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Beyond the iPod: Future Potential

At the 2004 MacWorld Conference, Steve Jobs made this statement about the iPod: "iPod is used by over 75% of all hard drive MP3 player users—it's nice not to be at 5%." What he was referring to, of course, is the eroded support for the Macintosh. The once-dominant computer system now accounts for only 5% of the total personal computer market. The rest is owned by Microsoft and other operating systems. But the iPod has really taken off, and you ain't seen nothing yet.

If I put on my robes and stare into my crystal ball, there are some definite directions you can see the iPod going over the next 12–24 months.

The most immediate demand is for more hard drive space. Even with the latest iPod boasting 40GB, our demand for storage appears insatiable. A huge reason is that the iPod is being used for non-music activities, such as those described in this article. The music is just the drug that gets you hooked.

The biggest hint for what you can expect in the immediate future is the new Museum feature. This iPod tool allows you to navigate through image files stored on your iPod.

Ready for my first prediction?

Prediction 1: Improved Image Viewing Support

The next release of the iPod, I predict, will allow you to view images with a color monitor. The challenge Apple faces with this feature is the battery; battery life shortens with color monitors. But I can tell you that I don't see a shortage with my battery life.

This brings me to prediction 2.

Prediction 2: Increased Support for Battery Life

Apple has received a lot of flak about the infamously short battery life of an iPod. On the surface, this appears to be a small issue; there are attachments you can get to extend the life of your iPod once your battery dies. But Intel will be the first to say that one or two unhappy customers can destroy the good faith you've built up. Remember the mathematical flaw in the Pentium chip? Those customers who are having problems with the battery life in the iPod could have the same impact with Apple. The most immediate challenge to Apple is to extend the life of the battery within the iPod as more features are added. The caveat is that the iPod cannot increase in size or weight. The iPod is portable in nature, and portability means more than 45 minutes of battery life.

My next prediction is tied to the first.

Prediction 3: Mega-pixel Digital Camera

I'm certain that the Belkin labs or even the Apple labs already have a working digital camera attachment for the iPod. Steve Jobs won't allow just any old camera to be released as a hardware attachment for his precious iPod. He'll demand only the best-resolution camera attachment. With a 40GB hard drive, you have room for more than 8,000 images at 5MB each. Or, if you notch the image resolution down for 5x7 images, you can take more than 40,000 images before the hard drive is full.

I believe we'll see the three features I've mentioned so far added to the iPod over the next 12 months.

Prediction 4: MPEG 4 Video Camera

A video camera add-on hardware piece will be a great new feature. For this to work for Steve Jobs, however, the video camera will need to save the video in MPEG 4 for QuickTime format at DVD quality. The current 40GB iPod will restrict you to about 20 hours of video.

Restricted hard drive space leads me to my final prediction.

Prediction 5: Huge Portable Hard Drives

How many of use would have thought only five years ago that we would have a portable hard drive that slips into your pocket and supports 40GB of content? Now, however, I want more. Over the next few years, we'll see increased capacity for the iPod hard drive. Today the largest hard drive is 40GB; in the immediate future I see an increase to 50GB, and drives topping 100GB within two years.

The demand for increased storage is not so that you can listen to more than 25,000 songs—although, given some time on a desert island, I'm sure I could do that. The demand will come from people storing more stuff on the iPod: images, video from video cameras—even turning their iPods into TiVo-like devices. I can certainly see having an iPod cradle for my TV, where the cradle has a 200GB hard drive and syncs with the 120GB iPod. The iPod will be the brains and the cradle will be the recording brawn.

Now doubt many new features are coming down the road for the iPod, and these are just my humble predictions. You can do a lot with the iPod already, much of it beyond music. Pictures, games, and PIM information is just the start of what the little white box can do. After all, you have a lot of hard drive space that needs to be filled with something.

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