...Long live the iPods

Appl e today unveiled its latest round of updates to its iPod lineup. In case you are trying to sort through the announcements, in an effort to decide which iPod(s) to buy for the upcoming holiday season, here are my instant recommendations:

The iPod touch. The iPod touch is the one to get if you can afford the extra $100 bucks (over a nano) and are not bothered by its larger size. By adding volume controls and an external speaker, the iPod touch finally achieves major feature parity with the iPhone. The touch can now be honestly described as a phoneless (okay, and cameraless) iPhone. For some people (including myself), the iPhone itself remains the more attractive choice -- if only because it combines two devices (a mobile phone and an iPod touch) into one. But the iPhone is also much more expensive (when you consider the cost of the required two-year contract) and locks you into AT&T (here in the U.S.). For those who find all that untenable (of which there are many), the iPod touch is a spectacular alternative. Get one!

The iPod nano. This is still a keeper. The nano just keeps getting better. More significantly, at $100 less than a comparable iPod touch, it remains the smallest least-expensive "full" iPod that you can buy. The nano is the one that will continue to fill the most Christmas stockings this season. For me, the nano's biggest improvement is the combination of its new shape plus accelerometer. By allowing you to shift from a vertical to a widescreen view, the nano becomes a more pleasing device for watching video.

The iPod shuffle. I would not recommend anyone buy an iPod shuffle -- unless price is the overriding consideration. If the cost of an iPod nano is out of your reach, and you are determined to have some sort of iPod, go ahead and plunk down $49 for a shuffle. But be aware that you are getting a screenless iPod that has almost none of the features that make its siblings a success. I am not sure how profitable the shuffle is for Apple. But I strongly suspect that as soon as Apple can find its way to pricing an iPod nano below $100, it will dump the shuffle entirely.

The iPod classic. I would not recommend anyone buy an iPod classic -- unless you truly need its 120GB of storage. Why? Because for $20 less(!) than the cost of a classic, you can get an 8GB iPod touch. For just $50 more than a classic, you can get a 16GB iPod touch. If either of those sizes are sufficient (and based on the success of previous generations of iPod nanos, most iPod users find these sizes more than sufficient), you are much better off buying a touch. The iPod touch is an even better iPod than a classic and -- as a bonus -- offers several dozen non-iPod features (including Wi-Fi capability and access to App Store apps). Some people may claim that they prefer the classic, regardless of storage considerations, because they neither want nor need the non-iPod features of the touch. Or that they prefer the click-wheel interface to a touchscreen. Okay. So Apple can keep the classic around for those few holdouts. But, as with the shuffle, expect Apple to shunt the classic to a virtual corner somewhere. It is telling that Apple's press releases from today don't even mention the upgraded shuffle or classic.

I can imagine a not-too-distant future where the iPod shuffle and iPod classic no longer exist. A scaled back iPod nano may remain for those who still want its simplicity, small size and low cost. But the vast majority of Apple's sales will be going to the touch and the iPhone. At that point, Apple's refrain could be: "The (old) iPods are dead; long live the (new) iPods."

P.S. As for the iPhone 2.1 software and iTunes 8.0, also announced today, I'll be covering them in future articles.