When Apple announced its exciting new iPod Nano 6th generation, with its tiny form factor, slick touch screen, and cool “iOS-looking” interface, I got my credit card out as fast as I could – in order to purchase a 5th generation Nano before they went out of stock! Without a doubt, the new Nano is quite slick, but in terms of actual usefulness and usability, it represents a decline from the previous model and a very un-Apple-like triumph of design over actual functionality.
Ironically, Apple itself acknowledged that it made a similar mistake with the previous generation iPod Shuffle. You remember, the model that eliminated any buttons on the unit, creating a beautiful little objet d’art that was utterly unusable as an actual music player under many use cases, such as with third-party headphones or in noisy environments. Apple recognized this and re-introduced physical buttons on the newest Shuffle, while retaining the slick voice command system for those who like it. It wouldn’t surprise me if likewise the next Nano brings back some of the functionality Apple stripped away.
Many of the Nano reviews that have mentioned the taken-away features have focused on “bulletpoint” options, like the missing camera, voice recorder, games, and video player. While these features might be important to some people, they are not the primary reason most people buy a Nano – listening to (and controlling) music, especially in certain environments.
Nanos are especially popular as relatively cheap, but very functional music players that can be used in environments where you might not want to bring your expensive (and larger) Touch or iPhone, such as gyms, boats, or jogging trails. Furthermore, the older iPod Nano’s physical buttons allowed for control of the device without having to view the screen. You could have the iPod in your pocket or in an armband and pause the music or change songs by (physical) touch alone, without looking at the iPod.
The new touch-screen Nanos are impossible to control by, well, touch alone, without looking at the screen. You have to pull the device out and look at it in order to change settings, or leave it clipped to your clothes. While some creative straps and bands (such as the one that turns the Nano into a wristwatch) may help with this, the fact remains – it takes more effort to control the touch Nano then the older click wheel variety.
Obviously, the touch interface is more flexible then the click wheel, and Apple has already at least provided physical buttons for volume control. Perhaps the next version will add physical buttons for play/pause and next/previous while keeping the touch screen as the major way of interfacing with the device. Like Apple’s compromise with the new Shuffle, a change like this for the Nano would really represent the best of both worlds and make the device even better.