Apple Stumbles Over the New nano

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.


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.”