iPod touch: Who is it best for and why?

The iPod touch doesn't always get the attention or consideration it deserves. Some of that is simply a reflection of its current status — it hasn't seen a significant update since it was released alongside the iPhone 5 in 2012. Sure, it has the a 4-inch Retina display like the current iPhones, and the same 5mp iSight camera as the iPad line, but it's using the Apple A5 processor in time when even the Apple A7 may soon be surpassed. Yet, as Apple told us so brilliantly in 2011, technology alone is not enough. It's experience, not specs that matter to most people. And if anyone is the least bit price sensitive, if anyone wants something pocketable but doesn't want the phone bits, then the iPod touch remains one of the best options. So, now that Apple's added case colors and a camera to the 16GB model at $199, and dropped the price of the 32GB and 64GB models to $249 and $299 respectively, how do you know if the iPod touch is for you or yours?

The kid's coolest friend

Both my 5-year old and 8-year old god children have iPod touches. They love them. They don't need data plans. They don't need phones (there's FaceTime for that!). They take photos and videos. They make trailers in iMovie. They practice their French and Italian in Duolingo. They learn about science and math and geography and everything else the App Store has to teach them. They play the very occasional game, watch the very occasional video.

The 5-year old can read and write remarkably well now but before he could, he used Siri to both hear and dictate iMessages. With it, he could communicate with his parents — and his godfather! — as an equal digital citizen. (Siri in general is great for him. He thanks Siri for helping him out and chats with Siri as I imagine he would a robot pal.)

Technology isn't something new or strange to either of them or to any child. It's something that, for them, has always existed. iOS is as natural a tool as a stick and dirt, a pen and paper, a keyboard and display. More natural even, thanks to direct manipulation.

For a kid, and for anyone who doesn't need a phone or want anything as big as a tablet, the iPod touch is the perfect device. Even more perfect now, thanks to the price.

The traveling companion

iPod touches are incredibly easy to take with you. They slip into almost any pocket and can easily fit into almost any pack. They have excellent battery life and don't require high powered chargers. While the iSight camera isn't as good as the iPhone's, the video camera is 1080p so when you're not watching TV or movies in the back seat of the car or during the long hours on the plane, you can can make your own from the most important moments of your trip.

There's no LTE option for the iPod touch but there is Wi-Fi for whenever you're at or on a hotspot (including an iPhone hotspot!), and there's Bluetooth LE and direct Wi-Fi. So, if you're out with the family, you can still AirDrop photos, contacts, or any information you need.

With Passbook your boarding passes, tickets, and gift cards, are all safely collected for you, all in one place. And any time you are online, you can quickly check mail, weather, maps, or anything else you have the chance to catch up on.

While the iPod touch is especially good for kids, for all the reasons mentioned previously, it's also good for adults. Even if you have an iPhone and are online all the time, travel and especially roaming are hard on batteries. Having an iPod touch is a great, light way to do a lot of the things you want to do and save your iPhone for the things only it can do.

The educational assistant

Schools have embraced the iPad but there's something to be said for the iPod touch as well. I have nothing against the iPad as a camera. The large screen makes for a great view finder. However, the iPad isn't as easy to carry around and manipulate as a point-and-shoot. The iPod touch is. Likewise, while the iSight camera isn't as good as the one on the iPhone, schools that don't need the added expense of the iPhone's technology and students that need telephones in the classroom can do almost anything they need to do with an iPod touch.

Equipping a school or club with iPod touches means giving them the smallest, lightest production studios imaginable. Whether they take and edit video or read or make books, the scope and quality of projects enabled by the relatively inexpensive iPod touch is simply unprecedented.

The home automator

My lightbulbs are powered by Hue. My speakers are powered by Sonos. I have the Remote app for my Apple TV and the Panasonic app for the actual set. I've ordered a sous vide machine that works with an iOS app. Thanks to the HomeKit announcements at WWDC, I can easily imagine a time when most of the sophisticated electronic devices in my house are connected and interconnected by iOS 8.

I have all those apps, and I expect will soon have more, on my iPhone. But I also have them on my iPod touch, which sits on the coffee table. I reach for it a lot. On such restricted duty, the battery lasts a long time, and because it only has one job, and always sits in the same place, I never have to wonder where it is or waste time looking for it.

It might seem like overkill, but if you price a fancy universal remote you'll see they're just as expensive as an entry-level iPod touch and not only aren't they anywhere nearly as capable, what passes for software on them is beyond rage inducing. (You can even get IR adaptors for your iPod touch if you're into full-on home theater control.)

The connected iPod

The iPod touch is the only iPod with Wi-Fi. While Apple may one day have smaller devices running iOS, for right now, the iPod touch is the thinnest, lightest, iOS machine there is. That means, unlike the iPods classic, nano, or shuffle, the touch can hook into iCloud. It can hook into iTunes Match and iTunes Radio. It can hook into Beats Music and Songza and Netflix and Marvel Unlimited. As long as you're on Wi-Fi or the service allows caching, the iPod touch can hook into pretty much any entertainment service on iTunes or the App Store.

It's an iPod that's not restricted to local content. It's an iPod you can fully interact with, and one you can use to connect to the vast world of video and audio all around you.

A 128GB option will no doubt be required before the last of the iPod classic stalwarts joins us in the modern iOS era, but for everyone else, for athletes to recent fitness converts, for audiophiles to people who simply want to listen to podcasts on their way to work, for everyone who wants an iPod, the iPod touch is the most capable one to get.

The developer's test subject

Every year at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) the story is the same. Apple announces a new version of iOS during the keynote, and almost every developer in the room whips out an iPod touch to install it on. That's because, like everyone else, developers depend on their iPhones. They need them to stay connected and otherwise handle their business. They can't afford to devote them to testing beta software. But at $199, they can easily afford a dedicated iPod touch to do just that.

Eventually, as release approaches, developers will have to — and will want to — test on every device their apps support, including iPhones and iPads. But for the first couple betas, the iPod touch is often where it's at.

Bottom line

These are only some of the uses for the iPod touch. While the iPod touch isn't for everyone — some will want the bigger screen and software of the iPad, others the always-on connectivity of the iPhone — it's not an option anyone should ignore out of hand. Sure, more people than ever before are moving quickly or directly to the iPhone or the iPad. Yet for many, for children and the classrooms, for travelers and for dedicated activities, the iPod touch remains not only the gateway iOS and App Store device, but the best iOS and App Store device period.

If you or someone you know is using an iPod touch, let me know how. If, given the new pricing, you're considering one, let me know that as well!

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.