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FireWire ist kaput?

Apple’s new iPod nano So the nano doesn’t do FireWire, and there is all manner of pissing and moaning and conspiracy theorizing about our old favorite serial bus’ demise. Me, I’m calling bullshit on the whole deal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m miffed by the USB2 requirement too —I felt the burn of FireWire incompatibility when my PowerBook was sick and I had to load my Shuffle over a USB1.1 connection— but don’t try to tell me this is planned obsolescence. The nano took a helluva lot of engineering talent to come to fruition; FireWire support was just another in a long line of sacrifices made by those engineers in the name of competitive pricing.

As if you hadn’t already noticed, the thing is fucking tiny. It’s miniscule. True, I would’ve sooner had them call it a Generation 3 iPod Mini, or an iPod Micro, since I find the word nano to be mildly jarring (and the use of Myriad Light in the logotype distracting), but the key point here is that it’s the smallest full-featured iPod ever to hit the market, barely larger than the featureless iPod Shuffle, and still on close par price-wise with the Mini it superseded. That drop in size didn’t come cheap.

In fact, it has been speculated that because of the high price of the flash memory used, Apple’s margins on the nano are razor thin —at least by Apple standards— and with the kind of costs they incur keeping themselves ahead of the pack, inessential components are being cut from manufacturing. You might’ve noticed there isn’t a remote port, either… but unless you bought a third-gen iPod or earlier, chances are you never bothered with a remote. With those models the remote came free, and so did the dock, but when push comes to shove and Apple needs to cut the retail price of an iPod, things like that get cut from the box.

The lack of FireWire support and remote port will likely cross the minds of naught but one tenth of the nano-buying public. Maybe less. Considering the end product, it was a sacrifice worth making. The only problem I see for Apple is the drive toward lower and lower margins on the hardware. If the iTMS is a loss leader used to sell iPods, and the iPods aren’t raking in the dough like they used to, where does that leave Apple in the long run? Commoditization. I’d like to think the iPod’s incredible popularity is having a net positive effect on sales of Macintoshes, which I doubt will ever be a commodity item, but what happens when you win the race to the bottom?