iPod series of Personal Music Players
Should you get one, which is best for
you, and how much should you pay?
The iPod combines a
slick design with solid functionality.
iPod is available in four different model series - two full
size hard disk based versions (30GB and 80GB) plus three
very much smaller 'nano' iPods with 2GB, 4GB and 8GB
capacity on memory chips and a 1GB 'shuffle' that has been
largely obsoleted by the nano series. The most recent
addition is the new touch screen based iPod Touch units
(8GB, 16GB & 32GB).
This stylized promotional picture shows a latest
generation 30GB iPod - they are not normally this color, but
instead are either solid white or solid black.
Part of a series on the Apple
iPod - additional parts to be published in the following
First appearing in time for
Christmas sales in 2001, Apple's iPod has transformed the way
people listen to music, much the way the Sony Walkman did
decades earlier. The most recent units are now adding
video capabilities as well.
In what has sometimes been a
triumph of style over substance, the slick attractive units -
until recently only available in white - have become a must have
item for many people. Apple's very strong iPod branding has all but
obliterated other manufacturers and their competing products,
and a wide range of after-market accessories adds further to the
iPod's dominance, enabling Apple to keep prices high and generate massive
Here's what you need to know to
understand the Apple iPod and to decide which, if any, unit is
best suited for you.
(Note - it is helpful to read
about the latest
updates and changes to the iPod range after you've read
The Evolution of the Apple iPod
In mid 2001, Apple very astutely
identified a product category with no clear market leader
but which had a great deal of potential - portable, hard disk
based, digital music players. They decided
to develop a product to fill this opportunity.
Prior to then, digital
music players were either very low capacity using memory chips
rather than hard disks (eg with as little as 64MB of storage), or were expensive, bulky, and
poorly designed/built (such as could be fairly said of the early
Archos Jukebox unit reviewed here).
Apple were offered a new
smaller size hard drive (1.8") that would enable them to make
smaller hard disk based players than other existing products, and felt their
design skills - both in terms of designing the hardware and the
software, their engineering skills, and their marketing skills
could all enable them to create a category leader, and perceived
the market for portable digital music players as ripe for
How spectacularly right they
were in that assessment. The iPod has captured the
imagination of millions of users, and is selling at a rate of as
many as 100,000 units every day, peaking in the first quarter of
2006 when 14,043,000 units were sold (over 150,000 units a day).
One can only guess at the profit content in each sale, but even
if it is only $10 a unit (and in reality the profit is likely to
be closer to $100 than $10, especially for the more expensive units) that
represents more than $1.5 million in added net corporate profit to
Apple every day.
iPod earnings are probably
the largest single factor in Apple's corporate profits these days.
In the most recent quarter available (Q3 2006) Apple reported a
quarterly profit of $472 million, with 8,111,000 iPods sold,
compared to 1,327,000 Mac computers. While the profit on a
Mac is certainly more than on an iPod, the six-fold greater
number of iPods suggests that Apple is becoming more
a digital music player based company than a computer company.
At present it is estimated
that iPods command about 75% of the total digital personal music
player market. Apple is weaker in the bottom end of the
market - low capacity solid state flash memory based players, but in the
upper end - hard drive based players - it probably has in excess
of 90% of the market, and with its new range of 'nano' solid
state players, it is likely Apple may increase its share of the
lower end of the market too.
It is interesting to note
that the volume of iPods sold has been slightly declining over
the last couple of quarters. Both Q2 and Q3 of 2006 saw
fewer units sold than the preceding quarter (although more than
the same quarter of 2005), which is the first time since Q3 of
2002 there has been a decline in units sold from one
quarter to another, and the only time ever there has been two
consecutive quarters with declines.
Does this mean the
market is approaching saturation, or that Apple is losing its
competitive edge? The explanation is currently unclear,
and for sure Apple is about to face a major new competitor in
the form of Microsoft and their Zune player, due to be released
in November, with a 30GB Zune player being priced identically to
the 30GB iPod. Meantime, Apple's latest release of
products, dubbed their 'improved fifth generation' can be seen
as a defensive measure as much as a new round of product
enhancements (which is probably why this release hasn't been
dignified with a new generation number), with somewhat better
features and lower prices.
iPod Model Lineup and Overview
There have been many
releases of four different types of iPod units in the five years
they've been on the market. This section helps you
understand the evolution and differences between current and
The first introduction in
October 2001 of two hard disk based iPods - a 5GB unit costing
$399 and a 10GB unit costing $499 represented what is now
referred to as the first generation of the hard disk based iPods.
That was followed in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 with subsequent
generations of iPod (the second through fifth generations) and
in September 2006 an enhanced pair of improved fifth generation units
The fourth generation units
were sometimes referred to as the iPod Photo units, because they
introduced the ability to store and display color images, and
the fifth generation units are sometimes referred to as the iPod
Video, because they allow for video clips (and even feature
length movies) to be played on their tiny screens.
Each subsequent generation
featured minor tweaks to the external design - for example, the
first units had a movable scroll wheel and a small black and
white screen, and now the scroll wheel is fixed and the screen
is larger and in color. They also generally had higher
disk capacities, with the prices staying about the same,
although with the release in October 2005 of the fifth
generation and the release in September 2006 of the improved
fifth generation players, prices dropped at the same time
capabilities improved, pointing to a softening in prices.
Currently there are two
improved fifth generation hard disk based players, a 30GB unit
(listing for $249) and a 80GB unit (listing for $349).
Plainly today's products are very much better value than were
the original products five years earlier.
In 2004 Apple introduced a
second range of iPods, their iPod mini series. These
featured lower capacity hard drives, lower prices, smaller size,
battery life. They proved to be the most popular range of iPods to date, but had only a short model life because they were
technologically superseded by the flash memory based iPod nano
range of players, introduced in September 2005.
It was a bold move to
replace a very successful strong selling range of players with a
totally new technology and design, but Apple's continual
innovation is part of what keeps them at the top of the market,
and while the mini was popular, few people would dispute that
the new nano players are a great leap forward in all respects.
The mini series came in two
generations - the first generation was a 4GB unit available in
five colors, and the second generation, released in February
2005 came in 4GB and 6GB models, with brighter colors and longer
The iPod nano players
(pictured left) were first released in September 2005 and are
now in their second generation (released in September 2006) and
come in three models with capacities of 2GB, 4GB and 8GB,
listing for $149, $199 and $249.
The 8GB nano
unit lists for the same price as the 30GB full sized iPod. Why would someone pay the
same price and buy a nano iPod with 'only' 8GB of capacity when
they could buy a 30GB regular iPod instead?
because of the gloriously small size of the nano players - they
measure a mere 3.5" by 1.6" and are only a quarter inch thick.
They're also feather-light - they weigh
only 1.5 ounces.
Although small and light, the battery is
said to last for up to 24 hours of continual music playback, and for many people, 8GB is
plenty of capacity for all the music they're likely to want to
have with them. With standard quality settings, 8GB can
hold 128 hours of music - 5.3 days of nonstop music.
Apple also released another
type of iPod - their iPod Shuffle - in January 2005, and updated to
second generation in September 2006. The Shuffle has an
interesting design concept - instead of allowing you to choose
exactly the tunes you listen to, and the order in which you
listen to them, it randomly chooses tunes itself and plays them
to you in this random or shuffled order.
Apple says its user research
showed that many people like this feature - it saves them from
having to decide what they want to listen to.
The Shuffle is currently
available in one style only - a 1GB unit listing for $79 and is
the smallest sized of all the units.
iPod Touch units,
mimicking everything in the
iPhone except for the phone capability itself, are discussed
in this article.
Currently available models
As of October 2006, the
following units are currently offered for sale :
It is probable that future
iPod development will proceed in several predictable directions.
Both the nano and regular iPods will continue to offer greater
and greater capacity, with slight increases in battery life.
The next generation of nano players will likely offer a 16GB
unit, up from the maximum 8GB size at present.
In addition, we may see a
new sized unit with a larger video screen. The 2.5" (diagonal) screen on the present iPod units is simply too
small to give an enjoyable viewing experience, and it is
reasonable to expect Apple will counter the larger screen sized
competing units with a larger screen sized unit of their own,
There will probably also be
continued price reductions - or at least, increases in capacity
for the same price. For example, we'd expect to see the
next generation of nano players offer double the capacity of
current players but at the same price.
Most interesting will be the
impact that Microsoft's new Zune player may have in the market.
This could finally be the competitor that forces Apple into
adopting a much lower set of pricing - potentially little more
than half their current pricing (in terms of present day
But are these reasons to
wait and buy a better/cheaper product later? Not at all.
Just like the continual evolution of personal computers, with
ever better features and values, so too is a similar thing
happening with portable music players, but if you'd enjoy and
benefit from one today, buy one today rather than wait endlessly
for prices to keep going down and down and features to keep
improving and improving.
Which iPod is Best for You
With six different models
ranging in price from $79 to $349, and in three different
styles, your iPod choices can seem bewildering.
However, as is often the
case, it is easily to quickly pare these choices down.
Here are some issues to help you consider.
As an overall consideration,
buy the highest capacity unit you can afford. Just as with
hard drives on computers, you'll be surprised at how you end up
using much more capacity than you thought you would, especially
if you add video to the unit as well.
Firstly, we don't like the
Shuffle at all. Its gimmick - the random play of songs -
can be duplicated with regular iPods and nano iPods. While
the nano is slightly larger than a Shuffle, it is
sufficiently small as to make the smaller size of the Shuffle
On the other hand, the more confusing controls
on the Shuffle and its very low storage capacity are definite
Secondly, do you want to be
able to display pictures and watch videos on your iPod? If
you do, then you will need to buy a regular iPod; if this is
unimportant to you, then a nano is an option too.
If you want to watch video
in your iPod, you should buy the 80GB iPod. This allows
you to store up to 100 hours of video, or a lesser amount of
video plus some songs and perhaps pictures too. If you
have perhaps 5 - 10GB of songs, this would give you up to 85
hours of video - about the same as 40 - 50 full length movies,
or up to 100 'one hour' television episodes. The 30GB
unit, also with 10GB of music, pictures, etc, would only have 25
hours of video storage which could quickly become insufficient.
If you don't wish to use
your iPod for video or picture display, you can then choose
between the nano series and the regular iPod series.
The least expensive of these
is the 2GB nano, which has all the same features and
capabilities as the larger 4GB and 8GB units, just less storage
capacity. It can hold about 32 hours of music using the
default AAC encoding settings, you'll get less if you use a
higher quality setting - for example, if you're using 160kbps
rather than 128kbps, your storage time reduces down to 25.6
Depending on the average
song or album length, you can consider 32 hours to be about the
same as 30 - 40 CDs worth of music. Is this enough for
If you can afford only $50
more, you can get the 4GB nano with twice as much capacity.
64 hours of music (or 51 in higher quality mode) is quite a lot
for many people.
But if you want to have
every CD you own transferred to the unit, and if you plan to be
regularly adding extra music, and if you plan to use higher
quality recording, perhaps you'll find even the 8GB nano to be
insufficient for your needs.
I currently have 12.5GB of
music on my iPod, and I have almost 20GB on my older Toshiba
Gigabeat, so it is deceptively easy to end up needing large
amounts of storage. In such a case you'll be looking at
either the 30GB or 80GB regular iPod, and for the sake of
another $100 for the 80GB unit, you would be choosing a unit
that probably has more music storage capacity than you're ever
likely to require, as compared to the 30GB unit which can
foreseeably be filled up.
If you're wanting to use an
iPod while exercising, the lighter weight, smaller size, and
greater robustness of the nano units can be important benefits.
Unlike the regular units with built in hard drives, the nano
units use flash memory as storage and so have no moving parts,
making them better suited for such applications.
Buying a Used iPod
You can readily find used
iPods for sale on websites such as
buying a used iPod for a lower price than a new one truly a good
idea? In addition to looking carefully at the unit and its
visible condition (especially cracks and scratches on the
screen) here are some other considerations to keep in mind when
buying a used iPod.
Which generation iPod is being
All the four different types
of iPod families have transitioned through at least two
generations of products. As a quick rule of thumb, each
newer generation typically offers improved design and longer
battery life as well as the obvious shifts in storage capacity.
If you see, for example, a
30GB iPod for sale, you need to carefully confirm which
generation iPod it is. This particular capacity iPod has
been released in four generations - 3rd, 4th, 5th, and the
current 5+ generation.
The rechargeable Li-ion battery in
an iPod can only be replaced with great difficulty, and for most
of us, the only way we can do this is to send it back to Apple
and have them replace the battery for us.
This battery also has a
finite life. Every time you recharge the battery, its
charge capacity slightly reduces, and after some hundreds of
charges, it will have reduced down to one half its original
capacity, at which point the battery is deemed to need
You should probably assume
that the battery in a used iPod will soon need replacing, and so
should factor in the cost of getting a replacement battery as an
extra cost on top of the price of the second hand unit itself.
Apple charge $59 plus $6.95 to replace the battery, a total cost
to you of $65.95 (plus postage to get the unit to them in the
Note that Apple doesn't
actually simply take the battery out of the unit you send in,
replace it, and ship the unit back to you. Instead, they
simply swap your unit for another used or refurbished unit
(which has a new battery in it) and send that unit back to you.
Functionality compared to a
The biggest difference
between an older used unit and a new one is probably the battery
life. New iPods offer a fairly realistic 20 or more hours
of battery life, compared to as little as eight for first
generation iPods (and with a well used battery, that life might
be down to four hours). The convenience of having enough
battery life for a couple of long flights is definitely worth
paying extra for.
Newer iPods simply look
nicer and newer, have larger color screens, and may support
photo storage/display (4th generation) and video (5th generation and newer) as
well, whereas older iPods have simple black and white screens
and probably don't have USB connectors (they use Firewire
Total iPod Life
Apple says it designs iPods to have a four year life, but that is almost a meaningless
statement. One person may use their iPod several hours
every day, another person may only use their iPod a couple of
hours a month - it is possible that a heavy iPod user is getting
50 times more use per unit of elapsed calendar time than a light
But heeding Apple's comment,
it is probably best not to buy a first generation iPod, and to
only pay bottom dollar prices for second generation iPods (less
than $100 for the 20GB unit, perhaps $50 for a 10GB unit).
Suggested used iPod values
The following are very
approximate values, based on October 2006 market conditions, for
what may be fair pricing for used iPods and are based on the
assumption that you are a flexible buyer willing to shop around
or pay more for a new unit if you can't get a good deal on a
used unit. These prices also assume the iPod is in fair to
good condition with no obvious faults and is sold complete with
all accessories that were originally supplied.
Note that new iPod pricing
is generally very close to full list price (for example Costco
discounts iPods by a mere $10).
Don't buy first generation
iPods at all.
Pay less than $50 for a 10GB
second generation iPod and less than $100 for a 20GB unit
$50-60 for 10 & 15GB third
generation iPods, $60-100 for 20GB, 30GB and 40GB units
$75, $100, $125 & $150 for
20GB, 30GB, 40GB and 60GB fourth generation iPods
$150 & $200 for 30GB and 60GB
fifth generation (original) iPods
Current (fifth generation
improved) units are probably worth about $50-75 less than
the best street pricing for new units.
iPod mini units are worth
less than $50 (first generation) to less than $100 (second
iPod nano units are worth
about $100 less than current best street pricing for new
units (first generation) or $50 less (second generation).
iPod Shuffle units are worth
$25 (first generation 1GB) - $40 (second generation 1GB).
Apple's iPod range of
personal music players give you a broad range of different
styles and music/video storage capacities.
They are the clear market
leader in such units, and for most people, you'll find them to
be a great investment, allowing you to carry much more music
with you wherever you go than with older technologies such as CD
or cassette tape.
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20 Oct 2006, last update
21 Jul 2020
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