iPhone Nano: Clamshell? Fadell's Revenge? TiPb of the Iceberg

We're coming up on MacWorld awfully quick now (TiPb will be there, natch) and so the rumors are flying. Expectations have been decidedly lower than in years past due to the absence of his Steveness, but there's one persistent rumor that just won't go away: the iPhone Nano.

The universal response to these rumors has pretty much been "Meh." Engadget wants to know what the deal is. Macrumors thinks that it's just case makers riding Apple rumor coattails. Gizmodo doesn't believe either.

The rumor won't die, though, so: what if it were true? What would an iPhone Nano look like?

Our esteemed editor Rene has worried that an iPhone Nano seems like a non-starter because it would split the unified iPhone platform -- forcing developers to plan for multiple screen densities and feature sets. That has been a recipe for pain on other mobile platforms (though, to be fair, Windows Mobile manages fairly decently), so it seems unlikely that Apple would do that. Then again, given the way the App Store is going, if any mobile platform can handle fragmentation right now, it's Apple.

The common wisdom is that Apple is no longer interested in feature-phones for obvious reasons: the MotoROKR debacle, the fact that all phones will become 'smartphones' in the near future, the fact that Apple's selling the $199 iPhone just fine, thank you very much. I'm inclined to agree with all of these arguments. But the rumors. won't. die. Plus, well, maybe, just maybe, Apple is blinking in the face of the tanking economy and thinking they need to actually release something inexpensive.

Let's start with the assumption that Apple will be good to their burgeoning iPhone/iPod Touch platform and not fragment it into multiple screen sizes and form factors. What then?

If you've been following the Apple news of the past few months, you may remember some of the Papermaster hiring saga, namely that he's replacing Tony Fadell, who wanted Apple to create a much less ambitious iPhone based on Linux.

Here's a thought experiment: imagine if Apple followed Fadell's original plan for a bit before abandoning it, developing the iPod Classic OS just enough to support basic phone functionality (or, alternately, stripping out most of the iPhone OS to make it a featurephone OS). If they had, then the plans for such a phone would be sitting on the shelf, waiting for Apple to notice the economy tanking and consumers wanting something less expensive. Fadell's basic iPod + Phone would sport a fully functional iPod Classic slapped onto a featurephone and frankly that would appeal to a lot of people. On the outside, it looks exactly like a classic iPod, on the inside, a simple phone.

There have been a few sets of people who have been resistant to the iPhone's charms. One of the larger groups: people who still adamantly love their RAZRS because they're small, sexy, and because they're flip phones. This group of people still believe that the iPhone is "Too much phone for me" and want something simpler -- even if it's only perceived as simpler. Give them a flip-phone with a real iPod on it and, well, they'd buy. Oh yes, they'd buy.

I'm still not sold that it's going to happen. Apple famously isn't interested in the low end -- until they are. The iPod Nano and iPod shuffle are huge sellers for Apple and their obvious quality helps the Apple brand. If they can pull the same thing off with a clamshell phone, it would be a Pearl Flip killer.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Dieter Bohn

Dieter Bohn is former editor-in-chief of Smartphone Experts, writing across iMore, Windows Phone Central, Android Central, and more. You can find him on Twitter (and everywhere else) @backlon.

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Reader comments

iPhone Nano: Clamshell? Fadell's Revenge? TiPb of the Iceberg


That would me the ideal form factor for my wife. I would definitely buy one for her. She doesn't text, nor need nor want mobile e-mail, let alone the Internet. She has always loved the flip form factor. Add iTunes to it with 8 or 16 gb & I'll be buying her one, no doubt.

Okay, for the umpteenth time...
Phone, Calendar, Contacts, Clock, Calculator, Camera, Photos, Settings, and Mail (maybe Safari & Maps if the screen is large enough).
The only cheap touch screen phone for "non-smartphone" users. Makes total sense.

That would me the ideal form factor for my wife. I would definitely buy one for her. She doesn’t text, nor need nor want mobile e-mail, let alone the Internet. She has always loved the flip form factor. Add iTunes to it with 8 or 16 gb & I’ll be buying her one, no doubt.

I think the nano rumors are just wishful thinking, but if apple WERE to release a smaller form-factor iPhone nano, it wouldn't necessarily mean splitting the platform.
The mockups people post of the iPhone nano give an indication of how they could do it: Make it a smaller phone, possibly with some fewer features (all of which would be features that are generally optional for developers anyway: EG: the camera which doesn't exist on the ipod touch could be dropped from the nano).
The screen size would be smaller, but to keep the platform consistent, they could use a screen with higher DPI so that the resolution of this smaller screen is the same.
They could drop WiFi and make all data come over the cell network (also without affecting developers) to save money, etc.
So, I think that if they do release another phone in a smaller formfactor, the platform will be mostly or completely the same for developers, and the price might be lower due to cut features that aren't necessary for many apps.
I doubt they would release an ipod classic based phone, or a flip-phone formfactor, cause that would split the platform. But an iPhone nano is possible without causing too much pain to developers.

Dieter, you usually write nice articles but this one is just stupid. The rumor won't die if you keep giving it life support. And Steve, above, is right, why is a nano concept so hard for you to believe?