Siding with the new ‘timid’ iPod nano

Tech Life

In his article at The Verge entitled Apple’s timid new iPod nano sidesteps a smartwatch revolution, Nilay Patel shares some rather blunt opinions about the new iPod nano. While I agree that the iPod line — with the exception of the iPod touch — is the least innovative of Apple’s portable device offering, I’m not so sure about the rest of Patel’s assessment. Here are a few observations.

Patel writes:

Why all the changes? According to insiders, Apple reworks the nano every few years to kick off a cycle of upgrades — the $150 nano is an impulse buy holiday present that almost makes it seem like you care about the recipient. […]

But that’s the old market, and the old way. It is, you might say, the Samsung or Sony way. It has not been the Apple way — iPod sales decline steadily every quarter, and cynically changing the nano into a tiny fake iPhone to juice sales one last time won’t stop that slide. The MP3 player market is dead, and Apple doesn’t seem to know how to move on.

I wouldn’t say that the MP3 market is dead, not yet at least. The problem with many geek tech writers is that often they have this tendency to look at things from their geeky perspective, and at times their point of view might be a bit myopic. Not every user of modern gadgets out there shares the same habits as us geeks. Not everyone has the latest iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Some people use a ‘classic’ iPod for listening to music and don’t have an iPhone (or any other multi-touch smartphone for that matter). Some people prefer buying an iPod nano instead of an iPod touch or an iPhone for their preadolescent children. Some people may like the simplicity of the non-iOS iPods but prefer other platforms for their phones and tablets. Some people may not even afford anything above the nano’s price point. These are just the first counterexamples that come to mind.

Now, about the iPod nano’s redesign. I guess that, rather than “changing [it] into a tiny fake iPhone to juice sales”, Apple’s concern was more like addressing one significant issue of the previous-generation nano: the user interface. Yes, the previous nano was small and very wearable and cool, and it could be transformed into a geeky ‘smartwatch’ with the right accessory, but in my opinion its user interface was a disaster. The screen was too tiny for precise touch gestures (they should have called it ‘iPod shuffle touch’). Navigating playlist was a pain in the arse. Even changing screen orientation with two fingers was neither intuitive nor a quick-and-easy affair. I know because I tried one quite extensively when they came out: on paper, I would have purchased it straight away. After trying one in person… no, thank you. I didn’t know what changes the 7th-generation nano would sport, but I was sure Apple would revert to a device with a bigger screen, especially if you want to have a decent multi-touch interface and user experience. The bigger physical controls and the addition of a Home button are other welcome improvements.

Patel continues:

There was a glimmer of hope a year ago, when Apple updated the previous watch-sized iPod nano with new clock displays and even began selling nano watch bands in its retail stores. The nano wasn’t a very good watch, but the potential was blindingly obvious — it was Bluetooth and a connectivity protocol away from being the ultimate iPhone accessory. It felt like a brewing revolution in wearable computing that guaranteed an extra $149 in revenue from every iPhone owner.

The ultimate iPhone accessory”? Really? Are we even sure that this ‘smartwatch’ thing would have been the future for the iPod nano? Do you really want a ‘smartwatch’ with you along with the iPhone, essentially relaying to you the same kind of alerts and notifications the iPhone already provides? I don’t know, it seems a bit redundant to me (unless there’s some great feature or potential usage I’m not seeing). I feel for all those who manufactured accessories to transform the nano into a cool wristwatch, yet I find a bit naïve to expect that Apple would maintain the same (or a similar) design for the most chameleonic and unpredictable of all iPod models.

And yes, Kickstarter campaigns for high-quality accessories such as the TikTok and LunaTik wristbands were successful and proved that there was/is interest for this kind of thing. Who knows, maybe smartwatches are the next big gadget. Maybe a lot of owners of the previous nano were just looking for an alternative way to use an iPod with an otherwise terrible user interface.

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