Although the iPod's popularity has waned, Apple is updating its music player for the first time in nearly three years by giving the flagship iPod touch model a faster processor and better cameras, apart from new colours which also extend to the iPod shuffle and iPod nano.
The new iPod touch also enables Apple Music, a subscription service that offers unlimited playback of millions of songs. Apple Music launched June 30 as music fans increasingly embrace subscriptions over pay-per-song services such as Apple's industry-leading iTunes.
Although music players existed before the original iPod's debut in 2001, the iPod was the first to simplify syncing with digital music collections on personal computers. It was Apple's first success beyond personal computers and began a company transformation that led to the iPhone in 2007, the iPad in 2010 and the Apple Watch this year.
Many people now listen to music on smartphones rather than iPods, though. Sales of iPods peaked at nearly 55 million in fiscal 2008, the year after the iPhone came out. In the most recent fiscal year, which ended last September, Apple sold 14 million iPods. By contrast, Apple sold 169 million iPhones in the same period.
As demand has slowed, so has Apple's updates to the iPod: Apple no longer updates its iPods annually as it usually does with its top sellers. But Wednesday's update shows Apple isn't giving up on the iPod.
The iPod touch is essentially an iPhone without cellular capabilities, as it runs the same iOS operating system and most of the same apps. Connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi, the Touch extends Apple Music and iPhone apps to teens and other younger customers who might not need cellphones or cannot afford cellular service.
Beyond music, the iPod touch might get new customers hooked on Apple's apps, video and other content - such that they'll turn to an iPhone, iPad or Mac when they are ready. Calling is possible over Wi-Fi through FaceTime audio, and video conferencing.
Roger Kay, president of the market research firm Endpoint Technology Associates, said the iPod Touch helps protect Apple from lower-priced competitors.
"Having a $200 (roughly Rs. 12,600) small computer without cellular service is a pretty good price," Kay said. "This may be a second, third or fourth device for families that already have a bunch of Apple products. The 9-year-old wants something, so they get them a iPod touch."
It also makes Apple products more affordable in emerging markets, said Carolina Milanesi, who heads U.S. operations for the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech research group.
Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group said that while iPod sales have been declining, they are still massive.
"Not everyone wants an iPhone, yet a lot of those folks loved their iPods," he said. "This product will be far more successful than anyone expects."
The new iPod touch comes with improvements like the 64-bit Apple A8 processor, matching the chip in the iPhone 6 (Review | Pictures) and iPhone 6 Plus (Review | Pictures) from last fall, rather than one from the iPhone 4s in 2011. Apple says the new chip is six times faster for general tasks and 10 times faster for graphics. It also comes with the M8 motion co-processor has also made its way onto the iPod touch, and will deliver fitness tracking features.
The improved rear iSight camera in the new iPod touch can take sharper pictures, at 8 megapixels. That matches recent iPhones and exceeds the 5 megapixels in the previous iPod touch. The front and rear cameras can now take 10 shots per second and slow-motion video at 120 frames per second. The new iPod touch also includes support for Wi-Fi 802.11ac, and Bluetooth 4.1.
"Customers can experience next-level gameplay, take even more beautiful photos and enjoy their favorite music, TV shows and movies," said Greg Joswiak, Apple's Vice President of iPhone, iPod and iOS product marketing.
Although the iPod touch has an accelerometer and M8 processor to track basic fitness, it doesn't have all of the iPhone's sensors. There's no barometer to measure steps climbed and no fingerprint Touch ID sensor to unlock the device.
There's also no Apple Pay, the technology for making payments at retail stores. The screen remains at 4 inches, as measured diagonally, even though iPhones have gotten bigger at 4.7 and 5.5 inches.
Apple is introducing a new model with 128 gigabytes, matching the iPhone's maximum capacity. The base model has 16 gigabytes, enough for thousands of songs, though the iPod Touch is meant to hold photos, video and apps, too.
The iPod shuffle and the iPod nano are getting the same colours (Space Grey, Silver, Gold, Pink, and Blue), but what's inside isn't changing, nor are the prices. Neither model can run Apple Music or the various iPhone apps.
In India, the new iPod touch starts at Rs.18,900 for the 16GB model, Rs. 22,900 for 32GB and Rs. 26,900 for 64GB. In the US, the new iPod touch starts at $199 for the 16GB model, $249 for 32GB, $299 for 64GB, and $399 for 128GB.
Apple says the entire iPod family in its five new colours is now available in India through select Apple Authorised Resellers. The 128GB iPod touch model is being sold only via Apple stores (physical and online), so it's not available in India since Apple doesn't have a direct retail presence in the country.
Written with inputs from AP