Because it looks like an iPhone and can run the same 250,000 apps, the Touch is often described as “an iPhone without the phone”— and now, that’s more true than ever. The Touch gains front and back video cameras, microphone and the iPhone 4’s high-resolution screen (what Apple calls the Retina display).
At 4.4 by 2.3 by 0.28 inches, the Touch is also noticeably thinner, almost nuttily so. You could use it as a letter opener.
The built-in mike and speaker make the Touch a Wi-Fi cellphone. Apps like Skype or Line2 let you make free or cheap phone calls whenever you’re in a Wi-Fi hot spot. (The speaker’s on the bottom, so you can’t really hold it to your ear, but the speakerphone or Apple’s $30 earbuds work fine.) And using a free app like TextFree, you can send all the text messages you like without paying the phone company anything.
The new Touch can also do FaceTime calls: high-quality, effort-free video chats with any iPhone 4 or this version of the Touch. (Touch-to-Touch video calls work great already. Touch-to-iPhone calling will be available when Apple releases its free iOS 4.1 iPhone software update this week.)
The new cameras let you take photos and record video (in the case of the back camera, high-definition video). The Touch’s cameras aren’t as good as the iPhone’s excellent 5-megapixel camera with flash; the Touch’s photos aren’t even a single megapixel, and there’s no flash. But you know: baby steps.
Above all, Apple intends for the Touch to be the ultimate game machine. Already, the company says, the Touch outsells Nintendo and Sony pocket players combined. The new Touch has the same screaming-fast chip as the iPad and iPhone 4, along with a new Game Center app that lets you compete wirelessly with other iPhone and Touch owners.
In other words, even though Apple commits itself to churning out new iPod designs every year, the 2010 crop includes a modestly improved model at a better price (the Shuffle), an exciting but risky touch-screen model (the Nano), and a home run (the Touch). (The high-capacity iPod Classic, with a hard drive inside and the last remaining click wheel, is still available, although Apple didn’t say a word about it at last week’s iPod coming-out party.)
Of course, the online Apple bashers will be jumping in with their own annual prose templates. (“Once again, Apple’s arrogance is on display as it forces the _____ lemmings to buy its overpriced ____-ware.”) And it hasn’t escaped the pundits’ notice that the market for stand-alone music players is no longer growing.
But the new iPods are still beautiful, smooth and a pleasure to use. Yes, yes, that’s the consensus every year — but isn’t that a good thing?
David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.