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.