Sorry, geeks, but Apple's new iPod Touch is not quite ready to become your contract-free, data-only iPhone.
The smartphone without a voice plan is a fantasy that a lot of people share, at least judging from blog and website comments that I've read over the last year or two. At Apple's press event on Wednesday, Chief Executive Steve Jobs hinted that iPod Touch could get the job done, saying that "a lot of people call it an iPhone without the phone." He added, half-jokingly, "It's also an iPhone without a contract."
Indeed, the iPod Touch is a leading candidate to become your contract-free smartphone solution, thanks to VoIP apps like Skype and Line 2, and the call management of Google Voice's web app, but a few critical missing pieces hold the iPod Touch back from data-only glory.
First, let's consider how features in the new iPod Touch are more phone-like than before. The iPod Touch's most significant additions are its front- and rear-facing cameras. These allow users to take pictures without lugging around a digital camera -- a signature phone feature even before smartphones came along -- and to conduct video calls over Facetime.
With the camera comes two other important features: speakers and a microphone. While previous iPod Touches required an external headset for VoIP apps, now Skype conversations can be conducted by speaker phone.
This brings me to the first flaw in the iPod Touch as an iPhone replacement. Speakers are nice, but without an actual earpiece -- the other, quieter speaker that points directly into your ear -- iPod Touch calls are everybody's business. Your only workaround is to sync a Bluetooth headset for private phone calls.
Over at GigaOM, Kevin Tofel points out a couple other major drawbacks. He notes that the iPod Touch's rear-facing camera is inferior to that of the iPhone, shooting in a mere 960-by-720 resolution, which translates to roughly 0.7 megapixels. That's worse than any iPhone, ever. More importantly, Tofel notes, the iPod Touch has no 3G radio, so you can't actually subscribe to a data plan with it, and no GPS, relying on Wi-Fi triangulation instead.
I think you can get around the data problems with a portable hotspot, like the contract-free Virgin Mobile hotspot, but it's just another device to lug around in addition to the phone and a Bluetooth headset.
If you don't mind carrying three gadgets in your pockets all the time, more power to you for your geeked-out smartphone alternative with the iPod Touch. The rest of us will have to wait for something else, and pray that by the time it comes along, unlimited mobile data plans aren't completely dead
This story, "iPod Touch is Not Quite an 'iPhone Without the Phone'" was originally published by PCWorld.