Rumors about what Apple is doing with its iPod line have been on the quiet side over the past few months, but a new report suggests that the iPod Touch is due for a genuinely exciting upgrade later this year.
Dutch blog AppleSpot.nl claims that Apple's next-generation iPod Touch will sport 3G connectivity, giving people a way to access data while out on the go without needing to find a Wi-Fi hot spot, just like they do on the iPhone.
A translation of the AppleSpot report from a reader on 9to5mac has the source outlet saying it will be identical to what Apple has already made available on the iPad, where you pick the carrier and get going, presumably managing the pre-paid data plan from right on the device.
As my colleague Donald Bell noted in a story about the possibility of such a scenario just a few weeks ago, Apple has primed iOS for wireless goodness by cutting the cord from iTunes, and including new features like iCloud and iMessage, the latter of which is a shot across the bow of carriers and their text-messaging plans. The iMessage service lets iOS users text and chat with one another freely, as long as they've got the data for it, and iCloud is the glue that keeps content and settings synced and backed up to other devices and Apple's cloud storage system.
Of course with the possibility of a wireless chipset, it brings up the question of what the difference is between such a device and an iPhone proper. So far Apple has further distanced the two products by cutting out a GPS receiver, and offering a lower-quality camera and display. But at the same time Apple has also slowly added hardware features like sensors and cameras to make sure that iPod Touch users can take advantage of (read: buy) applications that will run on both.
Apple is expected to unveil its new crop of iPods in September, right around when multiple reports have pegged the debut of the next-generation iPhone. So far the rumors about what's been next for Apple's line of music-focused gadgets have been rather pedestrian, from extra capacity and a capacitive home button on the iPod Touch, to a camera making a return on the iPod Nano. In that sense, this 3G claim--even if it's just a rumor--represents a big, exciting change for the top end of the iPod product line.
Update at 12:30 p.m. PT: In a chat with CNET, Wayne Lam, a senior analyst for IHS iSuppli, poured a bit of cold water on this rumor, noting that the parts involved to add 3G connectivity are not just a few extra cents here and there. As a frame of reference, Lam pointed to the 3G module in the iPad 2 costing around $28. "It's a big chunk," he said.
"If you look at the iPad 3G, it actually resides on a separate PCB (printed circuit board)," Lam said. "So a 3G module in the iPad's case would include the baseband processor and the various power amplifying modules (PAMs) for the various frequencies that it supports. It's quite elaborate and more of a sub-system."
Breaking down those same parts on the iPhone can also be a bit tricky.
"If you look at the telephony portion of the iPhone 4, it takes up basically half the PCB real estate with the baseband processor, and the power amplifying modules and all the power components that go with it. So it's kind of hard to pull that out," Lam said.
Lam said similar 3G parts for the iPhone 4 run a bit cheaper at $24 to $25, though could go as high as $30 if they're part of a separate module.
"There's also different ways to achieve wireless connectivity," Lam suggested. "Sprint or Verizon would be promoting things like Mi-Fi that give multiple devices connectivity, but that's a tough rumor to endorse."