Earlier this year, I did something weird: I bought a 5th generation iPod, originally made in 2006. I got it mostly as a fun thing to change, but I actually used it almost daily. Experience has led me to the conclusion that Apple should bring back the iPod, but updated for the modern era. Of course, it should keep the click wheel, but I can’t stop thinking about how good an iPod would be, designed for the era of music streaming, AirPods and high-resolution displays. I know it might sound silly, but let me explain.
There are a few reasons why Apple should make a new iPod. First, it would allow the company to capitalize on some nostalgia for the iPod era that seems to be approaching, based on web players, applications and recent iPod-themed modes.
The other reason, perhaps more obvious, is that the iPod is a music-centric device, and Apple literally has a service called Apple Music. The company is currently in love with revenue from services, but many of its devices are not so great at playing music. The iPhone makes it difficult to connect many types of headphones, and Siri interrupts what you hear when you ask it to do something simple that doesn’t really justify an audible response (such as turning on the HomeKit-powered lights, for example).
Most, if not all, Apple devices can’t play the lossless files of the latest generation that Apple Music can now deliver without additional hardware. This means that Apple doesn’t sell anything it can point to and says “this is the best Apple Music experience you can get, period.” An iPod could be just that.
While Apple Music should be tightly integrated into a modern iPod, it would also be great if it could play music from other services and have a totally classic mode that would only play synced files from a computer.
Opening the iPod would not only avoid some terrible options for a company that is being looked at by the government and competitors (such as Spotify) for abusing its role as platform and service designer, but it would also help avoid some of the weirdness that comes with streaming music. I often use my iPod these days because Apple Music works upwards, forcing me to restart the app because it claims that the content is unauthorized or completely annoying when I try to play lossless music recently introduced by Apple.
(Really, does anyone else have this problem? Randomly, but very often, the song I’m trying to listen to will turn into a burst of loud screams, with digital sound, as if I were listening to a song of 100 Gecs playing on a Discman that is strongly shaken.)
Of course, Apple still sells an iPod after all these years: the iPod Touch. Now, don’t get me wrong, the iPod Touch is a great device, especially for kids and people who just want an iOS device that isn’t expensive. But that’s just it – the iPod Touch is not a specially designed music player, but an iPhone without a phone.
But what? This only means that he can use his headphone jack to listen to songs from Apple Music, as well as Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Prime Music and anything else, as well as to play games, surf the web, read books, etc.
And that’s the problem for me: iPod Touch is a good computing device, which Apple should update more often, but sometimes the best tool for a job is not the one that can do everything. It is the one that is designed to do a very good thing.
For example, when I listen to music on an iOS device, I often find that I’m not actually obedience to music, but scrolling on Twitter with it in the background. That’s not the case with my 2006 iPod. The emphasis on something that doesn’t give you everything all the time is the same reason why some people prefer e-readers to reading on a tablet or phone.
And, practically speaking, the creation of a dedicated portable music player without a smartphone and touch screen operating system would mean that Apple does not compete as much with Android players from Sony and Fiio.
There’s also the hardware issue – if Apple created a new iPod designed just for listening to music, it shouldn’t make it strong enough to run 3D or Safari games, and instead could put resources to a better DAC and amplifier (maybe one that could play files without loss of 24 bits, 192 kHz from Apple Music).
I don’t think a new iPod would ever reach the dizzying heights of popularity that older models have made. Most people are perfectly content to listen to music on their phones – if it weren’t, Apple probably wouldn’t have stopped selling iPods in the first place. However, Apple is a big company – it could support creating a niche device, focused on music, even if its latest one didn’t work so well. And as an old iPod enthusiast, going out with a new one would be literal music to my ears (should be).
PS – I also found that the Apple Music experience on the Apple Watch is pretty mediocre and I don’t want to run away from my phone. I’m not saying there’s room for an iPod Shuffle with the new Siri offline instead of VoiceOver, but …