Apple quietly launched some new iPods on Wednesday, introducing a few new colors and giving its dedicated music player a technical overhaul. In a press release, the company said that the new music players have an A8 chip that makes them six times faster than their predecessor, an 8 MP camera and the company's fitness-tracking M8 chip.
The new iPod starts at $199 and comes in several colors, including some new ones -- gold, silver, space grey, blue, pink and red, which are also now available for the iPod nano and iPod shuffle. And, for real music lovers, Apple's offering a new 128 GB iPod touch for $329.
Overall, it's a solid update. Any iPod touch fan out there should be happy with it -- especially since it's been three years since the last major update.
"But," I can hear you say, "who cares about the iPod anymore?"
It's a good question. The importance of the iPod has certainly been on the decline for years, as many people started using their smartphones to fill their basic music needs. The rise of streaming music made it even less necessary to have a dedicated music device, since storage was not as much of a problem. It certainly has fallen from the time when Apple used to announce its new iPods from its keynote stage every fall. The company has even removed the iPod as a separate reporting category from its earnings reports, opting to lump it into the "other" category.
Still, I'd argue that the iPod and dedicated music players like it still have a few niche audiences to serve.
Not everyone wants to keep their music on their phone, after all. If you buck the latest trends and purchase a lot of music, it probably makes sense to give that music its own dedicated storage space. Other people may not like to stream music for various reasons -- maybe they prefer to listen to just their own music, have bad Internet connectivity where they are, or are really devoted to their own playlists.
The iPod touch has also long been recommended as a good starter device for kids -- to test if they're up to the responsibility of a full smartphone or tablet. It still has access to apps, messaging programs and games but doesn't carry the monthly data costs or higher price tag of those other devices. An updated front-facing camera for better selfies (yes, that's a selling point) and Facetime calls may also appeal to the younger set. At $199, it's definitely still a serious investment, but a lower-risk one if you want to see if your kid can handle a high-tech possession.
The addition of the M8 tracking chip could also find the iPod a market among fitness buffs who don't want to take their phone along with them on workouts and runs. With the better chip, those more-active types can still track steps and other metrics without having to be connected to their e-mail and phone during the small bit of me-time they've built into their day.
At the very least, there will probably be a lot of people who want to upgrade their current iPods. As of last October, when Apple last broke out the numbers for iPod, it was still a $410 million business for the company. Sure, that's almost a negligible fraction of the $42 billion in total revenue Apple logged that quarter. But it's not nothing. And by waiting so long between updates, Apple's probably got a pretty good deal on parts by now; almost certainly enough that offering this infrequent upgrade is worth it to the company's bottom line.
No one should read this refresh as a hint that the iPod is coming back to its former glory, re-surging or doing anything but quietly humming along toward oblivion. It's never going to hit the heights of its aughts-era popularity again -- every audience I just described as ideal iPod owners is moving against market trends. They're people who have a desire to keep things separate and more disconnected.
For those people, there's still a place for the iPod in their gadget lineup. And that makes it worth it to Apple to revisit from time to time.