In Praise of the iPod Classic

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As we approach the now-familiar annual Apple new product announcement for the autumn, and await a new iPhone, it’s worth wondering what the fate of the iPod classic will be. Largely ignored in these days of touch screens and apps, the old stalwart hard-drive-filled iPod classic is, like the proverbial bunny, still ticking. It’s a great device, with lots of capacity.

I last wrote about the iPod classic about two years ago, wondering if Apple would kill off the iPod classic and shuffle. At the time, I examined Amazon.com’s list of best-selling MP3 players, and found that the iPod classic was number six in the list. As I write this article, the iPod classic is in seventh and eighteenth positions (for the two different-colored models); not bad for a device that Apple doesn’t advertise, and that is rarely mentioned in the tech press.

The rest of that best-seller list is interesting. Out of the top twenty devices, Apple has 15 of its music players present, compared with 14 two years ago. Apple is no longer number one, however; the SanDisk Sansa Clip+ 4 GB MP3 Player takes the crown. This is a low-priced device that is arguably better than the iPod shuffle, which only comes in at number 23.

Back in 2011, I said the following:

The iPod classic is the only hard-drive-based music player that Apple sells. While this is fragile (I ruined an iPod classic by dropping it once; the hard drive died), it also offers larger capacity than flash memory. However, if Apple can get the price of flash memory down enough to offer similar capacities in an iPod touch, the classic’s only trump card gets beaten. Personally, I like the classic because I have a huge library – much more than it can hold. But if Apple can sell me an iPod touch with the same capacity, 160 GB, or even more, at a comparable price, I’d go for it in a second. The iPod touch is far more versatile, yet far more expensive. The current 64 GB iPod touch lists at $400, compared to $359 for 160 GB on the iPod classic; that’s nearly three times as much capacity. I can’t see Apple offering more than 160 GB on a touch, but if they were to offer a 128 GB model for around the price of the classic, that would tempt a lot of users with big libraries. But it’s still not enough.

Some of the figures there need updating. While the iPod touch 64 GB is still $400, the iPod classic is only $249, a drop of $100 in two years, making it a bargain-priced device for the voracious listener. That’s only $20 more than the previous-version 16 GB iPod touch, which Apple still sells, and $50 less than the current iPod touch 32 GB.

To be honest, I haven’t used my iPod classic, or my iPod shuffle, for that matter, in a long time. Since I carry my iPhone with me all the time, I use that for music, especially since I got Bluetooth headphones and can listen without getting tangled in wires. But the iPod classic remains on my desk, a reminder of times past. I’m thinking of putting it in my car, which has a 1/8” jack for a portable music player. Why not have that much choice of music in a car?

Will Apple kill off the iPod classic? This time, I think they may. But in exchange, I hope they offer us an iPod touch, and even an iPhone, with 128 GB. I don’t know if I’d pay the price for that much storage in an iPhone – my current model is 32 GB, and I’m pining for 64 GB – but it would be nice to know it’s there if you have a very large music library and want to take a lot of music with you.

But the iPod classic remains the only direct descendant of the first iPod (in form factor, and technology). It’ll be a shame to see it go.