iPod Has Stopped Slimming. Now’s The Time For It To Get Fit [Opinion]


Original iPod and latest iPod nano

The days of the stand-alone music player may be over, but the iPod’s role as the preeminent fitness gadget could keep the product relevant for the next decade to come.

I still remember the moment, ten years ago, when I unboxed my first iPod. It was the size of a deck of cards, which was considered to be svelte at the time. It had just one feature: you dialed up music using a rotating plastic wheel.

Every year since, Apple have found a way to make the iPod smaller. The “classic” model got slimmer, even as its storage capacity increased. While the mini, followed by the nano shrunk things even further. Last year’s nano was so trim that it made the original iPod’s “deck of cards” form factor seem positively obese. (See photo, above).

Now, however, the iPod’s precipitous decline in dimensions has suddenly stopped. This year’s updates to the iPod line were so minimal that they didn’t even warrant their own keynote announcement. Instead of a “one more thing” they were merely an “oh by the way”. Instead of a new form factor, we got Mickey and Kermit watch faces (which admittedly I kinda liked, but that’s beside the point).

What has happened to the iPod? The answer, of course, is obvious. The iPhone happened. These days we listen to music on our iPhones, so the argument goes that we don’t need a dedicated music device anymore. And if you want further evidence of the iPhone’s guilt, look no further than the renaming of the “iPod” app as “Music” in iOS 5. The iPod branding has been eviscerated from the iPhone. There’s your smoking gun.

Some say that the iPod’s time has simply passed. After all, ten years is an entire lifetime in gadget years. The same fate befell the Walkman, and many other good gadgets before it. Personally, I disagree. There are plenty of occasions when I don’t want to take my phone with me. And those are the times when I most value listening to music. Like on my daily run, for example.

I see people running with their iPhone strapped to their arm as if it was a blood pressure cuff, but I just don’t get it. It’s too big and ungainly to ever be comfortable for a serious runner. Plus, if someone calls when you’re running, do you stop and take the call? Shudder. No, running with a phone is just not for me. I’ll be sticking with my iPod, and I think I’m not alone.

And this brings me back to Apple’s recent halt in iPod development. While iPod’s role may have been overtaken by iPhone for day-to-day use, I believe that it still has a future in fitness. This is hardly a niche market after all. Just ask Nike.

Fitness is a market that Apple are uniquely placed to dominate. It requires tight integration of hardware, software and cloud services. This is very much Apple’s territory, and something that Nike has struggled to master. (Witness the recent glitches in the Nike+ service and the erratic accuracy of the Nike+ SportWatch GPS). And with Apple’s new CEO, Tim Cook, a noted fitness fanatic, now would seem to be a great time to enter this market.

Of course, Apple already has a fitness app for the nano, and a partnership with Nike+, but there is so much more that they could do. If I was the iPod’s personal trainer, here’s the program I’d prescribe to get past the plateau and put the nano back on the weight-loss wagon:

  • Lighter and smaller: Everyone knows that a lighter running shoe is a better running shoe. The same is true of running gadgets
  • Bring back buttons: The nano’s multi-touch UI is a neat gimmick, but runners need physical buttons, so that they can operate the device without needing to look at the screen
  • Water proof headphones: In the summer, they get soaked in sweat, in the winter they get drenched by downpours – not good news for Apple’s frail white earbuds.
  • Get a grip: The current nano’s clip just isn’t strong enough to withstand the jolts of exercise.
  • Accurate GPS: Nike’s first foray into GPS for runners, (the SportWatch) is not nearly accurate enough. Apple could surely do better.
  • Syncing with iPhone/iPad: So you can upload your run data without needing to hook your nano up with a Mac or PC
  • An iCloud fitness app: like Nike+, but more reliable and with better graph visualizing via an dedicated iOS app
  • Motivation: free iTunes downloads when you reach certain fitness goals
  • analogkidd

    No mention of the Motorola MOTOACTV which just dropped? It hits almost all of your bullet point wishes. Even a Fanboi has to admit that.

  • MacPsych

    A big fat “yes!” to your wish list for the iPod. I use my iPhone when out running, even though I have an iPod nano. I started using it with the advent of the GPS tracking. I also realised, as I run long distances, it’s very useful to have a phone with me. Safety first!

    But if Apple ever came out with a little iPod with GPS etc as you outline, I’d snap one up!

  • Luis Golong

    I agree. I´m an ultra marathoner thanks to apple and the nike + app (when it first came out with that woonky antenna)…. I still remember, that the first time I had to go to apple for a warranty check was simply because (even thought I protected my iPod), my sweat had damaged the internal workings of the device… I was outraged. How could apple market a product, for RUNNERS with Nike and not take into consideration that fact, that after a hard workout were basically drenched… 
    Now a days I usually take my iPhone (I´m one of those creatures, that has to be glued to his phone 24/7), wrap in so much cellophane and shrink warps, that its almost impossible to change the song.Almost 5 years later certain problems still persist (the lack of an accurate GPS is one of them)…And those blasted earbuds are a nuisance, especially the ones with the small sensor and controller… every drop of sweat makes it go into a manic state. 

  • matthewdbenson

    The future of iPod? I agree that fitness (and health also) is a market that is ripe for consumer electronics to disrupt, but it needs an Apple-style design factor (it can’t just be ‘electronics’).

  • dbwie

    I agree.  I have actually seen people carrying around iPads while using nautilus machines at the gym.  Um, not for me.  I want a nano to run with, and strap to my road bikes handlebars to track speed, cadence, etc.  I don’t want to use my iPhone for this…  I want a sturdy, water resistant iPod nano with lots of sensors to monitor various fitness parameters.  

  • Hal Summers

    Add Bluetooth and a decent pair of Apple produced Bluetooth headphones to your list.  It would be wonderful to go wireless with a nano on my wrist while going out for a run.  The cable on the headphones is a huge nuisance so until that goes I’ll have to keep using my iPhone as bulky as it is.

  • Eric Nino

    Everything sounds good and I agree with most of it, except the motivation part, I doubt apple will reward you if you reach your goals, there is no profit for them.

  • imajoebob

    I’m surprised I’m the first to see the next ‘leap’ for the nano: SIri.  Adding Siri to the nano makes it a true hands-free player.  Add Siri and a phone and you’ve got the long-imagined iPhone nano.  I recognise that there are some serious technology hurdles in getting all this into a nano-size chassis, but I think it’s the next step in iPod development.

  • Harvey Lubin

    I agree with you 100%!

    Adding Bluetooth the nano would not add much, if anything, to the size (BT chip is tiny) or the cost (BT chip is only a few dollars in large quantities). Using BT will slightly reduce the battery time, but since the current nano battery provides 24 hours of use losing a few hours for the convenience of BT would be worth it.

    Apple is pushing the nano as a wristwatch, and even added 18 new clock faces to it. But whether you wear a nano on your wrist, clipped to your jacket, or put it in your pocket, having a long wire running from it to your ears is ridiculous.

    If Apple FINALLY adds BT to the nano (which I think they should have done with this clip design from the beginning) it would become a really sensible and useful device.

  • CharliK

    The renaming has zero to do with feelings about the iPod. It was 100% because the combined app was too clunky and complex and it is just easier for the common user to have two apps

  • CharliK

    Adding Siri would require adding wifi/3g to the nano because Siri’s brain is a server not in the device. 

    As for the phone gig, there’s not enough room in a nano for all the bits and pieces you would need for the phone and online components which is why we’ll never see an iPhone nano. taking the storage down to 8GB etc is the “iPhone nano”. 

    The next step in iPod development is that there is no iPod development beyond the iPod touch and iPhone. Eventually the Classic will be killed off as will either the shuffle or the nano (probably the shuffle as the price of the nano in current form goes down)

  • CharliK

    they might do it if someone else like Nike was willing to cosponsor the whole thing. 

  • CharliK

    “Adding Bluetooth the nano would not add much, if anything, to the size (BT chip is tiny) or the cost (BT chip is only a few dollars in large quantities).”

    but how much is the necessary licensing. 

    folks forget that. These components often come with hefty license fees. You can’t just add up the components and say “Apple is making mad profit on this thing they sell for $200 and it only costs them $50 in parts”. 

  • Fabian

    I agree with the idea that I do not want to do a run with a relatively heavy and bulky iPhone. However, for the iPod nano to be a replacement, it would not only need accurate GPS but also a bluetooth or ANT+ chip to connect a heart rate belt, plus an accelerometer to improve GPS accuracy and for cadence metering. 

  • Jaywood3344

    A comparable wireless heart beat sensor that relays information about your target heart rate via voice over would be nice. Also voice over information regarding when you are about to beat personal bests and your current pace. I really hope time cook reads this article as well as the comments.

  • imajoebob

    It’s the voice interface that’s important for the next step in iPods not the personal assistant. A completely hands-free interface only needs the nuts and bolts running Siri, and are NOT server-based, they’re software.

    The size limitations are what makes a full-blown iPhone or a touch in the nano package such a quantum improvement – and the next “big thing” for iPods.