Apple hasn't released an updated iPod since October 2005 and anticipation is building as the market waits for the next development from the industry leader in portable music players. According to Business Week:
Last year, the iPod nano debuted on Sept. 7 and the video-capable iPod bowed on Oct. 12, a schedule that made both products strong players in the fourth calendar quarter—Apple sold a combined 14 million units in the quarter ended December 31, 2005.
In a previous post I mentioned a few reasons why I don't want a wireless iPod - mostly because of the battery life penalty and poor sound quality of Bluetooth headphones. A reader mentioned a good application for wireless in an iPod that I neglected to mention in the article: streaming.
The theory is that a WiFi-equipped iPod would be able to stream music from Internet radio stations and even purchase and download songs Over The Air (OTA) from the iTunes Music Store. The problem with streaming is that it's only as good as the WiFi access point that you're connected to. I don't know about you but my MacBook Pro seems to have consistently poor Airport reception. If the iPod is going to rely on WiFi it's going to have to be well implemented.
The bandwidth required for audio streaming is relatively small (less than 1Mbit/second) and you don't need much local storage when streaming, other than a little space for the cache. Streaming video on the other hand, requires requires 2-3Mbit/second of bandwidth.
Two things would be needed in a wireless iPod:
1) The iPod user interface is going to need a tune-up. If the iTunes Music Store is going to offer streaming radio stations and possibly even television the UI needs to be overhauled. It seems only logical that Apple would create a version of iTunes that runs on the iPod. People are familiar with iTunes from using it on their desktop machines and if they're not iTunes users, placing it on the iPod gives more exposure to Apple's flagship music application.
"I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful." -Jobs2) Wireless networking preferences will need to the added to the iPod to control the configuration of access points. Some form of data entry (either clickwheel based scrolling or a touchscreen/stylus combination) will be needed to enter credentials at protected hot spots.
A wireless iPod could also be the forbearer to a new subscription version of the iTMS where subscribers could download all the music they want for a flat fee per month. There are several of these subscription music services already on the market (Rhapsody, Napster, Yahoo, AOL, Virgin) and Apple may be considering ways to extend it's market dominance in digital music into subscriptions as well.
Steve Jobs has historically put down music subscription services saying "You don't want to rent your music -- and then, one day, if you stop paying, all your music goes away." He even went so far as to say "I think you could make available the Second Coming in a subscription model and it might not be successful."
But then again, Jobs used to bash flash music players then later announced the iPod shuffle and nano.