Why the New iPod Nano is a Game Changer

by Brian Blum on September 10, 2009

Video capabilities are a game changer

Video capabilities are a game changer

There was lots to like in yesterday’s iPod announcements from Apple. But the most important was the addition of a camera and video functionality to the venerable iPod Nano. Apple practically invented the MP3 market and continues to dominate player sales. The iPhone changed consumer’s perceptions about what a fully-featured smart phone must include.

Now Apple is expanding its reach into video, directly taking on the popular Flip as an in-your-pocket always there live motion recording device. What’s significant is that it’s a completely new market for Apple and if the company applies its usual business savvy, it could grab significant market share.

Yes, it’s true that the iPhone already allows you to take video, but that device is much larger – too big, for me at least, to comfortably fit in a pocket. And with the required phone contract, it’s nowhere near as cheap as a Nano – $150 for an 8 GB unit that records in 640×480 quality (that’s twice the memory as the Flip, by the way).

It’s also true that nearly every cell phone sold today can take video, but if you’ve ever seen the quality of the resulting clips, you’ll be underwhelmed.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to snap some video but didn’t want to lug around my Canon camcorder, which itself was much smaller than my previous Hi8 machine. On our recent vacation, I brought the Canon but never took it out of my backpack. Not once.

The video quality of the new Nano should be about that of the original Flip and the pricing is identical. That’s not quite what I’d want – the $199 Flip HD takes much better video, and I’m sure Apple will release a Nano HD, though we may have to wait awhile. Apple has given the Nano a few special effects, but not the fancy video editing that the iPhone has.

One downside (and it’s a biggie): the Nano ONLY takes video. You can’t use it as a still camera. That means I’ll have to lug around a regular digital camera. And there’s no wireless (not that I expected that) like the iPhone where you can post those candid videos online immediately.

Why no stills? Steve Jobs told The New York Times that adding high pixel resolution including autofocus would have bulked up the device too much.

All told, if Apple executes well on this one, it could definitely be a game changer in the pocket video space, meaning even more YouTube videos of cats flushing toilets and fat kids waving light sabers. But for businesses it will also mean faster product demos, shots from conferences, interviews, home video tours (great for Realtors), and even documentation of in-house meetings.

Two other new features of note in the improved Nano:

FM radio tuner

A number of years ago, I bemoaned the fact that no iPod could pick up radio stations. When I visit a country outside of Israel, I enjoy listening to the local radio stations. It gives me a feel for a city’s vibe. But now I rarely listen to terrestrial radio, preferring Internet-only stations like Radio Paradise and WOXY.

The iPod Nano’s radio tuner has some cool features – like the ability to pause your broadcast up to 15 minutes and to see which song is playing, then click to buy it later from iTunes – but for the most part this feature seems too little too late.


The Nano has long been Apple’s iPod of choice for joggers like me who primarily want a small device that you can strap on your arm. So the addition of a pedometer is a welcome feature. How many kilometers is that one-hour jog? Now I’ll know without having to carry a second device.

There are other goodies in the new Nano too that bring it closer to the app-centric Touch and iPhone without sacrificing its sleek form factor. Now, what I’d really like? A tiny iPhone, the size of a Nano. No rumors yet, but knowing Apple, anything is possible.

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