Talking tech since 2003

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from following Apple over the last few years it would have to be the fact that the company seems to plan everything (unless you count suppliers for white iPhone components) extremely strategically.  Unlike other companies that try to make their innovations as rapidly as possible, Apple, from what I’ve seen has focused less on the swiftness of their moves, but rather the overall smoothness of their innovation.  Sure, that means that the company isn’t able to put their ideas on the market as rapidly as some would like, but when it comes down to it Apple has a pretty good strategy of making small innovations and improvements that they build upon and compliment with other additions down the road.

If you’ve been paying attention to the rumor mill recently, you might have heard about the speculation regarding the potential of Apple releasing a 3G version of the iPod Touch handheld this year.  In essence, this device would be an iPod Touch with the option for 3G coverage or an iPhone without the phone depending on how you look at it.   Now, when I first read about this concept this weekend, I admittedly thought it was a bit of a silly idea, but when looking at Apple’s new features in iOS both in iOS 4 and in the upcoming iOS 5 release as seen in the WWDC overview, it has become apparent to me that this move has been a long time coming.

We have to consider that users who opt for a 3G iPod Touch are likely going to go that route instead of subscribing to service on an iPhone or other smartphone, as someone who already had a smartphone wouldn’t have a need for a 3G handheld.  What this means off the top of the bat is that these users would be without voice and texting (SMS) service.  Three years ago the lack of this functionality would have been seen as a deal-breaker for many.  But with more and more standard phone features becoming more Internet-based, I think Apple might actually have a viable market for this theoretical product.

You also have to look at voice service; the one aspect that makes a phone a phone.  iOS already has a Skype application available, meaning that users could use the Skype network to talk to a handful of contacts or utilize Skype’s premium services to make and receive calls to normal mobile or landlines.  Of course, Skype is limited to WiFi (except for video) which would kind of kill the purpose of using Skype on a 3G device, but I’m confident this would change in the future if Apple did indeed unveil a 3G iPod Touch.

Of course, Apple has also build their own video chat system called “FaceTime”, which was included in iOS 4.  This utility allows for users to chat with other iOS and Mac OS X users utilizing the built-in cameras on the device.  What does this mean?  Apple has a utility in place that can theoretically replace a lot of iPhone-to-iPhone conferencing.  Of course, this would only be effective in a world where everyone used an iPhone or iPod Touch.

In terms of text messaging, the App Store has a number of instant messaging applications.  As it stands, I have quite a few people in my Google Talk and AIM contact lists that use instant messaging on their smart-phones.  With this in mind, I think instant messaging on mobile devices really does stand to make SMS text messaging a thing of the past, especially as the bridge between computers and mobile devices becomes narrower and narrower.

iOS 5, as shown off during WWDC, will also include iMessaging; a text-based messaging service for iOS users.  Much like RIM’s BlackBerry Messenger, iMessaging will be device-exclusive, meaning that it’s only going to be truly effective in an iPhone-only world but the fact of the matter is that it’s a solid implementation that will further diminish SMS messaging.

But really, what good would an iPhone without the phone be?  I mean, why would someone choose to limit themselves and not get SMS messaging or regular phone service on a device that can do everything else?  I mean, I guess you could save a few dollars a month, but I really don’t see it being worth it, especially considering that mobile data is the really expensive component of mobile service.  And as Keaton has discussed in the past, the number of WiFi access points in public areas pretty much nullifies the need for wireless data plans, the one thing that the 3G iPod Touch would have.

When it comes down to it, if you want the Internet in your pocket you should just buy an iPhone or another smartphone.  If you want just the Internet, you should get a tablet computer such as an iPad.  But beyond that, I just don’t see a middle ground here that makes sense.

So will Apple really be releasing a 3G iPod Touch?  Will it be a worthwhile move if they do?

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