The End of the Line for the iPod

Yesterday’s Apple event was mostly about the new iPhone 4S, and the Siri intelligent assistant. There were some small tweaks to the iPod line, but no real changes. The iPod nano got a slightly different interface, which will be available to owners of the current model via a software update. The iPod touch got a boost in capacity. And the other iPods – the classic and shuffle – are unchanged. As I said in a recent article, there were plenty of reasons to keep these models.

Interestingly, and for the second year in a row, Apple showed three of the four iPods on screen during the presentation; they left out the classic. They keep ignoring it, yet it continues to sell well. After removing the few games that you can buy for the iPod classic from the iTunes Store, maybe they’re just going to keep selling until they run out of stock. Or maybe this will be a recurring event: every year, people will speculate on the demise of the iPod classic, and every year it will hold one for a bit longer.

I tend to buy all new iPod models, as I write a lot about these devices. But this is the first year in a long time that I won’t be buying any. I hate the nano, and sold mine a few weeks ago. The classic hasn’t changed, I have the first version of the current shuffle, and the touch hasn’t changed either except for capacity.

It’s clear that the era of the iPod is winding down. I wrote about this last year for Macworld, discussing what I called the iPod plateau. Apple has clearly reached this point, as they had nothing new to add to the existing product line. They could, eventually, add the Siri technology to the iPod touch; my guess is we’ll see that next year. Apparently, this requires a more powerful processor than what the iPod touch has, but as Apple gets the technology refined, it will be easier to add it to the cheaper device. For the other models, it looks like there’s nothing left to do. They can change minor features, form factors, colors and capacities, but the era of the iPod is now over.

On the other hand, while Apple wants a lot more people to buy iPhones, the world is full of people not willing to pay the cost of a data contract for a phone. (I’m one of those people.) What I see in the future is a pre-pay iPhone, or an iPhone light, that offers phone calls, music play, apps and the rest, but without an expensive 3G contract.

The iPod is still an important device. Apple sells millions of them. But since they can’t go any further with it, they’re going to stop putting it in the spotlight. However, the same thing will happen with the iPhone soon; there’s only so much a device like this can do. They’ve added interesting technology to the new iPhone 4S, and I’m curious to see what next year’s iPhone will offer. But I think we’ve entered an era of minor incremental upgrades. The technology is mature, and there’s not a lot of room for major changes.