iPod nano: New Form and Less Function?

Now that Apple’s (s aapl) sixth-generation iPod nanos are actually in people’s hands, I thought I’d take a closer look at the value difference between the new and the old. Is the new iPod nano really worth it?

It’s Got The Touch

First and foremost, the new version has a “multitouch” screen. Actually, it’s only capable of discerning two finger gestures (and only for rotating the screen). The introduction of a touchscreen on such a small device is certainly one way to reduce the need for physical controls (ironic that this was introduced immediately after the new iPod shuffle regained its tactile buttons).

The touchscreen also adds a “wow” factor for those who wish they owned an iPod touch or an iPhone. The icons even jiggle when you move them around! But don’t let that fool you. The iPod nano isn’t running iOS, simply updated software designed to resemble iOS. The result? You’re not going to be using apps with it anytime soon.

Design Details

If you were to take a casual, superficial look at the iPod nano, you might think it’s a bit awkward.

The form factor resembles a larger iPod shuffle and the straight edges at the top and bottom seem a little odd for Apple’s standards. One would think the form factor would resemble a smaller iPhone and be curved at the corners like the plastic boxes in which they ship.

The display itself doesn’t sit flat against the body of the device, likely a result of a decision to make the device as small as possible. In my opinion, the design is a bit contrived. Considering the latest iPod shuffle is just a smaller version of the second-generation model, and this new nano looks like a larger version of it with a multi-touch screen, I wonder what Jonny Ive’s team is actually doing.

Technical Specs

When you think about iPod nanos, you might think about how they could play video (2007 and on) or how they had a built-in camera and record video (2009). You might even think about increasingly bigger and better displays. Sure it wasn’t all that great, but you might even think back to when iPod nanos included a speaker (2009). Well, times are changing.

The introduction of a touch screen has driven the component costs of the iPod nano higher than previous models. As a result, Apple trimmed some features that were “not often used” to maintain an amicable price point for consumers, and the company’s profit margin.

Were these features infrequently used? It is true if you own an iPhone, you already have a camera at your disposal. But a nano was an inexpensive and convenient alternative for those who didn’t. And while few might have actually watched video on the tiny screen, you could still plug it into a TV.

The real point I’m trying to make is that while Apple seems intent on pushing the iTunes Store and all it offers, its latest device plays a lot less of that content than the previous generation. That doesn’t seem terribly innovative to me.

Granted, the nano has a specific audience. But for me, it’s not a simple matter of “well if you want those features, go buy an iPod touch or an iPhone.” Instead, it’s about Apple allowing form to trump function. There’s another glaring example I can cite from recent memory.

Have you had a chance to check out the new iPod nano? What do you think? Will you upgrade or sell your previous generation for an ungodly amount on eBay? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):
How to Market Your iPhone App: A Developer’s Guide