Why the 6G iPod will share the iPhone interface.

I would have thought it understood that the next generation video (a.k.a. 6G) iPod will share the iPhone’s touch interface. If not an exact copy, certainly most of the primary elements, including of course the touch screen and MultiTouch technology. However, given an article on The Unofficial Apple Weblog, I guess there are those who doubt this.

It’s a fairly short article, and the gist of it is that Apple somehow must reserve the iPhone’s cool interface exclusively for that device. If not, they cannibalize iPhone sales. It argues that since potential iPhone sales are far greater than the iPod (because the cell phone market is so large), they would never risk that cannibalization:

“Now, keeping in mind these numbers, a sales pie the likes you’ve never seen barreling straight for your revenue stream and investors practically wetting themselves while dreaming of iPhone-shaped dollar signs at night, are you really going to cannibalize the profits off your most anticipated device of all time by yanking out a key component (the phone) and selling it for $200 or $300 less? Before you skip what little is left of this post to try and answer that question, let me save you the trouble: the correct answer is no, no you wouldn’t – under penalty of death.”

So what’s wrong with the article? Well, it doesn’t say squat about what the 6G iPod will be like. In fact, the article doesn’t even consider the next generation iPod beyond saying it won’t be iPhone-like. But you can’t argue what the next iPod won’t be without also presenting what it will be. Why? Because that very discussion leads one to specific conclusions about what really makes sense. The article fails in this.

So, with that in mind we should consider the following.

  • What will the next iPod be like, if not the iPhone? In his interview with Walt Mossberg at the All Things Digital conference, Steve jobs said Apple is working on the best iPods they’ve ever made. This expression really struck me, because that’s what he claims the iPhone to be!
  • I don’t believe it can be argued the iPod doesn’t need a new revision. The current revision (5.5G) is nine months old, and itself was only a refresh of the 5G model from eleven months before. Clearly a resilient design, but long in the tooth, and people are itching for the next real generation. It’s been a foregone conclusion for a long time that it will at least be a wide screen model.
  • It makes sense not to release the 6G before the iPhone, since iPhone users should get the first crack at the cool new interface. Of course, this assumes the interfaces will be similar. But if the 6G isn’t going to implement that interface there was no reason to wait! So why has Apple held off? What other reason is there to wait on the 6G if not because Apple wants their first MultiTouch device to be the iPhone, with iPods following suit?
  • Even if we assume the iPod will not sport the iPhone’s interface, then what will it have? I don’t believe the interface can stay the same, expectations are too high and it will not be construed as a “true” update (a 5.9G won’t fly, people want a 6G). IPod sales in the last quarter were down slightly from the quarter before, perhaps its age is finally catching up. Even the mighty iPod needs a little infusion with excitement now and then. Apple is well aware of this.
  • Why exert any effort developing a new interface for 6G when you have this fabulous MultiTouch technology? If you did develop something new, whether it’s “better” or “worse” than the iPhone people are going to feel cheated on one device or the other. The resulting bad press will hurt sales for whichever device people feel got slighted.
  • Apple spent all this time and money on MultiTouch, and will use it only in one device family? That makes no sense. The 6G iPod will use it for numerous reasons: 1) No expense necessary to develop an alternative iPod interface; 2) Cost savings from ordering more of the same screens, etc., and support training for both devices; 3) Each device serves as advertising for MultiTouch (and for each other); and 4) Keeping MultiTouch exclusive would hurt Apple far more than help. It could give the impression that it’s too device-specific, and not easily applicable to other devices.

Reason #3 above I can expand with the scenario that many people a bit skeptical of the touch interface would now get to see it in action (on the iPod), presumably love it, and be far less concerned about it in the iPhone. In my opinion, the more people’s hands into which Apple puts MultiTouch, the better.

In short, the TUAW article offers no plausible explanation (indeed, doesn’t even discuss) what the next — and much anticipated — generation iPod will be. When one takes that into consideration, it’s hard to imagine something that isn’t very close to the iPod capabilities taken from the iPhone, MultiTouch and all.

2 thoughts on “Why the 6G iPod will share the iPhone interface.

  1. But the world is expecting (in fact, demanding) a wide-screen iPod. I just don’t see how they do that and keep the size manageable without using a full screen and touch controls. They could overlay a touch scroll wheel and keep that aspect of the interface, though.

  2. I’m not sure Apple will *want* to change the iPod’s layout – which they would have to do if they were to apply the iPhone’s interface to it.

    My reasoning for this is that the iPod hasn’t really changed much in the 5 years it’s been out – the interface is still largely identical. Reason is that it works, well. Plus you can draw a rounded rectangle, plop a rectange inside top and a circle inside bottom and boom you have something that loads of people will recognise as an iPod.

    IMHO that’s a very powerful thing, having people recognise your product with only three shapes, and I don’t think Apple would want to mess with it. The iPod brought Apple back, so to speak, and it’s still a very important brand for them.


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