Three Questions About the Inevitable iPod Refresh

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A new iPhone and mini iPad aren’t the only Apple products rumored to launch this fall. According to a couple of unconfirmed reports, after two years of inactivity, Apple is also working on a refresh for some of its iPods.

The sometimes-accurate Macotakara writes that the fifth-generation iPod Touch will have the same 4-inch display as the rumored next iPhone, and the same processor as the existing iPhone 4S. The next iPod Touch may also have an aluminum back, with a hole on the lower side whose purpose is unknown, according to Macotakara’s unnamed source.

(MORE: 5 Benefits of a Thinner iPhone with In-Cell Display Technology)

Meanwhile, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo thinks Apple will once again revise its iPod Nano, but offered no details, as MacRumors reports. Macotakara (again) reported that Apple will abandon the tiny square shape of the existing Nano, and instead go with a larger rectangular design that includes an iPhone-like home button.

Of course, neither of these rumors could turn out to be true, but I’ll eat an earbud if Apple does nothing to its iPod line this year. Here are a few things I’m wondering about how the inevitable iPod refresh will go down:

Where Does the iPod Touch Fit In?

Let’s assume for a moment that Apple is working on a smaller, cheaper iPad in the $200 to $300 range. That would occupy the same price territory as the iPod Touch, which ranges from $200 to $400. If both products have roughly the same cost, what’s the sales pitch for the iPod Touch? Sure, it fits more easily in the pocket than a tablet, but that’s no necessity for the increasing number of people who already own iPhones. One possibility: The starting price of the iPod Touch drops below $200 for the first time ever.

Is Apple Out of the Smart Watch Game?

It’s unclear if Apple expected the current iPod Nano to take off as a wrist watch replacement, but the company has rolled with the trend by expanding the number of available watch faces and selling third-party wrist bands through its own store. Now that products like Pebble have sparked more interest in smart watches, I’d expect Apple to keep building on the idea — yet rumors suggest otherwise. If Apple launches a larger iPod Nano, will a new wrist-sized device step in to replace the existing Nano, or is Apple ceding the market to scrappy startups?

Meta-Question: Will Techies Still Debate the Demise of the iPod Classic?

Every year around August or September, speculation about the death of the iPod Classic abounds. (I’m guilty of partaking in the tradition, and so is my colleague Harry McCracken.) Yet the iPod Classic continues to stick around for $249, proving that Apple doesn’t want to erase its only solution for huge music libraries. So maybe in 2012, a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario will occur, in which people stop wondering if this old gadget is done for. (And in a shocking twist, maybe Apple will finally kill it after all.)

MORE: Would Apple Create a Smartwatch? If So, When?