It's a brand new year full of possibilities and wonder, which means: speculation time, kids. We just had our end of the year iMore Show, during which I proposed a weird and wacky idea: what if the future of the iPod was not in an iPod casing at all?
I'd joked last year that the last iPod we'd ever see was the Apple Watch—who needs a separate SSD device when you can put a playlist on your wrist?—but the prevalence of Bluetooth headphones has me wondering if perhaps the folks in Cupertino might go a step further.
Imagine a different kind of Apple wearable, if you will: A new pair of wireless Beats Solo or Studio headphones... with a built-in iPods. Either way, use Bluetooth to connect to any other device, or load your favorite tunes directly onto your headphones and go. Can't you picture the adorably twee commercial?
Okay, maybe not that twee. But still! 2016 is reportedly the year of wireless—if we have wireless charging and wireless headphones, what's to say a wireless iPod—or Pods—isn't that far away?
Bumps on the road
Not that there aren't obstacles on this road, of course. Wireless headphones currently get around 8-10 hours of battery life before needing a good charge; even without the drain of a Bluetooth connection, powering a teensy CPU and solid-state drive might not be possible without adding more batteries. That would thereby increase the size—and weight—of your new headphones, turning a tentatively appealing purchase into a millstone around your neck.
As reader Shawn Monk pointed out to me after the podcast, there is in fact a company attempting to do this. German firm Bragi ran a Kickstarter last year to produce a pair of water-resistant wireless earbuds with a music player, heart monitor, and Bluetooth connectivity.
The Dash, which should be out in 2016, looks pretty nifty: waterproof for a meter, 4GB storage, touch controls... except, that is, for its 3-4 hour battery life. The Dash will come with a carrying case that does double-duty as a charger and can charge your earbuds five times before it needs to be recharged, but even so, it's a major pain point for an otherwise nifty piece of tech.
That said, Apple is one of the masters in this field when it comes to putting CPUs in absurdly tiny packages—oh, hi, Apple Pencil—while still managing to fit an appropriate level of battery life.
I also don't necessarily think trying to build the perfect exercise all-in-one is the best starting point for this, either. Remember, the original Shuffle came a few years after the debut of the iPod. And arguably, Apple wants to push its exercise-oriented population over to an Apple Watch-and-wireless-headphones combo for listening while tracking a working out, rather than try and cram everything into a tiny headphone package.
If Apple decides to go in an "EarPods Music" direction, we may well see it first in a bigger, Beats Solo-esque package. Capture the music addicts; then, rope in the exercise fiends.
Is music still worth it?
Of course, hypotheticals are all well and good, but the real question when it comes to the iPod is this: Do people still listen to music without their phones or laptops (or watches) around?
I don't know if it makes sense to incorporate a music player into a pair of headphones—beloved as the iPod line may be—when most people are going to take their iPhone everywhere they'd listen to music.
I wouldn't mind leaving my iPhone on the table while I go rake leaves and rock out, but at the same time: I could just sync a playlist to my Apple Watch and use Bluetooth headphones.
For a headphone-based music player to truly work, it would have to capture a part of our lives where it doesn't make sense to carry an iPhone around—or it would have to be simple enough and give our phones enough extra battery life that we would use it even when our iPhone was present.
The Apple Watch may well be the only future the iPod line has going for it. But I can't deny that iPod-and-Bluetooth headphones might be an exciting alternative for those uninterested in adding a watch to their digital lives.