I think it's fair to say that the iPod is the most important product Apple ever made. It marked the tipping point between Apple's history as a computer manufacturer and its shift toward mobile consumer electronics. Without it, there would be no iTunes, no iPhone, no iPad -- none of the things people think of when they think of Apple today.
Which is not to say that the iPod is still an important part of Apple's bottom line. It could ax the iPod's whole division and still make more money from the iPhone and iPad than it knows what to do with.
But the iPod isn't going anywhere. Year after year, Apple has used its preholiday announcement to refresh the iPod lineup, and we have no reason to believe that it will change this year. If the scant rumors we've seen are any indication, here's what you can expect from the 2012 crop of iPods.
Sure the iPod Touch is too small to be considered a tablet, but it has successfully served as an inexpensive entry point to Apple's iOS ecosystem.
The rumor this year is that the iPod Touch will follow the iPhone 5's jump to a larger display, as well as its rumored smaller connection port. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing a bump in camera quality, but I suspect that the increased screen size alone will be all that's needed to keep iPod fans interested. Also, bear in mind that keeping the product price at that $199 gives the iPod Touch an important role to play in Apple's iOS device offering.
A tall iPod Nano...again
Apple's iPod Nano has experienced several radical redesigns over the years. It went from long, to squat, back to long, then to a square clip-on design with a touch screen. I get an identity crisis just thinking about it.
But after two years with the square clip-on design, rumors suggest that Apple will return to a long design. One feature that has stayed consistent over the years is an emphasis on the iPod Nano as a fitness-focused device. I wouldn't be surprised to see continued support of Nike+ and other workout features, such as the pedometer and stopwatch. That said, the Nano has proven itself as a wildcard before, so it's really anyone's guess.
iPod Shuffle gets shuffled
After Apple experimented with a buttonless iPod Shuffle design years ago, the company has settled into a comfortable rut with its iPod Shuffle. The only rumors that have surfaced for the 2012 iPod Shuffle is a new batch of colors. Would Apple ever consider killing off the Shuffle? I doubt it. At $49, it's the only product Apple sells that fills the role of "stocking stuffer."
iPod Classic stays classy
It's been years since Apple has made any changes to the iPod Classic, and there's no reason to believe this will be any different. It's still the best option out there for music fans looking for a high-capacity device to carry their entire music collection. Every year we hear rumors that the iPod Classic will be discontinued, but it just keeps going. Until the sun goes supernova or someone invents a cloud music service that works flawlessly, Apple will still be selling iPod Classics.
But is the timing off?
Of course, there's a good chance that Apple's September 12th event will be entirely focused on the iPhone, leaving other product announcements (including a possible iPad Mini) to a rumored date in October. If true, iPod announcements may have to wait for October, as well.