When the iPod was new, it was a breakthrough product. It wasn’t the first MP3 player, nor the first MP3 player based on a hard drive, but it managed to find a sweet spot in terms of storage capacity and physical size that no previous product did. This was mostly because of its 1.8″ hard-drive mechanism, which only became available at about the same time as the iPod itself, and partly because of some good industrial design by Apple.
The first iPods had 5 GB of capacity–probably nowhere near enough to contain the entire collection of a music buff, but probably enough for 50-100 CDs-worth of music. Plenty for a road trip.
Today the smallest iPod is 10 GB, and the largest is 40 GB. I’ve got over 500 CDs, and I could fit my entire collection on a 40-GB iPod with plenty of room to spare. This makes the iPod something fundamentally different: When I can put all my music, all my digital pictures (about 500 MB), and my entire home directory (about 1 GB, including everything I’ve written on my computer for the past 13 years, and a lot of old e-mail), the iPod can be a primary repository for all my personal stuff, rather than a very capacious place to carry around music and maybe some other files temporarily. Can be, but perhaps shouldn’t be–the whole idea behind the iPod is that it is more portable than other hard-drive MP3 players. Meaning you’ll carry it around. Meaning you might lose it, or at least leave it lying around where someone could copy personal data off it (and thanks to that firewire port, it wouldn’t take long). Encryption would be one obvious step to take.
But just as the iPod has graduated to being something else, something else could graduate to be the iPod. Microdrives–tiny 1″ hard drives–maxed out at 340 MB when they were introduced. Just like all other hard drives, though, they store a lot more now, and they’re available in 4 GB and even larger today–the original iPod’s territory, but a lot smaller. The difference between 1″ and 1.8″ may not sound like much, but it’s the difference between a matchbox and half a sandwich.
A microdrive-based MP3 player might be wearable as a chunky wristwatch. Or be embedded into a set of headphones. Or hung around the neck as a high-tech pendant. I’d be more interested in a gadget that can effectively disappear than one I need to consciously carry around. I’m looking forward to seeing interesting things happen with these 1″ mechanisms.