The new iPod says a lot about Apple as a company right now
- Apple introduced a new iPod touch this week.
- The last iPod touch was announced in July 2015 - almost four years ago - but the new iPod touch looks identical to the previous model. Only the internals have been updated.
- Apple's approach to the iPod says a lot about the company.
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Apple introduced a new iPod touch this week.
But it's tough to call this iPod touch "new." This model is a minor update of the last iPod touch from 2015, which itself was a modest update from the iPod touch from 2013.
Apple is keeping the iPod alive, but just barely. The 2019 iPod touch - a brand-new device - is running on a chip Apple introduced back in 2016.
The new iPod touch says a lot about Apple right now.
Profitability over everything
Apple is one of the most valuable and most profitable companies in the world. But to achieve this level of success, Apple walks a very fine line to create quality, high-end products for customers that are also not too expensive to make. Apple must regularly make decisions to balance quality and profitability.
Take Apple's recent debacle with its laptop keyboards, for example: MacBook Pro customers have complained about Apple's butterfly keyboards since the design was first introduced in 2015, but Apple has yet to redesign the keyboard four years later - it would be significantly more expensive to redesign the chassis to fit a new keyboard than it would to make minor adjustments to the current keyboard, sans redesign.
Apple even opened up a keyboard repair program, which certainly wasn't cheap to do, but it was cheaper than redesigning a brand-new laptop for the sake of these problematic keyboards.
In other words, Apple needs to get mileage out of each new product it makes. That's why iPhones, as big a moneymaker as they are, usually have two full years as the "current" design, including one "S" year, until Apple moves onto something new - because it would be way too expensive to design a brand-new phone every single year.
Apple does the same thing with its iPads, Mac desktops, MacBook laptops, and pretty much everything else it makes. Hardware isn't cheap to design or mass-produce, so Apple likes to squeeze as much from each design as possible.
That brings us to the iPod touch, Apple's little music player that could.
The iPod has been one of Apple's most iconic devices in its history. But imagine the blowback Apple would receive if it cancelled the iPod, one of its most beloved devices, simply because of poor sales.
The iPod isn't just a gadget; it represents Apple's unique philosophy, located at the intersection of technology and the arts. The iPod (and iTunes) helped launch Apple into the cultural stratosphere, and it wouldn't be where it is today without it. The iPod laid the foundation for the iPhone: Getting music players into people's pockets, paired with those iconic white earbuds, may have been Apple's way of preparing people for the smartphone era. Cancelling the iPod, however unsuccessful it might be at the moment, would be sad from a symbolic point of view.
And so, Apple introduced a "new" iPod this week, but it's hardly new; it's almost identical to the previous model from 2015, which itself is almost identical to the model before that from 2013.
The iPod is a shadow of its former self
Before the iPhone, the iPod was Apple's cash cow. And Apple was visibly invested into its music player.
Apple designed new iPod hardware every single year between 2001 and 2007. Six generations of iPod in six years, each one different from the last.
Around this time, Apple also built two iPod "Mini" devices, four generations of iPod Shuffle, and seven generations of iPod Nano. The first iPod touch was introduced in 2007, the same year Apple debuted the first iPhone.
The iPhone took away a lot of the excitement from the iPod: After all, the iPhone was an iPod plus a phone plus an internet communication device. But since that hectic period in Apple's history, the company has done little to reinvigorate any interest in its once-beloved iPod, aside from refreshing internals every now and again.
The iPod may not be the profit-monster it was back in the early 2000s, but it's sad that almost 20 years after the first design, Apple has shown no intention of making an iPod into a product people can get excited about right now. Even if the iPod touch remains functionally identical to the last model from 2015, it's a shame that we're not seeing Apple try an interesting new hardware design - even this weird new game console with a crank on it seems more interesting than the new iPods.
Apple could have even just copied its recent iPhone designs to the iPod touch, removing the home button in favor of an edge-to-edge display, but it didn't seem to want to do that. It was probably too expensive to redesign the iPod, given the comparatively little interest in the product.
The new iPod says a lot about Apple right now: It will innovate, but only when it's strategic and/or profitable to do so. Otherwise, it's not worth the risk.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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