updated 06:52 pm EST, Thu January 30, 2014
Job notices, new technologies may hint at rethinking rather than retirement
As an Apple product, the iPod -- the company's music player line that continues to be a mainstay with fitness buffs and consumers who want "an iPhone without the phone" -- has been in decline for some time. Even so, analysts were startled when CEO Tim Cook mentioned during the recent earnings discussion conference call that shipments of the iconic device line had fallen a full 50 percent from the same quarter last year. Those predicting the iPod's imminent death, however, may be premature.
Large-capacity Classic on the chopping block?
There have been signs that Apple is rethinking, rather than retiring, the iPod concept. Although Cook referred to it as "a declining business," the company itself may be partially responsible for the iPod's sales slide: the lower-end, music-only players such as the Shuffle and Nano tend to be more-or-less indestructible, and have a reputation for long lifespans -- in addition, Apple hasn't made any really substantive changes to the line (excepting the iPod touch) in years.
The iPod as we know it may be headed for extinction, but job notices in the recent past and currently available on Apple's opportunities site suggest that Apple isn't done with the iPod concept just yet. A now-pulled want ad for a position at Apple's sapphire glass manufacturing facility in Tucson, Arizona was specifically looking for "iPod/iPhone Manufacturing Design Engineers" (see below) with a view to incorporating the sapphire glass into future products. Apple has also recently patented methods for incorporating the super-hard, scratch-proof glass into future products.
Recent job listings include "New Product Introduction Operations Program Managers" and specifically mention overseeing and managing an iPod product launch. There is also a listing for a "Product Quality" engineer for the iPod team in which the description includes the phrase "ensure operational technical readiness for all phases of the introduction cycle." Other want ad calls for Plastics Tooling engineers and program managers, and mention the Mac, iPhone and iPod as divisions candidates will be working with.
The mention of plastics suggests that, at the very least, Apple is thinking of retooling the fifth-gen iPod touch to be more like its newest mid-range iPhone, the 5c. While the colorful 5c has received mixed notices for its fashionable color schemes and appears to be more popular with younger users and first-time iPhone buyers than with long-time and professional iPhone users, its design would likely do well alongside a camera and capacity upgrade compared to the the current (fifth-generation) iPod touch, first introduced in 2012.
Apple may also be considering ways to reduce the costs of manufacturing iPods, allowing the line to continue but recognizing its reduced sales volume. Another option would be to redesign the more fitness-oriented models to include the M7 motion co-processor and incorporate additional fitness-related data collection and apps into some models -- or introduce an all-new, fitness-oriented wearable iPod with those capabilities, potentially replacing models like the Nano and Shuffle.