Instead of continuing to make those 3.5-ounce music players that are "only" a half-inch thick, Apple is now offering the iPod nano, which weighs 1.5 ounces and is no thicker than a #2 pencil. Despite its diminutive size, the new iPod has the same capacity (up to 4 gigabytes or 1,000 songs) as the original iPod mini and at least 14 hours of battery life.
Apple loaned me one of its nanos and after taking it to the gym and on a few long walks, it's easy to see why less is more. This music player is so small and light that you hardly know you have it with you.
Instead of a hard disk (like all previous iPods), the nano uses flash memory, which means that it isn't subject to skipping (you can shake it and the music won't miss a beat) and, because there are no moving parts, it's more energy efficient and less likely to break. The 4 GB model sells for $249. Apple also offers a $199 model with 2 gigabytes of memory - enough for about 500 songs.
From an engineering and design standpoint, the nano is truly a marvel. Apple took advantage of advances in both memory and battery technology to build an incredibly small music player. They also threw in an easy-to-read color display that not only helps you navigate through your music but can also display album art as well as your personal photographs.
The nano has the same click wheel navigation system as other iPods and, although it is small, it is easy to work with. As with all digital music players, you're not just limited to music. You can also use your nano to listen to audio books and podcasts that you can download (most podcasts are free) from the Apple iTunes music store and numerous websites.
Compared to the mini it replaces, about the only downside I can think of is that the nano's small size will make it easier to lose and break. It's easy to lose, or at least misplace, because it can slip under a piece of paper or other clutter never to be seen again. I also fear that some people may make the mistake of putting them in a back pocket and sitting on them while others may forget to take them out of their pocket when they throw their jeans into the washing machine.
Although the four gigabyte nano has far more capacity than rival flash-memory players, it has only 20% of the capacity of Apple's standard iPod, yet it costs 80% as much.
That was also true of the mini when it was first released and I wondered, at the time, whether its limited capacity would cause people to question its value. Yet, it quickly became the world's most popular digital music player proving that size, weight and "cool" do matter.
The mini quickly emerged as a fashion accessory and cultural icon. Given the fact that the nano is even smaller, lighter and cooler, I think it's safe to assume that it, too, will be a best-seller despite the fact that the mini came in several colors while the nano is available in only white and "lustrous" black. , I showed the nano to a group of high school girl softball players. The team, "Palo Alto Heat," which was winning its game, declared the nano a winner. The operative word was "awesome." It's worth noting that the most recent version of the now defunct mini also sold for $249 and had 6 gigabytes of storage which means that nano buyers are getting only 2/3 of the music for the same price as recent mini buyers.
As with the mini, if your main goal is to store as much music as possible, you'd be far better off paying an extra $50 ($299) for the 20 gigabyte iPod that weighs 5.9 ounces. Yes, it's nearly 4 times the weight of the nano but it's still under six ounces. It's small and light enough for me but I mostly listen on airplanes and just throw it in my carry on bag. I don't even mind the size of the standard iPod when I go for a walk or take it to the gym but I can see how joggers would prefer strapping an ultra light player to their arm.
The real issue here isn't so much what's practical but what's cool. The cool factor, after all, is mainly what distinguishes Apple from its competitors. I have a Dell music player that I personally like as much as the iPod but like Sony and all the other vendors, Dell has only a fraction of Apple's market share.
Success in this industry won't be determined by reviewers like me or even by logical arguments of what is "best," but by people in their teens and 20s who are the trend setters. This vitally important the group that, literally and figurative "buys" the iPod. They not only buy product but they buy into the brand, helping to make the iPod the "only" name in portable digital music despite a number of worthy competitors.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."