Apple’s Most Curious Move: Killing the Wearable iPod Nano

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Apple, Techland Illustration

If you look at the iPod Nano through the years, it’s hard to tell what Apple wants the product to be.

Apple has reinvented the diminutive music (and sometimes video) player on a nearly annual basis, swinging it from tall and skinny to short and stout, adding and removing cameras and flirting with apps. None of these changes gave the Nano much direction, and it’s always floated in an awkward middle ground between the budget iPod Shuffle, the capacity-laden iPod Classic and the powerhouse iPod Touch.

(MORE: Apple Rolls Out ‘Maximum Funness’ iPod Touch, Revamps iPod Nano Line)

That all changed in 2010, when Apple introduced the sixth-generation iPod Nano, a tiny square with a touch screen and an iOS-like set of built-in apps. I don’t know how well it sold–Apple doesn’t break down iPod sales by model–but the concept was exciting. Accessory makers sold wristbands that turned the Nano into a watch, and armbands that made them ideal for workouts. Apple even rolled with the idea and added new watchfaces and a workout tracker to the Nano in 2011.

Apple

But this year, Apple is rebooting the Nano again. The product has transformed into a credit-card-sized, feature-crippled iPod Touch, with a handful of built-in apps (and inexplicably ugly circular icons), a hardware home button and the ability to play videos. It’s definitely too large to be wearable.

Maybe in the short term, a super-sized Nano is the right call for maximum sales. But by nixing the wearable Nano, Apple is missing out on an opportunity to experiment. Just as the company considers the Apple TV to be a “hobby” with big potential, the smaller iPod Nano could have been a chance to learn about wearable computers.

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

The idea of wearable tech is starting to gather steam. Smart watches such as the Pebble will allow users to keep an eye on their digital lives even while their phones are stowed away. Google is working on computerized eyeglasses, which can augment reality and keep important information in view. Hackers are starting to implant simple hardware under their skin.

Although Apple’s wearable iPod Nano wasn’t as ambitious as those ideas, it had the right building blocks. The software was smooth and responsive. The hardware was small enough to look sensible on the wrist. Prices were already reasonable, and unlike small projects such as Pebble, Apple’s Nano was already mass-produced and highly visible to consumers.

As Tim Bajarin pointed out last April, the next step for Apple could have been to add a Bluetooth connection to the Nano, allowing it to show incoming messages, news alerts and more from a paired smartphone. Instead, Apple only added basic Bluetooth functionality for wireless audio and went back to pitching the Nano as a small music and video player.

I want to be optimistic that Apple hasn’t written off wearable computing. Maybe the company learned some things from the Nano and is now going back to the lab to work on something better. But I’m saddened to see that even if Apple has interest in the concept, it’s no longer toying with it out in the open.

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10 comments
Gibscreen
Gibscreen

"Apple doesn’t break down iPod sales by model". Bull! They just don't release the break down. Can't believe I just read this in a Time article.

mlechman
mlechman

I'll try posting this again. Sorry if it shows up twice. Ahem. The reason why Apple killed the nano watch is because they are most likely working on a real iOS watch for use with the iPhone and iPad. The original nano watch didn't use iOS (it looked like it did, but it didn't) therefore in order to produce a real smart watch Apple is rebuilding it from the ground up instead of simply Frankenstein-ing an existing product design. You really think Apple would enter the smart watch arena without some major fanfare and an all-new product? Come on guys, this is Apple, not Samsung we're talking about. Although I'm sure Samsung will follow suit as usual and produce their own smart watch, albeit with a massively huge screen and a stylus ;)

Blakniss
Blakniss

I agree 100%.

That was the biggest disappointment for me. 

I was looking forward to a nano cum smart watch. 

A small hope still lingers for the alleged October announcement of the iPad Mini. Hopefully, the come back to their senses and give us that smart watch. 

JVIPER88
JVIPER88

It would seem that the reason why Apple made this change was because the 6G iPod Nano didn't sell as well as the previous generations had. I have a 6G Nano and its been great for my needs, but I know a lot of people who were dissatisfied with the lack of features (no camera, games, etc.), or who felt the screen was too small to use.

I don't "get" this new direction personally, but I can understand why they would think people would be interested in a much larger screen that can play video. This is a design that can be improved on that could make it superior to the 5G iPod (feature-wise) in the next generation.

juliabliss
juliabliss

The Nano had the perfect niche market,  joggers and other exercisers.

I've been thinking about getting one even though I hate Apple with a passion. It's difficult to find the perfect spot to sit my cell phone on the treadmill that will let me move freely and listen to music without yanking the cord out accidentally. Ah well...fail.

Kathryn
Kathryn

Try the Shuffle - it clips onto you just like the previous Nano did and has the traditional button navigation so you don't have to try to navigate a screen while exercising.  I am a runner and have been using one for years. I love it.

My guess on the continued changes to the Nano is that is DIDN'T hit off with the niche market of "gym rats" because it is hard to deal with a touch screen navigation while you're running.

valley_nomad
valley_nomad

A wearable Nano can be used as the most accessible display device in the body-network (or wearable-network ;-) It is more practical than Google Glasses for displaying simple info.   There are many use cases in which such display, a smartphone and a headset work together...

Tennis Newz
Tennis Newz

I don't get where they're going with the Nano.  Less convenient size than the 6th gen and doesn't have the camera of a 5th gen.  Looks like a step backwards from both of the previous 2 models. 

juki654
juki654

Sigh.  I liked the 5th generation iPod Nano, the only one that was really audiobook-friendly.  I have two of them, and guard them like gold.  I don't know what I'll do when they finally wear out.

Note to Apple:  there are many, many of us audiobook listeners out here.  Now that cars make plugging in an iPod very easy, there will probably be many more listeners soon.  You get tired of listening to the same old songs over and over, but audiobooks are great on long commutes, esp. audiobooks on an iPod, so you don't have to fool with changing CD's or cassettes.

tlwiz
tlwiz

I have one of the tiny iPod nano units and it works well for listening to music while exercising - the miniscule size and weight with the built in clip work well where my iPhone would be too weighty.  Making the Nano bigger seems like a step backwards to me.