Apple has slipped out a lower-cost version of its media player.
Up until the last couple of weeks, Apple has been quiet. The seven months between its last product announcement and June's debuts for iOS7 and iRadio is its longest gap between launches in some time.
The only thing that broke the silence – notwithstanding some separate rows about tax and online privacy – was a 16GB shrink for the fifth generation of the iPod Touch, slipped on to the Apple website relatively unannounced in late May.
Cost-down focused design additions out of Apple are relatively rare (as opposed to the ongoing 'revs' of existing products). Still, it is more typical for the company to add a separate product line (such as the iPod Shuffle) or to discount earlier generation models on introducing a new one (such as the iPhone).
Cost-cutting features for the consumer
This 16GB Touch joins existing 32GB and 64GB models. Apart from the lower memory capacity, the most immediate feature change is that the newcomer has no rear-mounted camera. The 5MP iSight has gone and there is now just a front-mounted 1.2MP FaceTime camera with 720p maximum resolution.
There's been something of a debate here to the extent that while users expect pretty good camera functionality from an iPhone, they do not expect the same of a Touch, seeing it more as a straightforward media player. This design decision shows Apple trending towards the same view, even if only for now at the entry level.
Otherwise, many of the features in the Touch are consistent. The device retains a 4in retina display with fused LCD and glass, and the main silicon components surrounding Apple's ARM-based dual core A5 chip have been carried over.
US pricing for the 16GB Touch is $229 (£147), against $299 and $399 for the 32GB and 64GB versions respectively. Apple is still pretty confident of the very high margins it can secure against progressive upgrades in comparatively commoditised memory.
Key suppliers include Toshiba'(NAND Flash), Murata (Wi-Fi module), Broadcom (touchscreen controller) and STMicroelectronics (gyro/accelerometer).
The battery carries over from the existing versions, giving a typical 40-hour life for music and an eight-hour life for video.
Subtle component changes
The iFixit teardown team subjected the new device to its scrutiny, and noticed a few wrinkles.
There is now simply a gap on the logic board where the bigger versions have the higher-resolution iSight camera. However, with a little more real estate to play with, the Apple design team has moved the microphone from the back of the iPod to the top, adjacent to the power button.
This incremental design has then seen Apple swap in a new ribbon cable for the power and volume buttons. That's a fairly typical kind of change where main components are being carried over.
Also, Apple has opted not to stamp out the plastic for a wrist/touch loop that features on other editions. This looks like a combination of cost control – but it's unlikely to be that much. Rather, it reflects how Apple will sometimes consciously constrain the features and functionality on cheaper models.
The overall design is both slightly slimmer and about 0.06 ounces lighter than its predecessors.
One of the enduring takeaways from the iFixit teardown though is how Apple designs its products to be reassuringly difficult to repair.
As ever, you have to literally melt away the adhesive holding the front panel and rear case together (iFixit has its own proprietary tool available for the more daring). More adhesive is encountered elsewhere and there is a tendency to use clips rather than external screws, just to make things that bit more challenging.
"Many components are soldered together, requiring either a very difficult or very expensive repair if any one part breaks," iFixit notes. "Cables connected to the logic board run over the top and connect on the bottom, making it difficult to remove the board or disconnect the cables."
Consistent with most other Apple products they have analysed, iFixit gives the iPod Touch 16GB edition just three out of ten for repairability.
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