iPhone inspires next generation iPod

Chicago Tribune
If you want to know what the next iPod will look like, go to Apple.com and watch the demo for the coming iPhone.

Since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, which goes on sale in June from Cingular Wireless, much has been said and written about how revolutionary it will be. That's all well and good, but one aspect has been overlooked: How will this impact the iPod?

The answer is, quite a bit. Already, Apple executives are calling the iPhone the best iPod the company has built. Do you think all that really cool technology, particularly the touch screen, only will be used on a phone that starts at $500?

Hardly. Put me on the record as saying you'll see a touch-screen iPod this fall, a few months after the buzz of the iPhone launch settles and a few months before the key holiday sales season kicks in.

Apple does not talk about new products before they are introduced, and it is no different when people at the company are asked what a new iPod could look like. But Apple cares about being an innovator, as well as protecting its bread-and-butter product line, so it would behoove Jobs to include iPhone's nifty new features in his top-of-the-line video-playing iPod.

What's at stake for Apple? Just continued market dominance.

The iPod is overdue for a change. By fall, it will be two years since Apple introduced the so-called fifth-generation iPod. That's the one that plays videos and was slightly upgraded last year with more storage and a marginally bigger screen. Call it the fifth-generation "A" version, if you like.

But the sixth generation is coming, and it will make millions of people feel better about not shelling out $500 for an iPhone. That iPhone will have 4 gigabytes of storage, while a $600 version will have 8 gb.

By comparison, a new iPod will have at least 80 gb of music, video and photo storage capability, like the current top model, and be priced at about $350. Historically, Apple has kept the price of its top product in that range, even as it provides more capabilities. The new iPod should be no different.

"I think it will be a more compelling product than the iPhone," said Rob Enderle, a technology analyst who agrees the next iPod is on the way. "There are a lot of things where a touch screen on a phone doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, but on an iPod it could be absolutely stunning."

The touch-screen controls have wowed people who have seen demonstrations of the iPhone. Instead of using a scroll wheel to navigate through your songs, videos and photos, you just touch the screen. Use your finger for scrolling, then tap on the artist you want to hear. A list of songs and albums pop up.

Choose a song, and while it plays, the album art shows, just like on the fifth-generation iPods. But the iPhone takes it up a notch: Turned horizontally, that album art becomes part of "cover flow," where you can scroll through all the album art stored on your device.

Cover flow is borrowed from the recent iTunes software upgrade. It makes the music experience more visual, as if you are sifting through a collection of albums in a box. It is a far more interesting feature on a hand-held device than on a computer.

What else will be on the new iPod?

Another nice addition would be Bluetooth connectivity, so you can use wireless headphones with your iPod. That will be included in the iPhone for hands-free driving and listening to music.

With Bluetooth on an iPod, tech writers like this one will have to stop using phrases like "those ubiquitous white cords dangling from everyone's ears." Rather, we'll have to talk about how you can spot the cool kids with the new iPods because there are no more dangling cords.

Keep in mind that while Apple is preparing to dip its toe into the phone business, it already is shoulder deep in the music business. By the time 2007 ends, you can bet Apple will sell more new iPods than iPhones.