even more cluttered with capabilities" but rather a version of iTunes that's more focused. This could come in the form of a reorganized interface or as a couple of different products that more specifically zero in on particular chores--managing, obtaining, and encoding music, for example.
When releasing new iPod models Apple has been known to also unveil major new versions of iTunes. Seems the timing is right for Apple to do so again. In a setting where Apple "returns to its iPod roots" one could argue that it would be easier to sell a slimmed down, music-focused version of iTunes.
And the Rest
We haven't heard a lot about iTunes in Starbucks lately. Now may be the time to provide a little refresher on that one as well as detail additional ways to obtain music--from other retailers, streaming, and maybe... gasp... in an all-you-can-eat plan that Apple takes pains to describe as anything but a subscription model.
Oh, and of course there's the Musical Guest at the end of the presentation. I know what you're thinking. You know what I'm thinking. But I've been burned too many times to mention The Name or The Group again. And frankly, I just don't care any longer.
What I do care about is that the fall TV season is about to kick into gear and NBC and Apple have yet to make nice. Here's hoping that the One More Thing is Jeff Zucker and Steve Jobs exchanging a big wet one before Paul McC... er McCandless and the rest of Oregon take the stage.
This story, "Come September: IPods" was originally published by Macworld.