Predicting 2010: iPod and iPhone

The dawn of a new year never fails to make me excited about all the potential for new devices we’ll inevitably see released. This year is no different, and for Apple’s (s aapl) iPod and iPhone, there are some storms that have been brewing for quite a while that should break in 2010. Hope you packed a raincoat.

I recently came across my still functional (including decent battery life) 30GB iPod Video while rooting through my drawers looking for a proprietary USB cable. After I charged it and booted it up, the palpable feeling of the HDD platter spinning up, and the faint sound that accompanies said action reminded me of just how far we’ve come, and of how far we’ve yet to go with Apple’s portable devices. Here’s where I think we’re headed next.

The iPod

It’s long been the linchpin in Apple’s lineup of product offerings, and it deserves eternal respect for the role it had in reversing the company’s fortunes, but the iPod no longer enjoys the place of highest favor among Apple products, mobile or otherwise. I predict, as a general trend, a continued downplaying of the iPod’s role at Apple, and significant changes to the products on offer as a result of that trend.

Video Comes to the Touch

Probability: Guaranteed
The evidence all but guarantees that video is meant to come to the iPod touch sooner or later, and I predict it will be sooner, rather than later. Tear-downs of the most recently released iteration of the touch revealed a space perfectly designed for the same camera guts found in the new iPod nano, so unless Apple is just very interested in toying maliciously with Apple rumor hounds, this one is basically in the bag. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the next logical step for the rising star of Apple’s iPod lineup.

iPod Classic Gets Retired

It’s served long, and it’s served well, but the HD-based iPod Classic is not long for this world, in my opinion. Apple’s already streamlined the Classic to a single available model, and as the price of flash memory begins to trend downwards again in 2010, I think they’ll do away with the beast altogether and focus on turning Classic customers into iPod touch devotees.

Touch-based Control Returns to Shuffle

Probability: Possible
One of Apple’s most questionable decisions made in the service of sexy design is the loss of any and all buttons on the iPod shuffle. I think it will respond to mixed reviews and consumer skepticism by returning some form of manual (ie. non-voice) control to the device itself. That doesn’t necessarily mean buttons will return, if they can figure out some way to make use of the multi-touch tech it’s so clearly in love with.

Nano Gets Incremental Video Upgrades

Probability: Guaranteed
Look for the iPod nano to get steady improvements in the quality of its video camera, and in what you can do with said video on and off the device. Apple’s made its big changes to the device, and will now move into what amounts to a holding pattern in which it upgrades the upgrades it’s already introduced. And consumers will continue shelling out with each bump up.

The iPhone

Predicting where the iPhone will go is a bit more challenging than making calls about the iPod lineup. The upgrades made with the 3GS were logical enough, since many of them amounted to putting things in that should probably have been there in the first place.

The Usual

Probability: Guaranteed
There are the standard upgrades to be expected with any new model. These things include storage bumps (64GB next time around), improvements to the camera and video recording (bump up to 5 megapixels possible, but by no means a sure thing), and improvements to the processing and graphics rendering capabilities of the iPhone. They’re boring and we know they’re coming, so let’s not waste time on this.

New Look

Probability: Possible
The iPhone is incredibly recognizable, and that probably had something to do with the reason the 3GS still has the same distinctive look as the 3G. Other probable reasons include a rushed roll-out, and more emphasis on internal changes. I think next time around, we’ll be treated to a new look, and I wouldn’t exclude the possibility that we may have already seen some early prototypes of this design change.

Better Peer-to-Peer

Probability: Guaranteed
The future of mobile tech is in peer-to-peer interaction between devices. Apple knows this, and that’s why it opened up Bluetooth interaction between devices when it released iPhone 3.0. I think Apple will make further efforts to make P2P experiences technically better and more seamless in the next update. That might come via improved Bluetooth, or using the recently revealed Wi-Fi Direct tech that Apple’s thrown its support behind.

Physical Keyboard

Probability: Absurd
No. Just kidding.

The Big Picture

Flash-bang upgrades will all go to the iPhone, while the iPod line will get natural but relatively small and less showy enhancements. The reason being, Apple is using the iPod touch and its brethren to herd consumers towards the iPhone, which is the real cash cow and the better bet for long-term investment.