Update: Apple has unveiled the new iPod Nano. Check out the details of the redesigned iPod Nano and iPod Touch.
The new iPhone will have a bigger screen. It will be faster. It will have a new, smaller dock connector.
We know all of this already, and it all sucks. Nothing about any of those changes even approaches the type of revolutionary change we have all come to expect from Apple, and if that’s really all there is, Apple should be ashamed. But I don’t think that’s the case.
True Apple fans still have their fingers crossed for that magical “one more thing,” and after a dream-like revelation yesterday morning, I’m convinced I know what it will be: The new iPod Nano will act like a wristwatch that interacts with the iPhone 5.
The world on your wrist
The new Nano will serve as an auxiliary screen, communicating wirelessly with your phone to bring the most important updates from your phone right to your wrist: texts, emails, push notifications from Facebook that your best friend has a new profile picture. Whatever you want.
More importantly, you’ll be able to interact with your phone without ever taking it out of your pocket by using Siri. Ask your watch what the weather is and it will seamlessly relay the request to the iPhone 5, which digs up the forecast and displays it on your wrist two seconds later. Ask for directions to the bank and it will not only show you a map, you’ll be able to swipe through the turn-by-turn directions as you make them, right on the watch. Ask about your stocks and you’ll have the full day’s trading on a graph, along with the closing price. With a tiny camera and enough bandwidth between watch and phone, you could even FaceTime on your watch.
Besides these intriguing possibilities right out of the box, the things that third-party developers could do with this tech make the mind reel. With a couple internal accelerometers, it could easily replace sleep monitors, step counters (the last-gen Nano already went there), and even the Nike FuelBand.
Yes, we’ve already seen similar devices like the Meta Watch and Pebble. Sony even dabbled in something similar with its SmartWatch and Motorola with the Motoactv. But as Apple has shown time and time again, originality isn’t key, it’s doing it right. And the new iPod Nano will do it right.
Dozens of Kickstarter projects have already turned the existing Nano into a watch, so the wearability of something this size has been established. I would, however, expect Apple to spruce the new Nano up with a slimmer design, and maybe even curve it a bit for the sake of comfort. Screen size will remain the same, though it will sport a high-res Retina display to make the most of the tiny space. Of course, since it’s an Apple product interacting with another Apple product, the Nano will sync up painlessly right out of the box using Bluetooth.
Most likely, Apple will continue to sell the Nano as a standalone MP3 player, with a wristband accessory that makes it more of a complement to the iPhone 5. This interchangeable aspect gives users a fun chance to customize their gear, and also opens up a nice new opportunity for third-party manufacturers. I anticipate factories in Taiwan spooling up to pump up bling-encrusted wristbands by the time I’m done writing this sentence.
Apple could have made the iPod an auxiliary screen for the iPhone a long time ago, but it didn’t make sense until the birth of Siri. Interacting with your smartphone using a touchscreen a fraction of the size would have been awful, but speaking into your watch to request a quick bite of info on the go is totally practical. Last year Apple opened the door, this year it walks through it.
Launching the iPhone 4S first gave Apple a chance to find the flaws in Siri, since it was more a sideshow than an essential part of the phone’s functionality; people who chafed at Siri’s rough edges could abandon it without feeling burned by their iPhone 4S purchase. That luxury doesn’t exist with a wristwatch that uses it as the primary input, so the iPhone 4S gave Apple a convenient test bed. Now, a year later, Apple is ready to deploy a refined Siri on its next big platform: the wristwatch. Next year, the TV?
Why this will never come true
I can already hear skeptics grumbling and scrolling to the comments section, so let me acknowledge a couple holes here.
First, wearing a giant silver slab on your wrist and talking to it is just plain dorky. It seems to grind against the grain of the effortlessly cool image Apple has spent the last decade honing. While talking to Siri on an iPhone only seems a shade less awkward, we’re just not sure if the world is ready to embrace wearable gadgets on such a massive scale.
Second, battery life may present a technical barrier for a small device expected to do so much. Sure, the existing Nano provides 24 hours of music playback, but that type of usage excludes two major battery sinks: lighting up a screen and communicating wirelessly. An iPod Nano used as a companion to the iPhone 5 would have to do both of these things all the time. Even if it could muster the juice to pull this off, you can definitely forget about the screen staying constantly lit to tell the time at a glance. Watches like the Pebble use a low-power E-Ink screen to skirt this problem, but you would need to press a button on the iPod Nano to see the time.
Why this is absolutely true
I have absolutely no basis for this speculation except for one single damning fact: It makes too much sense for Apple to pass up.
Seamless integration with a Nano wristwatch gives Apple the “magical” element that its fans live for. It pushes the iPhone miles away from a crowd of Android competitors, and suddenly makes it look unique and class-leading again. The technical barriers aren’t insurmountable – the Nano merely acts as a dumb “screen” for the iPhone 5, so it doesn’t really need to be any more powerful, it just needs wireless abilities.
More telling than any of these reasons, it allows Apple to sell more hardware. The market for MP3 players have been crumbling since the adoption of the smartphone, because one essentially replaces the other. Linking the iPod Nano to the iPhone 5 not only breathes new life into the MP3 player, it compels consumers to buy both devices. If that’s not an Apple move, and a brilliant one, I don’t know what is.
The latest rumors that Apple plans on announcing a new iPod Shuffle and Nano at tomorrow’s event only adds more credence to this theory.
We’ll see in one more day whether Apple really has concocted something magical for the iPhone 5, or whether we’re destined for another year of “meh.” I’m betting on, and hoping for, the former.
[Photo credits: ADR Studios]