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Friday, December 31, 2010, 02:00 pm PT (05:00 pm ET)

Five years of Apple: 2005 iPod to 2010 iPod touch

Over the last half decade, Apple has radically changed what $299 can buy, with major advancements in the processor power, efficiency, connectivity, size, weight and quality of its iPod music player.

Five years ago, Apple had just released the 5th generation iPod, the first capable of playing full motion video. It was offered in 30 and 60GB versions, costing $299 and $399.

The 30GB model boasted 14 hours of audio playback or 2 hours of video. Apple had just lined up the ability to buy TV shows in iTunes, starting with one broadcast partner: Disney. Episodes cost $2 and delivered half-VGA resolution of 320x240, which filled the iPod's 2.5" screen. Apple had also recently added support for Podcasts within iTunes.

Fast forward to today, and Apple's latest media player offering is the iPod touch. It similarly comes in 32 and 64GB versions at the same $299 and $399 prices. The difference is that these devices aren't slow hard drives; they're full screen computers with fast flash memory. There's also an 8GB version for $229.

The 32GB model delivers 40 hours of audio playback, or 7 hours of video. Apple's iTunes now offers full movies and rentals at VGA resolution of 640x480.

The iPod touch screen is not only larger, at 3.5 inches, but now delivers a Retina Display resolution of 960x640. It's also a capacitance touch screen that can be used to navigate the interface directly, rather than using a touch-wheel controller.

iPod is the computer

Originally conceived as a pod that could take music to go, Apple's iPod is now a full featured computer itself. It runs a scaled down version of Mac OS X named iOS, offering not just media playback but also email, web browsing, and the ability to run custom apps.

iTunes has transformed from a music store with some videos for sale into being the world's most popular way to buy music and movies, as well as the world's largest and most popular mobile apps market. There are over 300,000 apps available for the iPod touch, ranging from games to art tools to GPS to productivity apps.

The iPod touch isn't just more powerful, it's also smaller. Five years ago, the iPod was .43 to .55 inches thick and weighed 4.8 to 5.5 ounces. Today's iPod touch is roughly the same size, but only .28 inches thick and weighs just 3.56 ounces.

There's a lot more inside however. And a lot less; there's no mechanical hard drive to wear out, for example. The iPod touch can record voice memos via a mic-integrated set of headphones or its built in mic. It also has a 720p HD video camera that takes good point-and-shoot photos. It supports Apple's new FaceTime video conferencing, with both front facing VGA and rear camera support, as well as third party VoIP with video apps such as Fring and Skype. It also includes Bluetooth and WiFi wireless networking.

iPod for play and work

As a mobile gaming machine, the latest iPod touch provides six axis motion control with its accelerometer and gyroscope. It offers four times the screen resolution of Sony's PlayStation Portable and a far better display than Nintendo's DS. More importunely, the iOS library of games range from free to a few bucks, compared to the relatively expensive mobile games on dedicated players that can really only play games.

In addition to being a mobile games machine capable of causing anguish at Nintendo and Sony, the iPod touch has also turned into a serious business tool. Apple began using the device to replace mobile terminals in its retail stores last year, and other retailers are also building mobile point of sale programs around it.

Corporate, government and military programs have also adopted Apple's iPod touch, with third parties giving it the capability to do everything from monitoring equipment to editing documents to performing field training and foreign translation. Apple itself has turned the iPod into an enterprise friendly device in partnerships with Microsoft (to deliver secure push messaging for Exchange Server), Unisys (to deliver security apps for business customers) and others, customizing the iOS platform to support corporate proxy servers and VPNs from a variety of vendors.

5 Years of iPod


On page 2 of 3: Riding iTunes.