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How Apple whiffed on the new iPod Nano

The new iPod Nano with its multitouch screen and tiny design is a beautiful object--until you stick a headphone cord into it. That's why the next stop in the iPod's evolution should be all about cutting the cord.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
3 min read
Scott Wilson's concept design for the Lunatik has attracted close to $900,000 in funding on kickstarter.com Scott Wilson

Back in September, when Steve Jobs unveiled the sixth-generation iPod Nano with its multitouch display, my first thought was, "Wow, that thing's small. Maybe too small." As Jobs himself pointed out, it was tiny, even suggesting in his keynote that it could be worn as a wristwatch.

At the time, I can't say I foresaw an impending Nano wristwatch fad. And though I've only seen a couple out in the wild, Nano wristband cases are proliferating and making their way into the market. It's also worth noting that Scott Wilson has raised close to $900,000 from more than 12,00 backers on kickstarter.com to produce two iPod Nano watch kits, the TikTok and the Lunatik.

True, there's a large dose of geek factor that goes along with wearing a Nano on your wrist. But truth be told, every time I see a new wristband accessory featured on a tech blog, I'm tempted by the concept, even though I'm not so keen on the idea of charging my watch every few days. However, there's one bigger, nagging issue I have trouble with: I don't want to plug my headphones into an iPod that's sitting on my wrist.

The most obvious way to do away with the problem is not to plug a cord in. But alas, Apple left off one important feature on the new iPod Nano: Bluetooth.

Though Jobs' half-joking remark about the Nano as wristwatch was planned and most likely well thought out, Apple really envisions most people clipping the new Nano onto their clothing. On its Web site, in talking about the Nano's design, Apple says, "The new built-in clip makes it easy to move to the music. Just clip iPod Nano to your sleeve, jacket, or bag. And wherever you go, your favorite tunes are right where you need them." Nowhere is the word "wrist" mentioned, but any way you look at adhering the device to your person, the opportunity to integrate wireless streaming was missed. And by streaming, I don't just mean streaming to Bluetooth headphones, but to speakers as well. Controlling your home stereo from your wrist has a certain appeal.

I'm not an engineer and don't know exactly how much bigger the Nano would have to grow to accommodate a Bluetooth chip and perhaps a slightly larger battery to power the Bluetooth when it's turned on (yes, Bluetooth is touted as a low-power technology, but it still requires some power). It would probably have to get a little bigger, but that wouldn't be the end of the world, because, as I said, maybe the thing was too small to begin with.

In any case, I've felt for the last year or two that the iPod, especially with more people using their phones as their music devices, has plateaued. You can tweak the design, make the battery life better, add some more memory, but it's basically fully baked; there really isn't anywhere to go.

So while you can argue that the new Nano and the previous buttonless, voice-controlled Shuffle have been innovative, that Shuffle fell flat (and hard) and the new Nano and its touch-screen interface are all about shrinking the device into a beautiful object. The only problem is that beauty is ruined as soon as you stick a cord into it.

So I say to Apple, there's more to the evolution of the iPod than miniaturization. If you're going to make this a wearable device, the next stop is cutting the cord. Just do it.