Tomorrow Steve Jobs will introduce the latest and greatest iPods to the world. But as smartphones become increasingly adept at playing music, you have to wonder: Why bother with iPods at all?
When the first iPod was introduced in October 2001, I was listening to my fledgling collection of MP3s in Winamp on a junky Windows laptop. But that didn't stop me from buying an iPod. The idea of porting all my music around from place to place, contained cosily in its little white pod, seemed futuristic and awesome. Sure, there were other MP3 players available at that point. And sure, transferring MP3s to and fro with the janky, unofficial Windows software that quickly emerged was a pain, but I was immediately sold on the idea of not just portable music, but a portable library of music, one that I could keep in my pocket wherever I went.
The family grew. There were Minis and then Nanos and Shuffles and Touches. But as gadget-lovers' (and then just regular old people's) MP3 collections swelled, smartphones became increasingly capable of playing audio files. The multimedia-friendly smartphone set plays MP3s in their sleep. And with the recent release of Blackberry 6, RIM showed its understanding that even a business-centric device had to be a sophisticated music player as well.
And if everyone's phone plays MP3s painlessly, why would we want to fill our pockets with another device dedicated to the task. There are some members of the iPod family that should and will survive: the iPod Touch is an incredible pocket computer, especially for those who don't have an iPhone because they need to be able to make calls. (How quaint!). And adding FaceTime and/or photo and video capabilities would only solidify its status as an uber-gadget.
Our workout obsession carves out the other iPod niche: one for a small, durable music gizmo that you can tuck in an armband and submerge in sweat without thinking twice. But outside of those two devices - the do-everything app-machine Touch and the joggers-best-friend Shuffle - the iPod's world is shrinking. Fast.
The 1.7-inch touchscreen iPod that will likely be announced tomorrow, whether it's a souped-up Shuffle or a shrunken-down Nano, will serve up soundtracks for everyone's self-flagellating workouts. The FaceTime-enhanced Touch we're all expecting will continue to distance itself from anything resembling a mere iPod. Everything else - the hold-everything iPods that don't do a whole lot besides playing music - can and should go the way of the dodo.