Posted Monday, July 19, 2004

iPod Software Update Arrives; Old iPods Left Behind

I was right and I regret it.

In yesterday's post about the new, fourth-generation iPod, I wrote that Apple should make some of the new iPod's enhanced menu features available to users of older iPods -- but I predicted that it wouldn't happen.

It hasn't.

Apple has indeed released a new software update for the iPods, and it does not add revamped menus and enhanced on-the-go playlist support to third-generation or earlier iPods, not even the iPod mini.

That's too bad. As I said yesterday, throwing a little bone to buyers of older iPods would be a nice consolation, a way of saying, "Yeah, so your iPod isn't the very latest one anymore. Here's a little something to make you feel better."

And the fact that the new menus and on-the-go playlist features will not be available for iPod minis introduces a new quandry for iPod buyers. Until now, the only major difference between the big and little iPods was their size. (A few dock-connector accessories don't work with the iPod mini, but who cares?)

Now, however, buyers must consider whether they also need or want the additional goodies that the fourth-generation iPod provides: the new menu scheme, the new playlist features, the audiobook speed-up/slow-down features, and so on. Buyers must compare the two iPod families carefully -- and the mini suddenly doesn't look as appealing as it did last week. The extra $50 that a new iPod costs over a mini now buys you a lot more than just several times the capacity.

Paving the Way for Photos and More?
And let me make one more Monday morning observation. The new iPod's main menu contains an item named Music. This marks the first time that the iPod user interface has required you to explicitly choose a Music command to get to your music.

So what? So this: it seems to me that this menu revamping paves the way for iPods in which other media are equal-class citizens to music.

Will we see a future iPod that also has a main menu item named Photos? Or Videos? Or Games? From a user-interface perspective, that foundation is now in place. Think of it this way: If Apple wasn't planning to make other media equal-class citizens, why add a main menu item for Music? Why have a menu item called Music for what is only a music player?

It's fun to speculate -- but in the end, it'd be more fun to be able to update my 3G iPod to have at least a few of the new capabilities of the newest iPod.