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iPod — generation four

The rumor mill is running overtime this week, between G5 upgrades (likely) and aluminum monitors (less likely, though still within the realms of reason) sits the 4G iPod. Now, video iPod rumors have abounded for years and are largely seasonal in nature (like tablet Mac rumors, or Apple PDA rumors), but the evidence just hasn’t been there to support the fantasy. Last December, however, the employment opportunity dreams are made of came around to start the ball rolling again.

4G iPods are rumored to have color screens

Adding fuel to the fire, there’s the announcement of the PortalPlayer “photo edition” platform [via Gizmodo, which is via MP3 Player Blog], supporting JPEG and MJPEG out–of–the–box. PortalPlayer’s chips already power the iPod, so the next step is obvious… right? Right.

There’s much speculation around the web as to what this new iPod would do, how it would do it, and what it would look like; and since I’ve never been one to miss out on a good speculation hoe–down, I’m bringin’ out my two cents.


When you produce a video–capable device, of course it needs a color screen, but to what degree color would influence the iPod is difficult to say. The interface would likely adopt a little color here and there to more closely mimic iTunes’ appearance… but then a graphite theme would need to be added as an option to quiet the grumblers. All in all — it’s a game of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Viewing album art along with the currently–playing song would be a nice touch, but integrating it into the iPod’s simple, uncluttered playback window would be a tough job. I’d be interested to see what they come up with. Image and video browsing would remain interfacially (made–up word of the day) similar to browsing the Finder in List View, as adopting an iPhoto–like browsing model would prove ludicrous. The horsepower just isn’t there for it, and if each thumbnail were 15 pixels by 10 pixels you’d be asking for a ticket to uselessville

Of course, photo slideshows (with music) are a must. Sync it with iPhoto and you’re on a winner.

Video out

Since the new PortalPlayer chip supports video–out, people have come to assume that the iPod will sport a video–out plug. Doubtful. More likely scenario: the iPod’s dock will sport a mini–DVI out alongside its line out, with adaptors for DVI, VGA, and S–Video output. The iPod’s dock connector is there for a reason… you expect them to use it.


When the 3G iPod was unveiled with its touch–sensitive buttons there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth (not from the audience, mind you; the Reality Distortion Field was in full effect) because they really are a less intuitive interaction model. On the old 1G and 2G iPods, the clickable buttons surrounding the scroll wheel were a tactile shift — you could tell exactly where they were and really couldn’t click them by mistake. Adding to this the fact that you could tell the orientation of the buttons through the orientation of the iPod in your hand, you could operate the whole thing in the dark.

3G iPods removed this feature in favor of all all–solid–state interface. No moving parts: it’s a good theory in some ways, and bad in others. The iPod Mini, however, went a whole ‘nother way with the buttons: the wheel itself clicks.

The Mini’s clickwheel is necessary because the Mini isn’t big enough to accommodate more buttons, and that’s fine, but I don’t see the clickwheel migrating over the the full–size iPod. Why? It’d be an admission of wrongdoing in the user–interaction department, for one. It’d take away their fancy all–solid–state interface, for two. And for three? The clickwheel’s button labels won’t glow red when the backlight is on. Remember: just because Apple is constantly ahead of the pack in terms of usability doesn’t mean Steve Jobs doesn’t blunder for the sake of coolness; just look at OS X.

I might be wrong, and time will tell, but I don’t see Apple backtracking on this one.

Graphical web–browser

OK — I threw this one in just for kicks. iPod Notes already support hyperlinks, so the addition of color and images means fast–forwarding to the land of the world wide web. Connectivity is a problem, of course (don’t expect to see Bluetooth, GPRS, or Wi–Fi for a few revisions yet!), but having iSync download your .Mac bookmarks and throw them into your iPod is just too tantalizing for words.

Specialized small–screen rendering (the kind that Opera uses in its mobile–edition browser) would be a must, of course, and Apple would probably home–grow such a solution (which takes time… too much time for such a frivolous addition to the software), but think of the text–based RPGs XO Play could make with that!