Today in Apple history: iPod touch is ‘iPhone without the phone’


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The fourth-gen iPod touch closed the gap between iPod and iPhone.
Photo: Apple

Sept 1September 1, 2010: Apple announces its fourth-generation iPod touch, a version of the portable music player which closes the gap between the iPod touch and the iPhone.

Along with being thinner than ever, the fourth-gen iPod touch’s main innovations include a redesigned form factor, Retina display, FaceTime calling via WiFi, HD video recording, and the same A4 chip found in the iPhone at the time.

The iPod’s transition to, essentially, an iPhone which didn’t make calls was symbolic of a larger change at Apple. In yesterday’s “Today in Apple history” I described the way in which the 2004-era iMac G5 tried to build on the iPod’s popularity by echoing the white plastic aesthetic of what was at the time Apple’s most popular product.

Just six years later, it was now the iPod’s turn to style itself after a new best-selling product — the iPhone — in order to stay relevant. There’s good reason for this. iPhone sales overtook those of the iPod in mid-2010. From that point on, the iPod would become “training wheels” to help usher younger customers into the iPhone ecosystem.

Despite this, the fourth-gen iPod touch was a great product in its own right. As a music player, it offered up to 40 hours of music playback and seven hours of video playback on a single battery charge. Sound quality was greatly improved, much as it was with the iPhone 4, so that there was a new crispness to mid- and high-end sounds, as well as extra bass.

By this point, Apple no longer offered a music player which blew away other rivals on the market. If all you were after was a portable music player with a touchscreen, there were solid alternatives in the form of Sony’s X-Series Walkman or the Samsung YP-R1, to name just two.

But those didn’t have iOS 4.1 or the App Store, and by 2010, Apple was more focused on its mobile products than ever — having introduced the iPad earlier that year. The focus on gaming with the iPod touch (during its introduction, Steve Jobs called it the no. 1 portable game player in the world) was a great gateway into the world of the App Store for younger customers.

Did you own a fourth-gen iPod touch? When is the last time you felt that Apple’s iPod line was relevant (if, in fact, it ever stopped being so)? Leave your comments and thoughts below.

  • Erik Hansen

    The 4th Gen iPod was my first iOS device. Loved it to death. Mine got me through long night shifts at work where there were literally hours of sitting around waiting for job sites to be opened. Played every version of Angry Birds and hours of PvZ.

  • Caleb

    I have a 4th gen iPod Touch. My first one got replaced, but that was my first iOS device. They were well built, but the battery on the first one crapped out after a couple of years. The indicators on these are not the most accurate and it got incredibly inaccurate over time. Also, 256mb of ram was a terrible idea on these. iOS 5+ just didn’t run like iOS 4 did. Trying to load things like the purchased items list in the app store is a painful experience that often leads to crashing on iOS 6.1.6.

    The 5th generation was much improved, IMO.

  • Lee Hannon

    I have the 4th and 3rd generations of the iPod Touch. Both have been great to have in the pocket as they are the perfect size. Still use both with the older one holding all my music to play through a Sony bluetooth speaker. The 4th generation is still working and spends its nights as my clock radio, plugged into a portable iHome speaker. Just wish a Touch in this size were still available.

  • I sold my iphone and bought two when they came out and used facetime to call the wife didn’t have a mobile phone for 9 months absolute bliss. I personally would love to have a ipod touch again in fact each year i keep my fingers crossed. I don’t want or need a mobile as I’m always in a wifi spot or driving. Don’t like the iPad Mini but might have to move up to that eventually

  • Matt Hone

    I remember Steve Jobs’ keynote. I bought one as soon as they were put on sale. I still have it secured away in a drawer. It replaced my iPod Classic and for a while I was able to get by with my iPod Touch, and a crappy old Samsung not-smart phone… then the iPhone 5 came along, and that replaced the not-smart phone, but it didn’t have enough storage for my music. I was only able to put the iPod Touch away when the 6 came out.