I got my first iPod in 2001, a review sample from Apple. It had all of 5GB storage, using a tiny hard drive that sometimes wouldn’t survive day-to-day use before failing. While its $399 purchase price was described by many as too high, it didn’t stop Mac users from buying more and more of them.
Within two years, storage had increased to 30GB if you opted for the high-end version of the third generation iPod. With the release of iTunes for Windows, the reach of the iPod expanded to tens of millions of new customers. Selling the number one music player on the planet, Apple was on the road to becoming a full-fledged consumer electronics company.
It’s generally perceived that the iPod is what led to Apple become the powerhouse it is today. What with review samples from Apple, most of which you could actually keep since journalists weren’t asked to send them back, and the ones I bought, I kept pretty much up to date with iPods for several years. I even purchased the original 120GB iPod Classic for my son, Grayson, in 2008. It lasted three or four years before the hard drive failed. It may have been repaired along the way, but I don’t even think he has it anymore. He relies on an iPhone 5 nowadays for staying in touch with the music he wants to hear right away, and a black 2008 MacBook for the rest of his huge music library.
Indeed, the iPod has seen better days. With the release of the ultimate iPod, the iPhone, in 2007, and the iPad in 2010, more and more people choose a combo device on which to carry their mobile music libraries.
iPod sales have been on a steady decline. But the actual figures, along with those of the Apple Watch and other products, are now buried in a single category in Apple’s financials, but the last time they were reported, in Apple’s fiscal fourth quarter of 2014, Apple sold 2.6 million iPods, generating $410 in revenue.
That no doubt explains why the product hasn’t been updated since 2012, and the iPod Classic, the direct descendant of the original with a 160GB hard drive, is no longer available.
On Tuesday, as predicted in the Mac rumor sites, Apple refreshed the iPod with a refreshed iPod touch and new colors for the nano and shuffle that are, evidently, otherwise unchanged.
Most of the changes for the latest iPod touch are internal, taking it closer in design to an iPhone 6, but with a four-inch display and without, of course, a telephone. The specs include a 64-bit A8 processor, the M8 motion co-processor, an 8 megapixel camera, and up to 128GB storage. The processor reportedly runs at a lower clock speed (it’s underclocked) to save battery life.
The high-end iPod touch costs $399, same as the original iPod. It starts at $199 for 16GB, which doesn’t seem to be a terribly good deal unless you don’t have a large music library, or expect to depend on the cloud for your content. Remember that you can get a 4.7-inch iPhone 6 with 128GB storage for the same price on a typical subsidized wireless contract.
Of course, wireless carriers in the U.S. have been phasing out such deals, opting instead to sell or lease you the phone for a “low” monthly fee.
However, a new iPod touch means that the product will be around for at least a few more years. The one you buy today will likely be able to run iOS 13, or whatever it’s called, with decent performance. The model with 128GB storage capacity is sufficient for most music libraries.
I suppose the regular iPods will also remain in the lineup for many years, without need for changes except, perhaps, to increase onboard storage as flash memory becomes cheaper. The $49 iPod shuffle still has 2GB of storage, which is barely enough, particularly when you consider that the original 5GB iPod didn’t satisfy serious music lovers. I don’t see why Apple couldn’t boost storage of the current shuffle to even 8GB and not significantly increase the cost of making them.
Despite the fairly low sales of the iPod, it makes sense to keep the products available. Development costs for the new models were non-existent for the additional colors, and no doubt fairly low for the iPod touch. After all, Apple is using innards that are similar to the iPhone 6 series. So it’s more about packaging than innovation, but that’s probably more than sufficient to garner some sales, particularly from those with older versions of the iPod touch who may have felt left behind by now.
The launch of Apple Music also creates the incentive to have more devices on hand with which to play songs, so perhaps there will be some momentum for the product, at least for the short term.
Understand that I’ve never been much of a fan of portable music playback devices. I went through a couple of Walkman and similar devices in the early days, a portable CD player in the 1980s, and a few iPods before passing the latter off to my son. I just never got into them, and I’m not much of an earphone user either. But I’m not Apple’s target audience.
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