The iPod touch's Significance

by Todd Ogasawara

I've been reading a bunch of statements from various analysts/pundits about the significance of the iPod touch with a combination of amusement and puzzlement. Some of the puzzlement comes from the statements directly and some indirectly. For example, here's one of many quotes from an article over on PlaylistMag.com: “It’s the Web in your pocket,” said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research. “For $300, you get a mobile Web browser with touch-screen input.”. Uh, so what are the dozens of devices from Palm, Nokia (770 or 800), and bunch of Windows Mobile WiFi enabled PDAs? They vary in price. But, a bunch are in the $200 to 400 range. And, they've been around for years. So, what is the real difference? The real difference is the capability of the Safari browser (so I'm told since I haven't tried it for more than a few seconds). Most of the mobile browsers that have been used for the past few years are basically toy browsers that require specially formatted web pages to avoid scrolling continuously just to read some text. The exception in the non-iPhone/iPod touch world is the Operamini browser currently in beta release.

Here's another quote: In fact, Gottheil said that the iPod touch’s selling potential is actually increased precisely because it is decoupled from a two-year phone contract with AT&T, something required with the iPhone. This is an interesting observation because the exact opposite is going on in the non-Apple phone-PDA world. The phone-less PDA type devices like the Palm OS based Palm boxes and Windows Mobile based Pocket PCs were the norm for years. Then, the Palm Treo (original Palm OS version) and Microsoft Windows Mobile touch-screen (Pocket PC Phone Edition -- AKA Professional Edition) and non-touch screen (Smartphone AKA Standard Edition) took over leaving manufacturers like Dell to completely abandon the phone-less Pocket PCs (their great Axim line with WiFi and Bluetooth but no phone radio). I'm really hoping that the iPod touch redefines and reinvigorates the phone-less PDA market the same way the original iPod redefined the PDA market. And, yes, I didn't get an iPhone because I didn't want to switch to AT&T Wireless and be locked into their contract.

Here's a third quote from the article: Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said in an e-mail interview that having both an iPod touch plus a cell phone would be a “great set for many of us to use.” But he discounted the iPod as a business tool that IT shops would support. Unfortunately and unhappily, I agree with this statement. But, that is only because IT shops don't seem to support mobile devices of any type including Microsoft's Windows Mobile which is actually designed for integration with Enterprise infrastructure.

A fourth quote: “A usable portable Web browser will appeal to both personal and business users, and Web sites and applications oriented to the mobile browser will proliferate,” Gottheil and Byrne wrote in a TBR statement on the iPod touch Wednesday. Hack, hack, cough, cough. There's a couple of weird things about this general idea. I noticed that a number of iPhone specific pages from major sites like Digg and Facebook appeared. But, this puzzled me since the big deal about iPhone's (and touch's) Safari browser is that you don't need specially formatted pages. That said, there are a lot (though not enough) pretty well done pages formatted for WAP and other mobile browsers already. If the iPhone and iPod touch take off, we may see more. But, umm, I though they didn't need it :-)

But, putting aside my hopefully not too snarky comments above, I think the general sentiment coming from the experts is right. I've long lamented the loss of choices of non-phone Windows Mobile products. I hate having to tie a Pocket PC purchase to phone service contracts or pay a premium for an unlocked phone. I think the iPhone's impact, large as it is, will be dwarfed by the iPod touch which allows anyone to buy it without a phone contract. I also think that lines of people should be outside of Apple's campus in Cupertino with placard demanding an SDK so we can see apps developed for it without resorting to hacks.

My pre-order for the iPod touch went out the day it was announced and I'm eagerly awaiting its arrival in a couple of weeks. And, in a effort not to monopolize the MacDevCenter blog with my iPod touch mutterings, I'll mutter away on my personal blog which currently focuses on Windows Mobile (and will still focus on that since I enjoy using that platform). If anyone wants to talk touch, drop me a line at editor(AT-SIGN)mobileviews.com. Perhaps we can set up a TalkCast at TalkShoe with other new iPod touch owners.

15 Comments

Ian Betteridge
2007-09-08 07:09:26
One key indication that the iPod is not a PDA is in the contacts: you can't edit them on the touch, even though you can on the iPhone.
jon
2007-09-08 09:09:01
The N770/N800 are generally brushed off with the other mobile devices, but there are a few things I don't generally see people mention:
- The browsing experience on the N770/N800 is not half-baked and is not watered down. It doesn't run Opera mini. It runs Opera... and Flash for that matter. On a similar architecture to the iPhone, no-less.
- The N770/N800 actually have a higher DPI screen then the iPhone, bigger too.


That said, the general experience I've had with the N800 is lackluster. Sure, I can install all the extra software I want, but who cares if none of that syncs with the desktop apps i use? So the device itself is fairly half-baked, but the web browsing experience is top notch (in my opninion).

Andy
2007-09-08 09:38:05
Ian, according to what I've read and seen, you CAN edit contacts on the Touch.


I also ordered one as soon as I could, but now that I hear rumours of a 16GB , 3GiPhone for Europe, I might have to reconsider.


As for the competition - just today I attempted to access a website using Opera Mini. It was an exercise in frustration: I tried two different versions of Opera, including the new beta. After spending painful minutes typing in the address on the clumsy phone keypad the browser just would not cooperate, and wouldn't load the page. In the end, I gave up.

Randy Smith
2007-09-08 09:38:28
My iPod Touch is on the way as well. I ordered mine the day after the show. I sure wish it have mail.app like the iPhone and the notes feature as well. I can workaround both of those problems by going to my webmail interface and I can always use the notes on my 5G iPod. I have had wi-fi palms but dragging it along always seemed like a chore. My Razr does Opera mini and mail but is sloooooow. I have a monster icase the I can carry my iPod Touch, 5g iPod, 1g shuffle and RAZR in with plenty of room for the charger that came with it and goodies like the iTalk Pro and iTrip Pro. One thing I have not seen yet is if the Touch version of Safari can be viewed in the landscape mode. I will check your personal blog and I am very excited about the Touch as it is pretty much my dream iPod come true. I am pretty jacked about it.
jsk
2007-09-08 12:59:23
I'm intrigued by the Touch, but I'll be waiting for v2 with more storage (only 16GB is a deal breaker for me, go to at least 32GB and I'm there!) and the rest of the "missing" software (mail, Google Maps, weather, stocks, games, etc.). It really has the potential to be the next big thing in PDAs.


Personally, I've always liked having my PDA/iPod separate from my phone (the only "convergence" I'm looking for is with my PDA and my iPod). I just works best for me (especially since AT&T isn't in my part of California and the GSM that is here is a sad joke compared to CDMA - no, not Verzon, I use U.S. Cellular). Probably the reason for the drop off on PDA only sales is the fact that Palm really hasn't updated their OS since they added color YEARS ago.


What will really be interesting to see is whether Jobs opens up the Touch to third party development. The (rather lame) excuse for the iPhone was that they didn't want to risk the phone network to bad third party software. That won't hold water with the Touch, there's no network to take down.

Stefan_K
2007-09-09 23:51:28
If only the iPod touch had Bluetooth. Without, you cannot use it outside available WiFi hotspots.


My (relatively old) Palm Treo 650 has a usable web browser (palmOne Blazer 4) but sadly no WiFi...


Still waiting for the "perfect" browser-to-go...

Neil
2007-09-10 06:55:29
Why has the email client been excluded, any theories other than differentiion with the iPhone?
Colin Bates
2007-09-10 09:09:22
Strange that people think the iPod touch has too little memory to cut it as an iPod since it is better spec'ed than the new Nanos (8/16Gb vs 4/8Gb). I immediately saw the Touch as a replacement for my Nokia 770 Internet Tablet for WiFi-powered www browsing (and also 3G with bluetooth through my phone), but then saw the lack of an email client.
It's odd to see a product from Apple than doesn't have a clear focus. It looks to me like a "greatest hits" compilation - nice touch-screen, good WiFi browsing, plays music and videos but doesn't really hit the sweet spot in any of those categories.
It could be very disruptive technology though if someone puts a VOIP client on it...
JulesLt
2007-09-10 17:00:30
Todd - I think the issue with iPhone tailored apps is that it's now more about design, rather than technology - i.e. it's about optimising for a small physical screen. With Opera also being a 'full' web engine we should rapidly be at a point of web standards support in the mobile space, once both of them drive out their bugs.


I too will be intrigued as to how Apple respond to third-party apps. The AppleTV may point the way - Apple have neither supported or threatened third party hacks. I'm just not sure what that means. Is it a case that internal development has been so fast, the internal SDK is still in a woeful state? Be interesting to see comments from those who have developed and have Cocoa experience.


Colin - from what I've read, audio input is disabled, unlike some other iPod models, making VOIP a no go - that seems deliberate. Cutting out Bluetooth also stops anyone doing it as a software hack. So it's still not quite the 'networkless iPhone' I'd like. But I've still ordered one, simply because it does enough things that I want. I'm also sure mail.app, etc, will either be made available or available via hacks in short enough timescale. That one does seem a mystery omission to me given that you can use webmail. Google maps - I'm presuming you're lacking the ability to get current position via phone cell? I can't really see these two being 'killer' enough features to bump someone up to the iPhone.
(Other blogs have confirmed that opening mail attachments from gmail show that it will display Office documents and PDF fine).

Joe
2007-09-11 12:43:02

There is a difference between a phone-less PDA and a PDA that is decoupled from a two-year phone contract with AT&T. I'd be more interested in an iPhone if it didn't come with AT&T.


( I hate to see the AT&T name attached to that company, actually, writing as one who was happy to be an employee of the company that used to have that name, and who has been an unhappy customer of the company that has renamed itself.)


Jen
2007-09-12 07:56:36
People get so incredibly worked up about these things. It's a toy, for goodness sakes. Not only that, but Apple has withheld a bunch of functionality from it so that they can come out with a new version later, and get people to buy it again.3
Parimal
2007-09-14 11:00:06
"But, this puzzled me since the big deal about iPhone’s (and touch’s) Safari browser is that you don’t need specially formatted pages."


I think to understand this, we'll need to considering also the quiet revolution in the Ajax world. It isn't that these pages are specially formatted for the iPhone -- they don't need to be, you're right -- but it's, from an interface design point of view, very inconvenient to have to zoom and move around to use an application. And that's what those pages are for: much less to just present information than to allow interaction. And the significance of the iPod touch, as I've written about in my blog (http://realityequation.net/index.php/journal/market-revolution-ipod-touch-and-399-iphones/) relates to the jive effect (http://realityequation.net/index.php/journal/jive-verb-design-and-conquer/).


Yes, we've had web browsers in mobile phones for quite some time. WiFi too. But they haven't tipped, they haven't become ubiquitous, and they haven't been able to change the behavior a sizeable (non-geeky) user population. With the insane pace of development in the iPhone world (without an SDK!) -- http://iphoneapplicationlist.com/ should give an idea -- there's the possibility that the iPhone and now the iPod touch will cause that tipping, the jive, to happen. Because over 1 million people are now excited about these applications, a single platform with exclusive, dedicated applications, the organic web revolution will be hard to beat.


And that, to me, is the iPod touch's huge significance. A WebKit browser in the pockets of over a (lot more than a) million people, and lots of apps tailored that that platform.

Valen
2007-09-18 22:58:13
Actually, the thing that kills it DEAD as a PDA is the lack of an external speaker. Assuming you can live with the fact that you can't edit the Calendar (yes, BIG assumption but theoretically fixable with software)... YOU CAN'T HEAR THE ALARM GO OFF. If I didn't have my PDA beeping me all the time, I'd never be anywhere anytime close to on-time.
Matt
2007-11-25 12:24:25
I think it sets the standard for things to come, creative have a long way to go to create something similar
RichQ
2008-01-14 16:25:28
I have been a Palm user for a long time, probably over 10 years. I'm currently looking for a replacement for my Palm m515 which is dying a slow and painful death. I have considered the iPod touch, but from most of the comments, it seems to be inadequate as a PDA, so I guess I'll get a Palm Tungsten E2 or Palm T/X.