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How (And Why) Apple Screwed the iPod Touch

The yearly iPod refresh has come and gone and thus, the launch fervor has worn off and I’ve been able to think more critically about the new iPod Touch, as well as read a number of reviews on the new device. As much as I was anticipating the release of the 4th generation iPod Touch prior to the announcement and for a short while afterward, the bubble seems to have burst now that I know just how little Apple has upgraded the new Touch, especially in relation to the iPhone 4.

Now, that might sound a bit strange. After all, Apple did equip the new Touch with twin cameras (one capable of shooting HD video), a microphone, the “Retina Display” from the new iPhone and their new A4 processor, right? Well, yes. I’m not disputing that the new iPod is a definite upgrade over its predecessor, even more so than the third generation iPod was an upgrade over the second generation.  With the 4th gen Touch, Apple decided to cut corners in just about every respect in comparison to the iPhone 4 and results in a device that’s good but could’ve been exceptional.

One of the largest improvements to the iPhone 4 was Apple’s so-called “Retina Display” which was named because of Apple’s insistence that the individual pixels are so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Whether or not this is true is up for debate but the fact of the matter is that the iPhone 4 is sporting what is perhaps the sharpest display ever to be featured on a mobile device. Combine the incredibly high resolution with excellent viewing angles, great contrast and color reproduction and you’ve got one of the best looking displays on the market, period. Well, the display on the 4th gen Touch does boast the same retina busting resolution as the iPhone 4 but, unfortunately, the display itself is vastly inferior to the one featured on the iPhone 4.

As seen in the picture above (credit to Engadget), the 4th gen Touch has significantly worse viewing angles in comparison to the iPhone 4. Not to mention that contrast is noticeably inferior to that of the iPhone 4. The result of the worse contrast is, as many of you may already know, the color black appearing grayish and not truly black which will negatively impact video performance on the device.

The other particularly significant upgrade to the 4th generation iPod Touch was the inclusion of the 1GHz A4 processor that made its debut in the iPad and was later used in the iPhone 4. Known for its snappy performance, the iPod Touch would benefit greatly from the new processor and the 512MB of RAM included in the iPhone 4 for tasks such as multitasking and game playing. Except…the iPod Touch doesn’t get all of that. Instead, the A4 in the iPod Touch is paired with 256MB of RAM, half that of the iPhone 4. In the short term, this isn’t so bad. Obviously, you won’t be able to have as many programs open at once as you would be able to on the iPhone 4 or as many windows open in Safari but other than that, it’s not a big deal, right?

Unfortunately, it is a big deal when looked at in relation to the big picture. With only half as much RAM as the iPhone 4, there may (read: will) come a time in which the iPod will be unable to run applications and make full use of software updates designed with the iPhone 4 in mind. With the iPhone 4 having a significant lead over the 4th gen iPod Touch in terms of marketshare, it’s likely inevitable that we will begin to see applications that are designed purely for the iPhone 4 and will have degraded performance or will just not run on the iPod Touch at all. For instance, the Epic Citadel tech demo created by Epic Games to show off their newly developed version of their popular Unreal Engine 3 designed for iOS devices is visually inferior on the 4th gen Touch in comparison to the iPhone 4 because it lacks the necessary RAM.

Finally, there’s the matter of the twin cameras Apple built in to the 4th gen Touch. In an effort to make the 4th gen touch more of “an iPhone without the phone”, Apple included two cameras, one rear-facing sensor that is capable of “HD” video recording and one front-facing VGA camera for the purposes of FaceTime video conferencing. Now, the front facing VGA camera is nothing to complain about, as it’s more or less capable of delivering the same image quality as the iPhone 4’s camera. No, it’s the rear facing camera that is crippled in comparison to the iPhone 4.

The camera included in the 4th gen Touch is, plain and simple, a disappointment compared to what could have been. Still photos are capped at a less than mediocre 960 x 720 resolution and the so-called “HD” quality video recording is capped at the same resolution and then upscaled to 1280 x 720. When compared with the iPhone 4’s camera, there is no comparison. The iPhone 4 wipes the floor with the iPod Touch in every respect. The reason I’m disappointed with this is the fact that the iPhone 4’s 5 Megapixel camera wasn’t included in the 4th gen Touch not purely for cost cutting reasons but because the casing would’ve had to be significantly thicker to accommodate the larger sensor.

Yet again, Apple sacrifices function for aesthetics and this is something that truly annoys me. If the iPod Touch had to be about as thick as the iPhone 4 to make room for the better sensor, then why wasn’t it? Sure, there are advantages to the new Touch being impossibly thin but it’s not like the iPhone 4 was a huge brick of a device to begin with. If the device has to be a little bigger for the sake of adding increased functionality, then so be it.

And what’s the underlying cause of all of the corners being cut here and there in relation to the iPod Touch? Well, I think it has a little something to do with profit. Downgrading the components in the iPod Touch is nothing more than a means for Apple to boost profit. Consider this. According to iSuppli, a leader in teardown analyses, the 16GB iPhone 4 costs Apple $188 to build. Considering all of the corners Apple cut in creating the new iPod Touch, I would be surprised if the 32GB version cost Apple more than $150 to make and if that is the case, Apple is making a near 100% profit (minus retailer markup of course) on each unit sold. This works out perfectly for Apple. If the iPod Touch isn’t appealing to you, then you can always go for the iPhone 4 on contract with AT&T, which Apple likely makes a good deal more on with AT&T’s subsidies and kickbacks.

I’m not saying that the 4th gen iPod Touch is a bad device, in fact, it still is one of the best personal media players you can buy today but in comparison to what it could’ve (and should’ve) been, it’s a massive disappointment. Now, I’m not sure I want to buy the new iPod Touch because I can’t help but think about how much better it could’ve been had Apple been willing to make a few sacrifices and be dissatisfied. This is undoubtedly the best iPod Touch ever but that doesn’t stop it from being rather disappointing at the same time. The iPod Touch has been an iPhone without the phone or a camera in each previous iteration of the device and it’s shocking that Apple would come out and say that the new iPod Touch is equivalent to an iPhone 4 without the phone when that statement has never been further from the truth.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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  • Ted

    You are absolutely right on most of your points. However, you’ve missed one important one: the new iPod touch is still about half the thickness of the iPhone 4. That alone would explain the lack of a super high resolution camera(not enough space inside, which is actually confirmed by iFIxit if you take a look at their teardown) Yes, they could have put the newer A4 with 512MB of ram in there, but why does it need it? I’ve not noticed any difference in the Epic CItadel demo between my iPhone 4 and the new touch.

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