The new iPod touch is a nostalgic nod to the past, but it could be important to Apple's future

Apple
  • Apple launched a new iPod touch earlier this year, marking the first time it’s updated the portable music player since 2015.
  • In an era during which we use our smartphones for nearly everything, it’s unclear exactly where the iPod fits in.
  • But it could be a smart way for Apple to expand its hardware and services to different audiences, considering it’s the cheapest iOS device you can buy.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

When Apple cofounder and former CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in 2007, he famously called it “an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator” all in one device. It was the first modern smartphone, setting the stage for today’s mobile devices with which we do everything from listening to music to answering emails and paying the bills – and occasionally talking on the phone, too.

The idea of carrying around a compact, rectangular device that can do just about everything has been the norm for more than a decade. Which is why it’s somewhat surprising to see Apple release a new iPod in 2019, a device that rose to popularity in an era when the concept of having your entire music library in your pocket was still novel and new to most people.

Smartphones quickly replaced our MP3 players as the primary means of listening to music on-the-go, and that’s evidenced by the drop in iPod sales after the iPhone launched. Sales of iPods peaked in 2008 with 54.8 million units sold, according to data from Statista published in 2017, and began to trend downward in the years following. While iPod sales accounted for 40% of Apple’s revenue in 2006, according to the data, that figure steadily dropped starting in 2007 following the original iPhone’s launch.

By 2014, the last year Apple broke out iPod sales, the music player had accounted for just 1% of Apple’s revenue, says Statista.

That begs an important question in 2019: Why launch a new iPod now? Who is the new iPod touch for? Why would anyone choose to use it instead of a smartphone? I spent a couple of weeks using the new iPod touch, and I’m not sure I found those answers. But I have a few ideas.


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A trip down memory lane

The new iPod touch, which Apple released on May 28, feels like a trip down memory lane – and not just because it’s an iPod. It looks a lot like its predecessor from 2015, which is to say it resembles a combination of the iPhone 5 and the iPhone 7. It has a 4-inch display and an old-fashioned home button with no fingerprint scanner, just like the iPhone 5, but its back is uniformly coated in aluminium, just like the iPhone 7.

Apple’s new music player runs on the company’s A10 Fusion chip, the same processor that powers the iPhone 7, making it powerful enough to run augmented reality applications. The iPod touch has a 4-inch 1,136 by 640 resolution screen with 326 pixels per inch, meaning its display is the same size and resolution as the one found on the iPhone SE from 2016 and the iPhone 5. Despite running on an Apple processor that’s now a couple of years old, the iPod touch was still able to run graphics-heavy games with ease in my experience. I didn’t notice any stutters or lag when playing games like “Dead Trigger 2” or “Shadowgun Legends.”

The seventh-generation iPod touch comes in pink, silver, space grey, blue, and Product Red, and pricing starts at $US200 for 32 GB, $US300 for 128 GB, $US400 for 256 GB – and yes, it does have a headphone jack, a rare find on today’s mobile devices. It will also support iOS 13, the new iPhone software Apple is launching this fall that came out in beta on Monday.

Ipod touchApple

If you’re an avid iPhone user that owns any model newer than an iPhone 5 or iPhone SE, using the iPod touch is going to take some getting used to, simply because the screen is particularly tiny compared to that of modern smartphones. I often found myself struggling to type without making mistakes, since they keyboard felt small and cramped compared to the phone I’m accustomed to using on a daily basis.

Because the iPod isn’t meant to replace your iPhone, it makes sense that it wouldn’t have all of the same features and benefits found on Apple’s smartphones, like the company’s facial recognition technology or a high-resolution camera. But even with this in mind, I was a little disappointed to find that there was no Touch ID fingerprint sensor in the home button, regardless of the fact that I only unlock my iPod about a fraction of the number of times I open my iPhone each day. Inconveniences aside, my iPod holds a lot of personal information, since I restored it from my iPhone’s backup, and I wish it was protected by both my fingerprint and a passcode.

You can use the iPod touch to do many of the same things you might use your smartphone for, like checking email, snapping photos, watching movies, and browsing social media. But given its smaller, less-sharp screen and lower resolution camera, I unsurprisingly found that the iPod is still best used as a dedicated music player.

What did surprise me, however, was how the iPod made it much easier to filter out distractions compared to using my smartphone. Because there’s no cellular version of the iPod, I couldn’t obsessively check my email, Facebook, or work chatroom while listening to music unless I had a Wi-Fi connection, which usually isn’t the case during my daily subway commute.

A place for the iPod touch in 2019

The iPod touch in 2019 may not seem as relevant as it once was, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it. It feels like a first step toward an iPhone for children that may be too young for their own smartphone, considering it’s significantly less expensive than an iPhone or an iPad and doesn’t require a data plan. That could make the iPod touch a gateway device for ushering in new iPhone customers – which is more important than ever for the company as customers are upgrading their phones less often.

Starting at $US200, the iPod touch isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s still the cheapest iOS device Apple sells. And that’s especially critical now that the company is focusing on expanding its services business with new gaming and TV offerings this fall, giving potential customers a less-expensive path into Apple’s ecosystem.

Or perhaps Apple’s iconic music player is just too beloved for the company to let it die, regardless of whether or not it still fits into our lives.

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