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September 17th 2012 12:53 pm

My theory on why Apple changed the design of the iPod nano - to make room for a watch-like wearable device

If you look back it hasn't taken much for Apple to change the design of iPod nano -- it's taken on many different form-factors over the years -- but I have a hunch that Apple had a specific reason for turning away from the design of the last generation.

This is just a theory, but I suspect it could be that they intend to introduce some sort of watch-like wearable device next year, one that would sync with your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch (presumably over Bluetooth 4.0) and act as a secondary display for notifications, controlling the music player, accepting and rejecting calls, etc. To avoid confusion with the watch-like design of the 6th-generation nano, they needed to switch things up for the 7th-generation, hence the new version.

They could certainly could build that sort of functionality into the iPod nano as it was, but perhaps it'd be simpler to offer a new device specifically designed for this purpose, and one that could be sold for less as it wouldn't need any on-board memory (or even a specifically powerful processor).

Again, it's just a theory, but it's hard to imagine Apple not taking a stab at wearable computing, and this move certainly opens up space in their product line for a wrist device.

Also, for reference, here's the last few generations of the nano: gdgt.com­/compare­/portable­-media­-players­/77441­+2554...

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What if a new Nano watch also ties into Apple's TV plans? A low power bluetooth device that can give you your iPhone notifications, etc. but also include a microphone for Siri control of your TV. It certainly could offer a low cost way to include a "remote" in the box with an actual Apple TV. In a way, the Nano could tie together the entire iOS ecosystem. A bit pie in the sky, but could be cool.
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That's definitely a plausible theory, especially with the Pebble Watch on the horizon.
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100% agreed. I think the burgeoning accessory market for last-gen Nano watch bands, etc. proved the market is viable and now Apple needs some time to cook up a full-blown solution. Now hopefully they won't artificially limit compatibility with the iPhone 6 only.
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I like this idea, the problem is that if they make a watch, which is not an iPod, you will lose some of the functionality of the Nano. I, sometimes, do not use it as a watch, when I exercise for example. Also, I like hearing the music from the Nano instead of the Phone as to preserve precious battery.

I'd have loved for Apple to just add Bluetooth to the Nano Watch...
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I think the point would be that it's not an iPod or a replacement for one, it's a complement to a larger device, and would be priced accordingly. The nano starts at $149. That's too much to charge for what would essentially be an accessory, but you could see them selling a wrist-accessory for $99 or $79 and doing pretty well.
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It's just a hunch but I wonder if Apple would launch in a new category like this for $99. Instead my guess is that they might try to make the watch a more premium product and give it some extra features or materials we haven't thought of, and charge $200 or more for it. Make it out of magnesium or titanium or something and make it a really stylish watch too. For a high quality watch that's actually not that much money. Especially one designed by Jonny Ive?
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Interesting take. I just read Nilay's article on the Verge about how Apple missed the opportunity to introduce a smart-watch type thing. www.theverge.com­/2012­/9­/14­/3333316­/apples­-timid­-ne...
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So, you're expecting Apple to produce a Pebble?
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Probably not quite like that, but something you'd wear on your wrist.
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The iPod nano is a very important of Apple's PMP line, second only to the touch, with the shuffle and classic in the dust. But if you look at the slide from last week's presentation comparing every generation of nano, the design changes back and forth between two main form factors, with features being added and removed occasionally (5th gen video camera). When you look at that slide, it's definitely clear that Apple doesn't really know what to do with the nano, and maybe they don't care anymore with the touch. The storage ceiling hasn't changed in the nano and Apple keeps trying to squeeze iOS functionality into it. I don't think the nano has to be a small touch, especially since it's ideal for exercise and activity where you benefit from hitting a hard button without looking. I'm skeptical about the nano's future, but my 5th gen is my routine car/exercise device and I have a 6th gen coming (/regret) from a Kickstarter smartwatch project. I think Apple needs to scrap the shuffle and classic, and make the nano the dumb iPod with enough storage for the traveler's amount of content.
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I'm thinking how power management and battery will be implemented as I doubt they'll be using an e-ink display for that like the Pebble.
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I 100% agree as well. This was my first thought when I seen the new nano during the keynote.
I've been waiting for Apple to make a watch for years. I sent them an email of this idea a few years back of why and how I think it might work. I hope they do make this.
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I hope you're right. I was so saddened by the lack of integration/wrist watch functionality of the nano 7gen and the complete turn from that direction that I didn't even think of a new product line. But that makes sense. Hopefully soon.
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I came to the same conclusion after thinking about why Apple moved away from the watch sized nano.

The nano + strap was an interesting idea, and some people were excited about it, but it was never going to be a mass market product. The nano was never designed to be watch, and the results of trying to make it into one were bulky and hacky. Definitely not apple-like design.

If Apple do venture into wearable computing it wont be a Bell & Ross style oversize watches which is basically what you end up with with a nano+strap. It will be finely industrially designed and thoroughly considered when it comes to use cases, scenarios and user experience.

My other thought was that Apple has some kind of problem or dislike of one of the primary benefits of wearable computing: glance-able information. They continue to avoid adding any sort of widgets to the iPhone home screen despite the extra real estate. The Mac dashboard widgets were always kept on a second screen, not on the desktop. It's possible they simply feel a lot of this information is unimportant or distracting.

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Love this idea. I think it could be really interesting as a streaming only device that works with Apple's rumored Pandora competitor or iTunes match. Personally I'd love to see it as a remote for say your iPad or Apple TV. Maybe they announce this in October?
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They'd sell a gazillion of these if they did it.
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I certainly hope you're right, that would be magicial, but I remain dubious.
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i totally thought the same thing. also i bet it isn't ready yet.
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This is more or less exactly what I've been thinking. They didn't acknowledge the popularity of the previous design as a watch during last week's even, but they certainly supported it in stores by carrying watch bands and by adding watch faces. They just didn't want to tip their hand.
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Although I have the exact some theory, one issue I would like to highlight is that Apple is not known to enter a new market or product category unless they can solve a real problem and be the best they can.

If that is the case, they would need to come up something with more than just a tiny screen with status updates, etc. I can't think of those features but then I don't work for Apple :)

One thing I can say is that I stopped wearing a watch around the same time I started carrying a mobile phone on me full time, since it just became redundant. So whatever Apple is thinking, it will be something which is more than just a redundant mini-iPhone, redundant mini-iPod and of course a redundant digital watch.
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My wish 2 years when the 6th gen nano came out was for it to replace the Shuffle and only have an 8gb model at $99.

I just got my Loop band for my orange nano a couple of weeks ago and it's really cool on many levels and even practical to some degree. Even the pedometer on the nano works quite well for tracking my daily walking.

I like your theory and it's one that has a lot of merit to it. I'm sure there are many Apple employees that support the Nano watch combo and would like to make something that fits on the wrist and connects to other iDevices.
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Agree totally, don't know why the old nano didn't replace the shuffle. I received my 6th gen nano as a replacement to my 1st gen last year with the recall they had last year. While my 1st gen still worked, it was a great upgrade!

On Peter's theory, I think within 2 years we'll see a wearable watch again. Apple iterates, this is an iteration. Just to sell more ipods ...
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My friend did the same thing last year - I had him convinced to get a 6th gen nano and he ended up finding his 1st gen and sent it in and got the graphite colored 8gb model. Great upgrade indeed.
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It makes sense to me, however it is too much like the Sony SmartWatch and/or the Pebble watch. What I really would like it is a phone on my wrist with tethering and wireless (PAN) connection to my devices such as the iPad, iPod etc etc. Battery issues and tethering that might be asking for too much.
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It's an interesting idea to leave a slot open for a watch. It does seem to make sense of the fact that they upgraded the Nano so much. That decision confused me until I read your comment. Which gave me a follow up thought, that the "watch" could put the icing on the cake of the introduction of a type of iPad mini/iPod go-between with some pairing function that would be clumsy on the iPad but not with a smaller easier to carry tablet. Of course it would probably pair with the iPad and the iPods also but maybe there's another rabbit in Apples' hat.
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Peter, while this theory may be correct, it still doesn't address the biggest question: who is the latest iPod Nano designed for? It seems to ruin all the things that people liked about the last one (my wife loves the clip for when she works out), and doesn't add anything that people want. Plus, you can pay $50 more to get a far more capable previous generation Touch, which will actually be able to install apps.

If your theory is correct, then they really shouldn't have released a new Nano and just waited until their wearable device was ready to go. I just don't think this new Nano appeals to nearly as many people as the last one did...
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This year's nano is a cash cow. It's a perfect gift for a child. It's enough like mommy and daddy's fancy phones, but cheap enough that when the kid breaks or loses it, it's not a big deal. If I was 12 years old I would love to have a iPod Touch, but if my parents got me a nano, I would still be stoked.

This took little engineering time and will sell like crazy, just like the iPod Touch. Everyone loves the iOS experience and this is a way to get it into a kid's hands so when they get a job they want to buy their own iPhone/iPad/Macbook.
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I've certainly had this thought ever since Apple introduced the nano 6th gen with watch faces and I know many others have the same feeling. I agree with you and that's why I've held out on the Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Pebble watch, Sony Smartwatch Nike Fuelband, etc. (With the new Fitbit's just coming out I am close to snatching up One though)

I think it would just be too easy for Apple to integrate some sort of health monitoring software that would be essentially a Fitbit/Nike Fuelband that serves as a connected watch.

They could sell it for $300 if they wanted, the great thing about this idea is that price doesn't really matter. People already spend thousands on watches that are worn as jewelry. The biggest hurdle I see is Apple making their first "waterproof" device. To appeal to a big enough market, this would have to be something that swimmers could wear to track their lap time or divers to use 60 feet under. That's the biggest challenge here. And Apple, being the biggest most profitable company today and ever needs to appeal to every market in a new product launch to keep that share price climbing.

The watch part is just making this dumbass 2inch iPod nano into a decent looking touchscreen that people would want on their wrist. Figuring out how to finally make a durable device is another challenge completely.

And for the watch design, they don't have to make the band. In fact, I would encourage them not to enclose a band with the watch at all. Watchbands, like headphones, like other peripherals, break and wear out all the time. Apple just needs to get third party companies interested in making a different kind of peripherals. Which has never been a problem in the past.
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Great theory. An ipod on the wrist does not make sense because of the headphone connection. Having the ipod on the upper arm or on your torso makes much more sense and a watch-like device on the wrist is a great compliment.
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We all predicted the future, guys! ;)
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Last weeks announcements confirmed to me there's no innovation left at Apple. Stick to third parties for a good smartwatch.
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