RIP: The iPod Classic May be at Death’s Door

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The iPod classic's days may be numbered.

As flash memory and solid state drives steadily become the storage media of choice for portable electronic devices, Apple’s iPod Classic – the device widely credited with kickstarting the company’s rise from the ashes of the John Scully era – may not survive to celebrate its 10th birthday in 2011.

1.8 inch hard disk drives manufactured by Samsung and Toshiba, the last two manufacturers standing in a once-robust market for small, high-capacity spinning disk drives, sit languishing in the supply channel, according to a report at Ars Technica, and industry trends do not bode well for the future of Apple’s signature gadget.

When Apple launched the first iPod in 2001, the hard disk was the only vehicle capable of storing large amounts of data flexibly at reasonable cost. Since then, however, advances in Flash memory and SSD technology have made those two storage options the industry standard for everything from netbooks to iPhones and the entire line of Apple’s portable music players, with only the Classic continuing to rely on the 1.8″ HDD.

The trend toward Flash memory and SSD technology has been building for at least the last couple of years, with Apple having been ahead of the curve when the company introduced its Flash memory-based iPod nano in 2005.

SSDs typically offer higher performance–often much higher performance–than hard-disk drives and are more durable since they have no moving parts. While the larger question of where the technology is headed remains somewhat in debate, in large part over concerns about data’s long-term reliability in SSD storage media and Flash memory’s eventual degradation related to writing, erasing and re-writing its memory blocks, the fate of the 1.8 inch HDD seems dire.

The industry’s current disdain for small-form HDD products, and Apple’s apparent design trajectory for its mobile PMPs and handset devices, suggest the time has come to prepare farewells for the iPod Classic.