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Apple’s iPod out of Touch?

Thursday, 13 September 2007 — by

Not often do we see Apple put a foot wrong these days. In the past 10 years, their missteps can be counted on one hand. The success of the iPhone seemed destined to spawn more successes, but I have to wonder if Apple is out of touch…

People like shiny, glossy stuff that fits snugly in their pocket, or in a bag. This is one of the factors that helps make a gadget a successful gadget.

There are other reasons of course, but fundamentally, if a gadget feels just right in the hand and twice in the pocket — both cost and fit — then said gadget is well on its way to being a success.

And with the iPhone, Apple hit that sweet spot in spite of the heavier cost. But that’s Apple for you.

However, when it comes to pricing — especially price cuts — Apple don’t always get things right.

When I first saw the iPhone, I saw beyond the phone itself and saw instead a whole range of devices, all making use of the touch screen technology.

It wasn’t just the stuff happening on the screen that makes the iPhone so appealing, it’s the look and the feel of the case, too.

It’s that essential tactile quality that matters so much, and Apple is acutely aware of the power of good, robust ergonomics in product design.

So when I saw the new iPod Touch, I wasn’t nearly as impressed as I was with the iPhone. The new iPod Touch is entirely an iterative rather than innovative product. But that’s not a bad thing.

Here I’m thinking of the Porsche 911. In many ways, this car has evolved from the one initial design. And every iteration of the 911 since then is exactly that.

Case in point

Straight away, gone is the chrome metal bezel, replaced by what appears to be a matte finish. A minor detail to some, but the chrome bezel seems to give the iPhone a certain finish which the iPod Touch lacks.

However, making the iPod Touch that bit smaller certainly makes for a more pocket-friendly device, likely to be appreciated by many.

In any case, I’m still not entirely sure the smaller size iPod Touch makes that much difference. And I’m pretty sure that if Apple had used the same carcass and carapace for the iPod Touch as the iPhone, there would have been some interesting cost savings to be had.

Plus, a more consistent appearance across what are essentially the same class of device would help reinforce the family feel.

Apple’s Reality Distortion Field 2.0: warping space & time

I’m sure some will have been enveloped by the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field, seeing only another truly revolutionary product from Apple.

I wasn’t at the event, which is fortunate for me, because Apple seemed to have given an airing to Reality Distortion Field 2.0 — this time, they’re hoping to warp space and time, too.

A quick glance at the Technical Specifications for the iPod Touch show that you’re not getting a great deal of storage for your money. Nothing seems to have really changed (in time) since the iPhone and the storage options (the space) aren’t going anywhere fast, either.

So the further away from the mind-warping effects being exerted on those at the Sept. 5th event, the less likely you were to find storage options for the iPod Touch anything other than underwhelming.

As an industrial designer by education if not by trade, I have an understanding of these things, or at the very least, a more qualified appreciation of what constitutes good product design.

As with all design, you’re subject to sliding scales. On the one hand, there’s the increased usability of the iPod Touch by way of the touch screen. While on the other hand, there’s the technical specifications, such as the storage options.

What I see here is Apple committing the cardinal sin of putting style before substance. What any industrial designer will tell is one of the very first thing you’re likely to be taught in any design history class.

It’s likely that Apple is likely to enjoy the same profit margins with the iPod Touch as they have with the iPhone. So why not give us more storage? Or is this Apple’s way of seeding their product line with the new touch screen paradigm while trying not to cannibalize their iPod Classic range?

In time, I think we’ll see all bar the iPod shuffle move over to a touch screen. But for now, the parts cost and the relative newness of the technology will largely preclude such a move.

However, in the here & now, while there’s plenty to like about the iPod Touch, it’s price and lack of storage make it a touch too much…

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