What’s next for the iPod?

I just saw a post over on 37 signals blog asking whether the iPod is riding a wave of cool or a wave of usefulness.

… I’m wondering when the iPod will tip from cool to uncool. When everyone has something it begins to lose its luster. What can Apple do to ride the wave of coolness for as long as possible? Or is this product somehow immune because of its unique combination of coolness, usefulness, and stylishness? I wonder if the wave Apple is riding isn’t the “cool” wave afterall, but the “useful” wave masquerading as cool? Does anyone ever get tired of useful?

I see it like this: iPods are filling a gap that needed to be filled. People needed a portable way to listen to all those mp3s they downloaded from Napster, and the iPod was (and still is) the best way to do that.

However, I think the lives of all portable audio players are limited because cell phones are going to catch up soon. Why carry an iPod and a cellphone when you can plug some headphones into your phone and have all your music right there? Most new cell phones already play mp3 files, the only problem is storage, and that problem is becoming less and less every day as flash memory gets cheaper and bigger.

After that, we’ll see better digital cameras included in the phones. I’m not talking about replacing high end cameras, but have you noticed the flood of tiny cameras on the market? Nearly everyone I know has a tiny camera they carry around with them everywhere (not even including the cameras on their phones). Once these camera phones catch up to the little digital cameras, you have no reason to carry both gadgets.

Next comes the most interesting part: You start using your phone to download music directly from the iTunes store. Apple has already announced the partnership with Motorola, and I’m sure they understand that the life of the iPod is running out. Motorolapod Shuffle, anyone?

Now back to the camera: tons of people are already taking pictures with thier camera phones and e-mailing them directly to their friends, or posting them on the internet with sites like Flickr.

Why would I buy three different gadgets and fill up my pockets when I could combine them all into one? It’s only a matter of time before phone manufacturers add in more storage space for your mp3s, and hopefully they will stop blindly adding in mega pixels to their cameras and put some better lenses and CCD technology into the camera part of the phone.

UPDATE (02-14-2005): Sony Ericsson seems to agree with me, at least about the music part.

11 thoughts on “What’s next for the iPod?

  1. What I see coming (and what I would love to have now) is basically a mini-brick hard drive with everything on it. Cell-phone, camera, mp3 player, homework, everything. It would sit and charge in a cradle which connects it to your monitor/flatscreen and a full sized keyboard. It could even connect to land/high-speed lines instead of wireless if you wish to stay retro. Maybe have it sinc with a mini-brick in the wall for protection/backup. When you’re ready to go out, just grab the mini-brick and go! If you’re driving plug it into the dash, you can now call from a hands-free/voice activated cell with dash mounted speakerphone. It would obviously play whatever mp3’s you’d like. If you take the subway (hey – its the future – we all probably wear those tinfoil uniforms too.) you can hook headphones into it. It would need at least a palm-sized display to show the photo’s you’ve taken, local maps etc, and could make the interface adaptable and less clunky than buttons.

    Oh yeah, I want one of those.


  2. Most of that stuff is already here…

    You can already sync most phones using bluetooth – there’s all your contacts up to date and small files. Then if you need to transfer large files, there are usually USB 2 cables for newer phones that have memory card slots.

    As for the keyboard, I don’t see that as something too useful (yet) since you would just be using a laptop or desktop near by if you have to do any sort of major typing.

    The car thing – a few new cars already have bluetooth integration for hands free calling, all they would have to do is add in functionality for streaming the music to the car stereo (maybe some already do this). I’m not sure if bluetooth can handle any sort of nice quality music streaming, maybe bluetooth 2.0 or some other new technology, but I’m sure it’s not too far off.

  3. I don’t believe I’ll ever be sold on an all-in-one devide. I want my phone to be portable, get great reception, and have a long battery life. Getting email is a nice extra.

    I want my camera to be strong, small, silent, and to shoot film with amazing glass. I use a Leica for that.

    I want my music player to be small, have large capacity, excellent audio output, a great interface and a long battery life.

    Even if I were shooting digital, I can’t imagine wanting the to accept the inevitable shortcomings of a catchall device. Even the best phone cams are still crap compared to anything even remotely serious. Same for their audio abilities. I doubt a really killer combo could be made.

  4. the thing i don’t like about the ipod is the part where it’s so “modern”. Why can’t someone invent a personal digital device for hipsters; one that looks all crappy and doesn’t do such a good job at organizing my digital files…thereby reemphasizing how insanely outside of the mainstream I truly am?

  5. I wrote a long post about this a few weeks ago. I wholeheartedly agree that the all-in-one device is already upon us. Use a Treo 600/650 with a 1 GB SD card and it all starts to come into focus. See the iPod End Game.

  6. I think the treo is aimed at a different audience, though. It may seem like everyone uses a personal organizer if you are in the corporate world, but I think overall, people who use a Palm Pilot or some other PDA type device are a minority. The iPod was a device that was successful because it sells itself to the masses – something that a PDA may never do – or if one does, it will be a few years away. The real sweet spot will be something small that fits in your pocket, but still offers the main three things: a portable music player, a camera, and a cellphone.

    Right now the treo and other PDA devices are too bulky to appeal to your everyday user. Look at something like the S700 from Sony Ericsson, or the other 1MP+ phones from samsung and you’ll see the next iPod (as soon as they give you decent storage space and a better UI).

  7. Ah but a Treo is the same size as an iPod… almost exactly actually. It already has the three things you mention and it’s only lacking in two areas:

    1. Autosyncable interface to iTunes.

    2. Better camera.

  8. Tom (pricilapal/designer here) just got one today – I thought they were bigger from the images I had seen. I’m impressed at the size of the things. I’ll have to steal it and see how the audio playing is and check out some of the pics he has been taking.

    But I’m much more interested in phones like the Sony Ericsson S700i or the
    Z800 that have decent cameras (as far as snapshots go) and music capabilities. The S700i is a hot phone design wise as well, the only shortcoming is that it doens’t support Memory Stick DUO Pro cards, so the external memory tops out at 128MB. Seems like a stupid oversight on the part of Sony Ericsson.

  9. Yep, I think there will always be those interested in a Treo/iPod sized device and a those interested in smaller devices like the ones you mentioned. My only point is, each will have a more-than-adequate music player which should significantly lessen the demand for standalone iPods. If Apple gets into the game, it won’t matter to them. If they let Microsoft/Sony/whoever take over the space though, they’ll find their market may peak out this year.

    The size issue for me comes down to “how detailed do your interactions with the device need to be”? A Treo needs to be that size because people need to be able to write moderate sized e-mails with it as well as viewing the web. Take those two elements out and you can have a much smaller phone like some of the Sonys out there.

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