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The future of the iPod

The device most responsible for Apple's 21st century renaissance gets short shrift these days next to the Mac and the iPhone. What lies in store for the iPod?

Is the iPod Touch the future of Apple iPod lineup, or are people always going to want something simpler?
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UPDATE 9:10am PT - The poll is back open, check it out if you missed out yesterday.

All the adulation bestowed on Apple these days tends to bypass the product that set the stage for its amazing run this decade.

Without the iPod, Apple would be a very different company. The stunning growth of the iPod transformed Apple, the music business, and the consumer electronics industry, and also showed that what people wanted in a handheld computer was a simple user interface built into a stylish package.

Coming off Apple's latest earnings call, however, all the focus is on the Mac and the iPhone. And deservedly so: Apple's Mac business hasn't been this healthy since Ronald Reagan was president and the iPhone has the mobile phone industry scrambling. But what about the iPod?

iPod growth has slowed almost to a halt. Unit shipments of iPods were up just 1 percent compared to last year, while revenue growth was up just 8 percent. The first quarter of the year is not exactly prime iPod buying season, but the days of runaway iPod growth seem over as the market becomes saturated.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Apple's in trouble, as no one has managed to mount a credible threat to its dominance of the market and the company has a plan to evolve with products like the iPod Touch and the iPhone. Still, it seems there's always going to be some market for a relatively inexpensive standalone MP3 player; my boss, a dedicated runner, just can't imagine chugging up Howard Street with an $499 iPhone strapped to his arm.

What will that device look like? I'd like to examine the future of Apple's iPod business in a story next week, and would like to solicit opinions and feedback about what people would want in a future iPod, whether or not they are considering other options, or if they have something completely different in mind for their portable music needs. Feel free to expand on these ideas in the TalkBack section below or send me an e-mail.

But also please also take the time to answer this survey so we can have a little data on what you guys currently think of the iPod before assembling a follow-up story. We'll close the polls at noon Pacific Time on Friday, so get your responses in before then.