Will iPod Step It Up?

Microsoft’s “iPod Killer”, the Zune is the topic of many a conversation lately. While it doesn’t initially appear to be a huge threat to Apple’s iPod, it’s no time for Apple to rest on its laurels. Amongst the endless rumors surrounding Apple’s products, there’s the widescreen iPod we’ve been hearing about for months. Logically this would’ve dropped for the Holiday season, but that hasn’t been the case. Maybe come the MacWorld expo in January…

Whenever the iPod-with-Video’s successor drops, I’m of the opinion that it had better bring with it more than just updated casing and screen. The Zune has the ability to create ad-hoc wireless networks for music sharing, which is a neat idea that’s definitely ahead of the current iPod’s capabilities. But what are some realistic changes we could hope to see in the next iteration of Apple’s most popular product?

Hardware-wise, the public has made it known that they’d like a wireless technology such as Bluetooth to make an appearance. Wifi could clearly also bring some interesting capabilities with it. The rumors keep alluding to a widescreen format with touch screen controls. All cool stuff, but given Apple’s incremental release history for the iPod, I think seeing all these things at once would be a long shot.

The thing I’m most hopeful for is an update to the user interface. The menu system and navigation has been ground-breaking with its simplicity since the iPod first came along. With the exception of some small enhancements (album art viewer, ratings, additional hardware controls such as brightness, and so on) to the software, the interface seems to be getting a little stale. I’m sure I’ll catch some heat for this opinion, but oh well.

Before I propose my ideas for an enhanced interface, I should explain how I arrived at the idea. More often than not I’ll be listening to some vast playlist I’ve created, or even just the general music library on shuffle. Inevitably, a song will play that jogs my desire to hear more from that singer/band/album. So the enhancement I’d love to see would be the ability to jump straight to the current song’s artist catalog, or album list. This way it would be a matter of a button press – or two – to access all the related songs. Currently I’ve got to back up 3 or 4 levels, scroll down, drill down, scroll down, etc, etc, etc. It’s not the type of action I like to attempt while in the car. And honestly, it’s almost more effort than I care to exert even when sitting idly. Maybe I’m just lazy, sue me.

Regardless of what I want or say, competitors such as the Zune are going to continue trying to chip away are the iPod’s market share with added functionality, convergence, and plain old bling. Admittedly, the iPod is all about simplicity, but it’ll need to step it up from time to time if it wants to remain the undisputed champion. That’s just evolution.

What sort of software enhancements do you think would be welcomed from Apple on their beloved iPod?

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