Analysis: The iPod touch is much more than just an iPod

This week's launch heralds a new era for Apple, and for mobile Web users

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The iPod touch will also give another gentle shove to the quickly evolving landscape of Web applications that are starting to spring up. For starters, a lot of new corporate applications are being built with the Web as the interface. Whether it is SharePoint and Exchange 2007 (which I regularly use on my iPhone), the new crop of Web 2.0 firms like Basecamp and Salesforce.com, or the myriad online banking, travel and purchasing sites that have popped up, it is obvious that work applications have gone Web. The ease of using Safari on the iPod touch will eventually make the device a serious contender for business use.

That doesn't mean the iPod touch doesn't do other things well. Earlier iPods have offered contact, notes and calendar syncing for a few generations, and they will certainly improve on a screen that's grown in size, offers an intuitive touch-screen interface and a software keyboard. YouTube is already a fantastic application on the iPhone, and it will certainly be embraced on the iPod touch. Of course, it is, first and foremost, an iPod, so the music, video and audiobook playback -- not to mention photo browsing -- will be best of breed. Oh, and for those already whining about that "paltry" 16GB of storage space on the $399 model? Look for the ability to stream media from your home computer/server in the next few months.

Apple has also made it easy to buy from the iTunes music store, eliminating the need for the computer intermediary to snag that gotta-have video or tune, especially with the participation of Starbucks. You can bet your double-mocha-latte that that partnership will see some grande growth in the months ahead.

You'll also notice in the advertising for the iPod touch that the face of the device has a lot more room for applications. While Apple will certainly be delivering software additions through upcoming updates, a bevy of hacked apps have already been prepped for the iPhone and will easily be ported to the iPod touch. A Terminal.app and native instant messaging clients are the most popular, but hundreds of others are in development. The fear with unsupported applications is that the process of loading them onto the device isn't supported by Apple and could therefore void the iPhone warranty. Additionally, Apple could break them with future software updates, but that isn't stopping developers and brave-hearted users from loading them anyway.

For its part, Apple hasn't said whether it will open up the embedded version of Mac OS X that runs on the iPod touch and iPhone to developers. But interest is certainly there, and the temptation to move the platform forward will likely be too great for Apple to keep it locked down.

Whatever the case, when the new iPod touch hits store shelves later this month, consumers will snap them up, bringing to life a whole new generation of fans, Internet-centric iPod users who will soon discover what iPhone users found out two months ago: The mobile Web revolution has begun -- and Apple is leading the way.

Seth Weintraub is a global IT management consultant specializing in the technology needs of creative organizations, including The Paris Times, Omnicom and WPP Group. He has set up and managed cross-platform networks on four continents and is an expert in Active Directory/Open Directory PC and Macintosh integration.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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