The row of products links at the top of Apple’s website has been a stable paradigm for as long as I have been alive. The products have shifted around over time, as the computing landscape has changed more in the last decade or so than probably any other time in history. But there’s still one product, once a best seller, now confusingly buried underneath the “Music” tab and rarely mentioned: the lone iPod touch.
After they quietly and without fanfare retired the iPod nano and shuffle last year, the touch stands alone as an emblem of a seemingly forgotten age. The age before streaming music captured the world. The age before yearly iPhone updates made up over half of Apple’s revenue, and catapulted them to a trillion-dollar valuation. The iPod era was a simpler time, or at least seems that way because I was only a kid.
Since the original 2001 music player recently had its 17th birthday, I thought I’d take a look back at it, along with what a strange proposition the current touch is.
Looking at it now, the original iPod seems like a weird proposal to me. It had 5GB of storage on a tiny mechanical hard drive. A spinning disk doesn’t seem like a great idea for something intended to be portable, but I guess it worked. The tagline “1,000 songs in your pocket” is laughable now; I have more than that in my Spotify library. I think the idea was, you would remove old songs and sync new ones through iTunes regularly, but iTunes is slow and awful even now; I couldn’t imagine what it was like at launch! Not to mention, at this time iTunes songs still had DRM, so you couldn’t listen to them at all without firing up that silver beast of a program. And to top it off, it cost $400, the equivalent of $570 today! Despite some now hilarious critical comments upon its release, the iPod was enough of a hit that it spawned tons of successors over the next decade and a half. Now, only one remains.
The current iPod touch is bizarre in the age of notched $1000 flagship phones. It recently got a price drop to $200 for 32GB or $300 for 128GB, which is very reasonable. But the thing looks like it’s out of 2015, because it is. It has the same A8 chip as the iPhone 6, the same 8MP camera as the 5S and the same pitiful 640×1136 resolution as the SE! It doesn’t have Touch ID, let alone Face ID, and it wasn’t even updated to iOS 12! At least it still has a headphone jack.
Maybe there’s still enough buyers for an “iPhone without the phone” that Apple is willing to let it continue to wither away like the MacBook Air. Both products are, after all, affordable by Apple standards and have features a lot of people can’t live without (headphone jack for the iPod, all ports other than USB-C for the MacBook). A lot of people nowadays take the SIM card out of their old iPhones and give them to their kids as makeshift iPods, but maybe there’s value in a dedicated device for this purpose.
All I will say is, the device that brought Apple back to profitability seems to be an afterthought for them. And in the inexorable march of technological progress, I don’t blame them. And who knows, maybe they’ll update it on Tuesday.
[Edit: they didn’t.]