Blog Post

iPod nano: New Form and Less Function?

Now that Apple’s (s aapl) sixth-generation iPod nanos are actually in people’s hands, I thought I’d take a closer look at the value difference between the new and the old. Is the new iPod nano really worth it?

It’s Got The Touch

First and foremost, the new version has a “multitouch” screen. Actually, it’s only capable of discerning two finger gestures (and only for rotating the screen). The introduction of a touchscreen on such a small device is certainly one way to reduce the need for physical controls (ironic that this was introduced immediately after the new iPod shuffle regained its tactile buttons).

The touchscreen also adds a “wow” factor for those who wish they owned an iPod touch or an iPhone. The icons even jiggle when you move them around! But don’t let that fool you. The iPod nano isn’t running iOS, simply updated software designed to resemble iOS. The result? You’re not going to be using apps with it anytime soon.

Design Details

If you were to take a casual, superficial look at the iPod nano, you might think it’s a bit awkward.

The form factor resembles a larger iPod shuffle and the straight edges at the top and bottom seem a little odd for Apple’s standards. One would think the form factor would resemble a smaller iPhone and be curved at the corners like the plastic boxes in which they ship.

The display itself doesn’t sit flat against the body of the device, likely a result of a decision to make the device as small as possible. In my opinion, the design is a bit contrived. Considering the latest iPod shuffle is just a smaller version of the second-generation model, and this new nano looks like a larger version of it with a multi-touch screen, I wonder what Jonny Ive’s team is actually doing.

Technical Specs

When you think about iPod nanos, you might think about how they could play video (2007 and on) or how they had a built-in camera and record video (2009). You might even think about increasingly bigger and better displays. Sure it wasn’t all that great, but you might even think back to when iPod nanos included a speaker (2009). Well, times are changing.

The introduction of a touch screen has driven the component costs of the iPod nano higher than previous models. As a result, Apple trimmed some features that were “not often used” to maintain an amicable price point for consumers, and the company’s profit margin.

Were these features infrequently used? It is true if you own an iPhone, you already have a camera at your disposal. But a nano was an inexpensive and convenient alternative for those who didn’t. And while few might have actually watched video on the tiny screen, you could still plug it into a TV.

The real point I’m trying to make is that while Apple seems intent on pushing the iTunes Store and all it offers, its latest device plays a lot less of that content than the previous generation. That doesn’t seem terribly innovative to me.

Granted, the nano has a specific audience. But for me, it’s not a simple matter of “well if you want those features, go buy an iPod touch or an iPhone.” Instead, it’s about Apple allowing form to trump function. There’s another glaring example I can cite from recent memory.

Have you had a chance to check out the new iPod nano? What do you think? Will you upgrade or sell your previous generation for an ungodly amount on eBay? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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15 Responses to “iPod nano: New Form and Less Function?”

  1. I’m still of the opinion that touch-wheel iPods are the best. When it comes to a music player, Apple got it right early on with the UI on the iPod classics. I recently dusted off my old iPod 4G colour and stopped using my iPhone for music. I didn’t like the smaller controls on the Nano anyway but the touch interface is worse. Don’t get me wrong, I love the multi-touch interface and am more than happy to use that instead of a physical keyboard, but for a music player I just started missing that old wheel.

  2. Those who don’t “get” this nano don’t understand Apple’s product direction.

    Shuffle: basic music player, super cheap, anyone can use it

    Nano: upgraded music player, more features, but streamlined for MUSIC and music only (photo viewing is on there as a bonus)

    iTouch/iPhone: this is the “do everything” device.

    If apple were to include a camera on the nano, they would cannibalize iTouch/iPhone sales. In doing so, they reduce potential revenue from app and video sales.

    Personally, I don’t know a single person that used a nano for watching or shooting video. They used their phone instead.

    If you take that into account along with price points and pricing pressure, the strategy makes perfect business sense.

    I, for one, use my iPhone for music and video and take my shuffle to the gym.

    • I use my Nano 5G for shooting pictures and video instead of my iPhone or iPod Touch. It is much easier to hold and the videos come out pretty good. Fits great in my pocket, so slim and small. Recording also eats up the battery and I like to save my iPhone’s for phone calls and games. I find the 5G Nano to be a great little machine. The new Nano, by contrast, appears to be a larger Shuffle, which is fine but I was surprised that they left out video. I will probably get one when they finally arrive where I live just for shits and giggles. I guess I’m in the minority here, someone who uses the 5G Nano (I actually have two of them!) for video; but I find it to be quite good.

  3. This was my very first thought when they released it! I was looking at it at Apple’s site (I watched the keynote afterwards) and was like NO YOU DIDN’T. I have a fourth gen iPod nano (the blue one, if you care), and I love it. Got it for Christmas 2008, and I listen to my music only on it. The click wheel is perfect for controling your music without looking at your nano. Syncing your iCal and Address Book are very cool features to have as well. I have also watched several movies on my iPod, and it is sure nice to have this feature, despite the small screen. The accelerometer and click wheel make playing games on it a very unique experience as well. If I was in charge for the iPods, I’d build onto the 5th gen nano, adding a better camera (iPhone 3GS-like, for example), an even better display, maybe even WiFi for accessing the iTunes store. The new one? I admit, it’s got… something pretty cool about it, but I prefer the old one.

  4. I think the new nano is a genius move. I predict that the Shuffle will be gone in a year or two as well. Apple wants people to have the touch experience. They want this because this is what will sell iPods, iPhones and iPads to people who buy entry models as their first apple product. They cannot push the price low enough yet so they had to keep the Shuffle for now, but the current nano will be the shuffle in a year or two as video and a camera will get introduced into the Nano. I agree that it is not likely to get apps. I also anticipate the death of the classic. They will either come out with a 128GB version with SSD or make a thicker Touch with a hard drive. (Possibly both.) Either way, the Classic will need to go soon as well. They want a unified user experience and that is really smart.

    That being said, my wife wants an iPod. But she absolutely despises the touch experience on my iPhone. I was hoping to pick up a nano when I upgrade my Macbook Air in the Back to School framework. I guess that did not happen this year but next year. She can wait. But now it is looking like I’ll have to buy her a refurb. I’ll probably wait until the current models get refurbished. That might drive the price of the previous generation a bit lower. We are out of the US until Christmas anyway (which will be the occasion, I guess). Given that she hates touch and the better functionality of the previous generation it just makes the most sense for her.

  5. The new Nano is positioned to replace the Shuffle, while the 5G Nano users who want more functionality will migrate to the Touch. Apple’s earbud controls prevent people from having to poke at the touch screen for aerobic uses and people who are using the Nano more passively can use either.

    I think the 5G Nano was an aberration in Apple’s PMP lineup that they’re seeking to correct. The click wheel is going by way of the dodo.

    I talk about it here FWIW:

    • The new nano doesn’t come with the earbuds that have controls, just the plain ones. So that’s an extra $30 and a separate purchase. I think Steve Jobs’ fundamental problem is that he hates buttons, and thinks every one has fingertips as tiny as a pencil. So he thinks a 2-inch square piece of glass is a broad enough surface for someone to manage thousands of songs. Or, he just thinks everyone should own an iPod Touch or an iPhone, and everyone else can go jump off a cliff for all he cares. (As the owner of a 2G original iPod, an original iPod mini, a 3G iPod nano, 2 Macbooks, and 2 iMacs, I’m not a disinterested party, here.)

  6. Apple killed off the nano. The release of this new “super shuffle” finally pushed me to buy a new nano–a 5G one. I use my 3G nano (the wider, shorter one) every day for at least an hour a day, mostly listening to podcasts, audiobooks, and some music. Reaching into my pocket to pause it, skip ahead a bit, and change the volume is critical to me. Most of those things aren’t possible on this new toy without holding it in one hand, looking at it, and futzing with the tiny touchscreen with the other (I tried in the store).

    I watch video podcasts once in a while. With my new 5G nano, I can still do that, I get a bigger screen, keep the touch wheel that is the key feature of the iPod, and even gain a small speaker (the video recording capability I’m not very interested in).

    I’ll bet that this super shuffle is the best goose to 5G nano sales since they came out. I only wish they’d kept making a nano, and called this new silly piece of jewelry a Shuffle Touch or something. Let’s see if they eat their words and re-introduce the touch wheel next year. This year they added it back to the shuffle–who knows what will happen next year?

    • whatnow?

      my thoughts EXACTLY. I was also curious to get a 5g nano from ebay to update my old fat nano, though I have to say it is serving its purpose very well.. and frankly, I use the back of it as a mirror sometimes, works great :)

  7. I was skeptical at first, but picked one up last week and I love it! I was really on the fence considering I already own an iPhone 4, a 4th gen iPod touch, and an iPad; the new Nano has turned out to be a perfect replacement for my 3rd gen iPod Shuffle which I was using frequently around the house when cleaning or working the yard. I liked the small compact size of the shuffle but hated that fact that it didn’t have a screen and could only be controlled with headphones. I couldn’t be happier with the new Nano!

  8. I checked out the “Super Shuffle” at the Apple Store. Since I only listen to Podcasts, mainly in my car, I was only interested in its podcast functions and how it can be operated with one hand.

    In summary: You need two hands to operate the new Nano. Also, none of the Apply “geniuses” knew anything about podcasts: Is there a 2x button? A 30 second rewind? How do you go from chapter to chapter? They had no clue.

    Neither came these nanos with podcasts loaded on them. The genius refused to load one on it. So no answers.

    As a result, I ordered a refurbished 5th generation from Apple.

    • I’ve been using it now for two weeks, and you can easily control with one hand. I listen to podcasts, and to answer your questions:

      The default screen for playing podcasts had skip back, play/pause, skip to next, one swipe will take you to the repeat, rewind 30seconds, and /.5x/1x/2x, and then a second swipe will take you to the info screen with a description of the podcast.

  9. I personally love the new iPod nano. I have an iPhone and an iPad, and I thought I would never need a dedicated mp3 player, but I was wrong. This thing is spectacular for running (and has Nike+ integration), very compact, and just keep it clipped anywhere I want.

    A very small minority were using the video features of the 5th gen iPod nano, so I’m not surprised they took it out. Just bc it has less features doesn’t make it worse, just as you said, it is for a different audience. And honestly, for the price difference, if you want to watch video, the iPod touch is a better value.

  10. Michellec

    personaly, i think this new ipod nano is poop.
    sure its smaller and its touch screen, but it doesnt have all the features as the last nano.
    i just got he last nano (2009 version) and i LOVE it.
    if u want an ipod, wit till the next one comes out because they make something new every year.