Apple Stumbles Over the New nano

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

This year’s 2010 iPod nano is dramatically different from last year’s model. It looks entirely different (smaller overall, square instead of rectangular) and works entirely differently (via a multi-touch display instead of a click wheel).

It isn’t until you start studying the specs, however, that you discover that the most significant changes in the new nano are not what features have been added, but what have been subtracted.

To fully appreciate how much has disappeared, I went back and listened to last year’s September 2009 iPod Event. The new nano was introduced as the “one more thing” at the Event, Apple’s way of saying it was the biggest deal of the day’s announcements.

What made the 2009 nano such a big deal? Primarily, the addition of a video camera. Steve Jobs said “We’ve seen video explode in last few years…We want to get in on this.” He specifically noted the success of the Flip camera, citing how the new nano would surpass the Flip in almost every way: smaller, cheaper, and with more features.

In summarizing all that was new in the new nano, the top four items on Steve’s list were, in order:

• Video camera

• Larger 2.2 inch display

• Polished anodized aluminum

• Microphone and speaker

The new nano eliminates the video camera, eliminates the larger display, and eliminates the built-in microphone and speaker. Only the aluminum remains (at least, I’m assuming it’s still made of aluminum).

But Apple did not stop there. They eliminated the nano’s ability to play video imported from iTunes as well as removing the iPod games option (features that had been included for several years). Lastly, Apple dropped the nano’s hallmark click wheel, opting instead for a touchscreen interface.

While a touchscreen has its obvious upsides (just ask any iOS device user!), a touch interface makes it harder to navigate playlists without looking at the screen. At the 2009 iPod Event, Phil Schiller, in describing the iPod shuffle, stated that iPod users “really appreciate the ability to control and change…without ever having to look down at the device.” Apple apparently now has a different opinion regarding this ability and the nano.

It might have helped if the earphones included with the nano contained a remote, so you could at least pause and skip without touching the screen. But this is not the case. To get this capability, you’ll need to pay extra for Apple’s optional earphones.

Applespeak

Steve Jobs mentioned none of these subtractions at last week’s Event. This is not at all surprising. These Events are marketing tools, designed to introduce and kick-off sales of Apple’s latest offerings. I wouldn’t expect to hear Steve say anything like:

“Remember that video camera that we touted last year as the most incredible new feature of the nano? Turns out it was a mistake. Big mistake. It’s gone now. Along with a half-dozen other features. And guess what? We eliminated these features without dropping the price of the nano by even one penny. Isn’t that amazing?”

Still (although I know it’s a bit naive to even hope for this), I would have liked Apple to at least mention the rationales that lie behind these decisions — in a press release or in a quote to a reporter. Assuming Apple has good reasons for these moves, tell us what they are.

It’s not hard to imagine plausible explanations: Apple probably discovered that the nano’s video camera was not helping sales, so why not dump it? Further, Apple may believe that iPod sales will ultimately benefit from repositioning the nano (together with the shuffle) as music-only devices — focusing on their most popular function. With the addition of a video camera to the iPod touch, Apple’s not-so-hidden message is: If you want an iPod that does significantly more than play audio and is bigger than an oversized postage stamp, get a touch. [Yes, I’m ignoring the iPod classic here.]

Although I’ll reserve final judgement until I have had time to play with the new nano, I believe the device is not destined for greatness. I’m already willing to bet that, when next year’s iPod Event rolls around, we’ll see another major nano redesign, as Apple at least somewhat backpedals from this year’s model. Of course, it won’t be described that way. It will instead be introduced as the “all new, amazing 2011 iPod nano.”

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Comments

dwallin

Spot on Ted!

Tiger

Ted,

In many ways, I think you hit the nail on the head, but I reached a slightly different conclusion.

It’s more likely to go away altogether. The iPod line is now fractured too far. The Nano is little more than a ShufflePro.

As the iPhone and iPod Touch mature, the entry level models are losing ground. The Shuffle makes a great giveaway gift and music player for an eight year old, but realistically, there are too many better options. It can go away, as can the new Nano.  I can jog with my iPhone on an arm band all too easily.

Now we all just await the next big thing (or little).

BakedAlaska

There are real advantages of a clickwheel, most importantly being able to stop a song/podcast by feel while the device is still in your pocket. Now, such a simple button-click is impossible in any new iPod except the shuffle (which has its own limitations).

You can get a 5th-gen 16Gb Nano for $140 now—seems like a good deal to me.

geoduck

Agreed but…
IMO the mistake was not this year, it was in 2009. The error was not in taking the video out of the Nano, it was putting it in there in the first place.

They were trying to make the Nano do something it wasn’t meant to do. The Nano is a music player for those that want more than 2 Gb of music with them. I would agree that the touch interface is a bit problematic. They needed something to differentiate it from the Shuffle (and I’ve wondered about the utility of a 1 inch touch screen ever since the first spy-shots hit the web a few months ago). However, now that the Nano has been cleaned up, now that it is a pure music device again, my wife will probably find one under the tree this year. That didn’t happen last year.

Lancashire-Witch

I only have one problem with the Nano I bought last year - my wife won’t release her grip on it.

iphonzie

One big market for the nano is the fitness center crowd, and that appears to be exactly the market the new nano is focussed on. It still has the FM receiver so you can listen to the private FM broadcasts of the TVs in the gym, and it eliminated the camera, which was a problem for many facilities that disallow cameras in the gym for privacy reasons.

Ted Landau

IMO the mistake was not this year, it was in 2009. The error was not in taking the video out of the Nano, it was putting it in there in the first place.

I agree with you ? at least to some extent. My feeling at the time was that most nano owners will also have a mobile phone that likely includes a video camera. It may not be as good as the one in the nano, but it may be good enough. As such, the camera in the nano becomes overkill. Who needs to carry around two video cameras in their pocket?

Still, I don’t see eliminating the camera at this point to be a plus ? especially when you also eliminate video playback and don’t drop the price.

geoduck

The big question I have is why they didn’t put one camera in the iPod Touch in 2009. With the bigger screen and more memory, that has always seemed like the most logical place for one.

pader

Sorry but I think the repositioning is more than obvious. The video, and gaming features have moved to the touch. The nano-video is no longer needed or wanted (cannibalization). I would like to see a lower price otherwise I love the new Nano format.

Matthew

The biggest problem with the camera in my 5G nano is its position right where you cover it with your right hand. Oops.

I too like the ability to pause and skip by feel, especially in the car.

Tom

If you liked the old Nano, stock up. If you don’t like the new one, don’t buy it.

Hagen

Still, I don?t see eliminating the camera at this point to be a plus ? especially when you also eliminate video playback and don?t drop the price.

I’d expect all of that cost savings from leaving the camera out would be soaked up by the added cost of the touch screen.

I also easily see the camera being dropped for space reasons, as much as for marketing strategy reasons. The thing has about 30% less volume. Something had to go.

This is a whole-cloth redesign of the Nano. Give it a year of design feedback and parts/production streamlining, and then see if there’s a price decrease.

xmattingly

I think product differentiation is the number one reason for the exclusions. Of course, there is the “wow” factor of shrinking down one of their most important iPods even more.

Frankly, if I were in the market for a Nano I couldn’t care two poots about it having a video camera, or really even an FM antenna. The click wheel and the larger screen were important features for me. I just can’t see jogging and fumbling with a touch screen… that doesn’t make sense at all… let alone fumbling with it in rush hour traffic!

Isn’t it funny that Jobs touted the re-buttoned Shuffle as “a return to what people prefer”, but in the next breath rolls out the new button-less Nano??

The big question I have is why they didn?t put one camera in the iPod Touch in 2009. With the bigger screen and more memory, that has always seemed like the most logical place for one.

Not sure if you followed the news last year, but word has it they yanked cameras out of the Touches at the last minute, as they were having problems with the manufacturing process.

But again, like I mentioned before product differentiation must be the biggest reasons for the addition/removals on both iPods. “For only another $100, you get a larger screen iPod that can play and record video”.

Ted Landau

I also easily see the camera being dropped for space reasons, as much as for marketing strategy reasons. The thing has about 30% less volume. Something had to go.

That assumes there was some requirement that the nano shrink as much as it did. I see no a immediate advantage to the smaller size, unless the shuffle-style clip is appealing.

AdamC

Ted you are jumping the gun, additional features will be built on top of the present features. How to you expect Apple to sell future reiteration of the nano if they were to put all the features in this present one.

Would you put all the features in a product the first time round and left with nothing for the next one?

M.E.

I am beginning to think that Apple’s strategy (deliberate or not) is not to keep the most current lineup of players to be filled with each possible feature. Rather, with the enormous share of the market, they can differentiate in ways that would entice owners of somewhat “stale” technology to upgrade, while older versions are still available if others prefer them.

For instance, for me, the new nano (or the “shuffle touch,” which is what I think it really is) is precisely in the sweet spot—I’ve been wanting exactly this form factor and features for a couple of years now. So, I have the incentive to trade my 4 year old shuffle for the new nano (and my iPhone is going to lend the nano the headphones with a remote). So, Apple is going to get my money now—but they weren’t getting it with the old-style nano, which I didn’t like, since it was too bulky for me.

On the other hand, many of the people for whom the older nanos were the perfect players have either already bought one, or will shortly, before they are phased out. So, their needs are met for a while. And even after that, they are not really disappearing—they’ll be around in third party stores, and refurbished ones will be sold by Apple for at least a year, I imagine, if not more. So, if a customer with different taste and needs wants a video-capable screen in a relatively small (but not necessarily clip-to-your-shorts small) device, Apple will have a way to sell it to him.

Think about it in the same framework as their, say, computer lineup. The new Macbook Pro’s just came off the line, and they are wonderful. So, if you wanted to get a new high-powered laptop, you can now very happily get one of them. On the other hand, if you want an Air for its portability, you can buy it too, even if it’s not the company’s most recent design.

wab95

Ted:

You are clearly not enthralled with the new Nano offerings. Perhaps it suggests that this Nano is simply not for you. Nor was it designed to be. On the other hand, my teen-aged daughter already wants one - a pink one (don’t know if they will come in pink). It was designed for her. It seems to me that the entire iPod line up, and here I’ll include the iOS devices simply because they play music, are in continual evolution, but as others have commented, appear to be diverging into very different types of devices.

The strategy behind the nearly annual changes to the relatively inexpensive (therefore replaceable) Nano may be more than a simple refresh, but Apple keeping pace with an evolving market whose tastes change with each season. Like my teenaged daughter’s.

Tardis

Ted:

I think, rather than “Apple Stumbles Over the New nano”, your headline should read “Apple Re-positions the new Nano”.

Other readers, pada and wab95 in particular, seem to understand more about Apple’s motivation. Apple knows more than it admits about how well each iPod sells. Looks like the last model 8GB version sold many more units than the 16GB version. Why? Cost. These are young buyers spending their hard-earned pocket money, or parents and others buying them as presents. You and I might see the value of the extra 8GB, but these buyers don’t. Looks like Apple thought video on the Nano might have been a kicker, buyers didn’t.

So now, buyers concerned with features and value are kicked upstairs to the iPod Touch, which now has Face Time which may be the killer App for this model.

At the low end of the market, Apple is competing with a huge number of low quality devices, and offers a higher-quality product for slightly premium pricing. Those who want low entry cost for music and sports get the Shuffle, for those who want buttons, and Nano, for those who want Cool.

Plus, with the touch interface on the Nano, all those tiny fingers are learning to manipulate a touch device, iOS or not for now, so that the next time ................

Ted Landau

I think, rather than ?Apple Stumbles Over the New nano?, your headline should read ?Apple Re-positions the new Nano?.

You are clearly not enthralled with the new Nano offerings. Perhaps it suggests that this Nano is simply not for you.

As I consider comments such as these, I realize that the column could have indeed been improved by perhaps a better headline and certainly by a clearer focus. I had three different agendas in the article, and did not always differentiate them well. They were:

1. To offer a critical assessment of certain aspects of the nano, primarily my concern as to the the practicality of the touchscreen.

2. To call attention to the fact that Apple has subtracted numerous features from the previous nano. To me, this was newsworthy all by itself. I can’t recall any product, in the history of Apple, where so many existing features were stripped from a model. It’s more like the new nano is an entirely different product rather than an upgrade.

By calling attention to this, I did not mean that it would have been better to retain all of these features (which is probably the biggest source of confusion in the article). As I implied, I believe that it was wise to dump at least some of them. This includes the video camera and the games feature.

3. To “marvel” at the way marketing departments handle such changes. Of particular interest here was the video camera. Only a year ago, Apple touted it as the most significant new feature of any iPod announced that day. It was the “big story.” Now, it is gone without even a mention from Apple. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that you should retain a healthy dose of skepticism when listening to the hype surrounding any new product announcements.

wab95

As I consider comments such as these, I realize that the column could have indeed been improved by perhaps a better headline

No, Ted, we heard you, and many of us are with you. Put another way, you could have titled it, “This is not your father’s Nano”.

Tardis

Ted,

I appreciate your insight, and it is true that not many reviewers have noted how much the features of the new iPod Nano have been changed and downgraded. However, if you look back at previous iPods, you can see many examples of features being added to one model and then to others in the range, or subtracted, depending either on what users found useful, or what Apple was including for experimental reasons.

Games on the original iPod, for example. Photos, videos, calendars and contacts - all of these introduced as “extras”, some later discontinued on particular models. All of these are now absolute standards on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Steve Jobs, and/or Apple’s marketing, are very good at presenting the good side as new features and avoiding describing things that didn’t sell so well as failures. Doesn’t every company do this, and what would you think if they did not?

“Last year we thought HD video for 8-year olds would be killer, and hoped to shift 10 million of these. But only 5 million of you suckers bought them. So now we’ve put on the old clip that we took off the old iPod Shuffle, and we’re expecting millions of you suckers to trash last year’s version and buy this”

will not inspire confidence and excitement, compared with such marketing phrases as “this is the coolest iPod Nano we’ve ever made”. Jobs or not, which would you buy?

Tom

I’ve been thinking that there is no more Nano. It turned into a 16GB Shuffle with a window.

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