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Stephen Hackett's blog about things that light up and make noise. 512 Pixels is about Apple, technology, journalism and design.

The State of the iPod

With the Internet taking a collective poop in its pants about Apple’s iPhone event a week from today, rumors of an update to the iPod line have begun to take shape as well.

It’s about time the iPod family get an overhaul.

Let’s look at the iPod line, item by item. (If you want to hear a complete history of the iPod family, check out Episodes 20 and 21 of the 512 Podcast.)

iPod classic

The iPod classic was last updated in September 2009. At that time, it got bumped (back) to a 160 GB hard drive, at the $249 price point. Once the shining star of Apple’s complete product line, the iPod classic has been untouched since.

Many view the Classic as the logical place for Apple to cut down its iPod line. The only model with a spinning hard drive, the Classic offers massive amounts of storage, but feels like a dinosaur compared to Apple’s smaller, flash-based offerings.

iPod nano

When I reviewed the iPod nano as a watch back in April, I wasn’t impressed with Apple’s middle-of-the-road iPod. The touch interface is clunky. It isn’t iOS, no matter how hard Apple worked to make it look like iOS.

Back in July, rumors of a new iPod nano surfaced, with the device moving back to a candybar form factor. Since then, the rumored Nano has gained built-in Wi-Fi for syncing and possible iTunes Match.

While I might be biased with my dislike for the current model, I think the Nano is overdue for an update. Basically untouched since 2010, it’s too small and too hard to operate. I’d love to see it gain support for iTunes Match, but I can’t help but think that adding complexity to the OS and Wi-Fi is at odds with the simplicity Apple usually strives for with its iPod line.

iPod shuffle

Like the Nano, the Shuffle hasn’t been updated since September 2010. Even then, it was more of a step backwards than forwards, adding the buttons back after the rather poorly-received third-generation model dropped them in favor of VoiceOver-based control.

Out of all four models, I think the Shuffle has aged the least in two years. It’s about as simple as an iPod can be, and dirt cheap. I don’t see the need for Apple to do much with it.

iPod touch

The iPod touch’s aging is the hardest for me to understand. Running iOS, the iPod touch is designed to be a cheaper alternative to an iPhone or iPad.

Assumedly to keep costs down, Apple has the iPhone 4’s A4 system on a chip inside, with 256 MB RAM. While Apple touts the Touch as somewhat of a gaming system, it falls behind the specs of the iPhone 4S and third-generation iPad.

The device sports an non-IPS Retina display. However, that might be about to change. Here’s Rene Ritchie at iMore:

The new iPod touch is getting the same 4-inch, 16:9 aspect ration screen as the new iPhone. Whether it’s the same panel as the iPhone 5, or Apple once again goes for a cheaper panel like the non-IPS one they went with in 2010, remains to be seen.

I think out of all the iPods, the Touch is in the most need of a hardware update.

September 12

While I’m not sold on next week’s event being about the iPhone and iPod, I can see Apple wanting to reserve October to be all about the iPad mini. If Apple does share the stage between the iPhone and iPod, I bet only the iPod touch and Nano (if it’s radically re-designed) make the Keynote.

While the iPod makes up less and less of Apple’s bottom line, it’s still a viable brand, and an important product. Hopefully it will get some love before the holiday season. Thankfully, we have just a week to wait.