Monday, December 26, 2005

No, no, nano

So there I was at at the Apple Store at University Village on Christmas Eve, internally debating which vision of the digital future of entertainment I should endorse with my dollars. Which way to go: Video iPod or Nano?

Lately there’s been a lot of press about both of them. The Video iPod got attention because of its video capabilities; the nano was rightly heralded as an advance in miniaturization that other music-player manufacturers would come around to, sooner or later.

I checked them both out thoroughly, mostly with that touchy-feely, tactile sense of validation we use before making any big purchase (one reason I wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of waiting to get one in the mail).

The nano’s reputation for sleekness is well-deserved; you could easily forget you had the thing and lose track of its location. There's a charm aspect to the nano that tries hard to make it seem irresistible, especially to younger buyers of leisure technology.

Likewise, the video iPod has garnered a lot of attention for the video feature, which, depending on the degree of your addiction to television, may or may not be the coolest thing.

Both devices have their champions and their audiences. But there in the Apple Store, it was my turn to decide. Which paradigm would get my dime?

Then, in an instant -- in one of those flashes of thought that could be insight but is probably more just a spendthrift shopping as shrewdly as possible -- the decision became crystal clear, as clear to me as I suspect such decisions will be for others in the future.

Like others, I too had fallen in love with nano: its sleek shape, its almost invisible size. But when the rubber met the road, I began to suspect something was amiss. First, it was a matter of cost efficiency. The nano I intended to buy would let me carry about 1,000 songs on a 4-gigabyte hard drive. Cost: $199. The video iPod, on the other hand, allowed for downloading 7,500 songs on a 30-gigabyte drive. The larger size of the video iPod wasn't important. But the cost? $299. Clearly you dont have to be a math major at MIT to see which device, on a dollar-per-gigabyte comparison, is the better value.

And then there was the other matter to be considered. Let's call it the vision thing. The nano, despite its cuteness factor and the buzz that preceded its arrival into the culture, is effectively no more than taking us where we've already been -- where Apple's already been. The nano is a clever sonic tweak of the original iPod technology, a smart rehash of the model launched in 2001 -- but still a rehash, one that doesn't advance that original technology with anything more than size. Setting aside the early hosannahs for nano, I've got the suspicion that other late adopters are likely to come to the same conclusion. Not to rain on Steve Jobs' parade, but the nano of 2005 may well go the way of the iPod mini in two years' time: slowly but reliably phased out, ushered to the back of the universal serial bus.

The video iPod, with its capacity for downloading videos with the same ease as downloading music, is the trailblazing device, the one that networks and music websites will be retooling for in the future. NBC and ABC have already started that process: NBC makes downloads of the "Nightly News" available free, while ABC offers up downloads of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost" for about $2 each. As the driver of an online business model, the video iPod had it nailed. At least that's what I thought as I walked to the counter, debit card in hand, eagerly anticipating my ticket to the cutting edge.

At least until Apple comes up with something new.

Think they won't? You watch; they will.

iGuarantee it.

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