The iPod Touch: Now Entirely Phone-Free!

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It’s a timeless arc. We’ve seen it play out 100 times. (Is that about right? 100? How many keynotes has Jobs given?) Some solid incremental updates — stubby new Nanos, with hard drives, new colors, video…ooo, ringtones, that’s a no-brainer…

And then, yeah. OK. Now that is pretty cool. The big reveal at the Apple press event today was the iPod Touch, an iPod with that full-body touch interface the iPhone has made famous. It basically looks like an iPhone, but without the phone.

And yeah, I’m having that gadget-lust feeling. The touchscreen is great, of course — I’ll take it over the clickwheel, sure. But this thing has Wifi in it, too, and it runs Safari. You can do the pinch-and-squeeze thing with your photos. It’s basically a scrappy little media appliance without the hassle of a phone contract. I’m not seeing the icon for that sweet Google Maps application the iPhone had (am I missing it? why would they leave it out?) but I am hearing that the Touch can do something the iPhone can’t: download songs directly from iTunes, over the invisible ether, without having to go through a computer. Nice. And it’s not a crippled version of the iTunes store, either, the way the iPhone had a crippled version of YouTube. It’s the full monty.

At $299 (8GB) and $399 (16GB), this is quite a wantable object, and it shows us that Apple is capable of taking that touchscreen interface and migrating it to other product lines. I expect that that glassy black multitouch face will become as much of an Apple design signature as the candy-colored iMac look was, or the bone-white iPod. (I imagine it spreading stealthily over other Apple products the way the black Venom suit snuck onto Spider-man.) Touchscreens just make too much sense for Apple. And for the consumer, actually: they’ll help slow down the runaway upgrade agenda that so many companies force on buyers. Before, when you wanted to add a new feature, you had to buy a new device with a new button to press so you could use your new feature. Now, since the interface is all software, your feature-set isn’t as constrained by the hardware package. You want a new feature, you just download new firmware. Nice.

I do have one complaint. I use the iPhone as an iPod quite a bit, especially for listening to audiobooks. And when you have a long audio file like an audiobook, it’s very tricky to jump around within that file with any precision using a touchscreen interface. Even a tiny twitch from your (or anyway my) fat, clumsy fingers corresponds to minutes of audio-time, so if you lose your place, or want to replay a passage, you can look forward to minutes of fiddling. For that particular purpose, the clickwheel was actually a more usable interface.

There. Apple quibble #22767 entered and logged. Now back to gadget-lust.

p.s. looks like Jobs has dropped the 4GB iPhone entirely, and dropped the price on the 8GB model to $399. I imagine we’ll see some rage out of the early adopters, who paid $599 for an 8GB iPhone just two and a half months ago. I feel pretty bad for them. For about 2 seconds. OK, done.

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