Opinion: Should Apple extend their new family with touchscreen, Intel-based, OS X laden iPods?

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andy-merrett.jpgAndy Merrett writes…

With all the furore surrounding the iPhone, rumours about the next (sixth) generation of iPod have been a little quiet.

Now that the iPhone is safely launched, in the US at least, we can once again discuss what Apple might do to keep on top of the portable music player market.

ipod_touchscreen.jpgPMPToday is just one site circulating the rumour of a touchscreen iPod – coming as early as August.

DigiTimes says that the next-generation 6G iPod video will feature touch-screen panels similar to the iPhone. The reported supplier of the capacitive touch-screen panels is Taiwan-based manufacturer WinTek. WinTek has yet to make an official statement due to customer confidentiality, but sources from upstairs have confirmed the news. The estimated shipping date of the panels is late 2007.

Yes, it seems that the touchscreen device is the new, erm, non-touchscreen device. Now that Apple have pushed large touchscreens into the public gaze with their shiny iPhone, it’s not surprising that some think they should roll that out to future iPods, too.

The hardware is just one aspect of Apple’s future success. It’s rumoured that future iPods could run OS X, which might also imply they’d use Intel chips.

As far as I’m concerned, Apple’s “killer app” is becoming even clearer.

I said back in January that I believed Mac OS X is Apple’s killer app – not the iPhone, or the iPod, or Apple TV, or any number of shiny new computers or other devices. I still do.

Apple has been talking about connecting people’s digital lifestyles for years, but now that they’re branching out beyond computers and iPods, that’s becoming even more of a reality.

What, increasingly, binds Apple’s products together, apart from them being visually appealing, intuitive, and expensive, is that they all run OS X. That’s Apple’s dream – the fact that, with a complete range of Apple products, you’ll be connected to them, and able to simply manage your lifestyle, whether you’re at your desktop computer, on the move with a Macbook and your iPhone, listening to music on your iPod, or sitting at home watching movies on your Apple TV.

The iPhone’s touch screen is trés cool, but that’s not its kick ass feature. It’s the operating system.

From what we’ve seen of Leopard – Apple’s next incarnation of OS X – so far, the idea of being able to work seamlessly across devices and networks is taken to a whole new level.

Developers who love open source, unlocked solutions may bemoan the current lack of hacking potential on the iPhone, but I think that the average user will be quite content to let Apple provide operating system updates, and have all their devices work perfectly together.

Though once I would have baulked at the concept, I now think we could see OS X rolling out across other platforms – eventually. It’s perfectly possible to run Vista and OS X side by side on an Intel Mac, so why not on other systems?

OS X is Apple’s centrepiece. I think they’d do well to proliferate it as far as possible.

Andy Merrett