10 September 2007
The new Apple iPod touch has been described as "an iPhone without the cell phone functions". Unfortunately, it's missing some crucial features — and the omissions go to the heart of different visions of the Internet.
The iPod touch naturally lacks some phone-specific features, such as the phone itself and SMS messaging. These changes are pretty obvious ones to make. Presumably, it's also missing a microphone, if for no other reason than to save on hardware costs (though some other MP3 players have voice recorders). But why were the mail and notes applications omitted? For that matter, why were the map and stock quote applications left out? These speak to the heart of the problem and to Apple's view of the new iPod: it's an appliance — in particular, a purchasing appliance — not a PDA or computer replacement.
Mr. Jobs said a key reason other wireless music players haven't done well is that they often are unable to connect to Wi-Fi networks outside the home. Many public "hotspots," as public areas such as hotels and airports with Wi-Fi are called, require users to log in through a Web browser, which most portable music players lack. The iPod touch, on the other hand, has a full-blown Web browser, just like the iPhone.In other words, the web browser is a generic log-in interface; the fact that it can be used to do things that Apple doesn't derive a revenue stream from is an unfortunate side-effect. And that's why the mailer and the note pad were omitted: they're not useful as an adjunct to buying songs.
If the iPod touch were an open platform, it wouldn't matter as much. There would be a legion of 3rd party software developers filling these and other gaps. (Apple TV can browse your home network for digital media; as best I can tell, the iPod touch can't. Why not?) But it isn't open.
The question, then, is not whether the iPod touch is cool; technically, and esthetically, it's gorgeous. The question is, as has been noted, whether the Net is more than "click here to buy".
Update: there are now reports that the new iPods are incompatible with open-source update programs and that they're more crippled in other ways than the iPhone: they don't seem to run MacOS, and they don't appear to the system as USB flash drives.