Talk about miracles. Up until the moment it was first announced, with zero fanfare and none of the usual Apple pizazz, most who follow tech trends never thought we’d see another member of the iPod Touch family. For reals. Yet, here we are, talking about the new iPod Touch 6 (actual name: iPod Touch Sixth Generation): it’s real, it exists, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s also not for everyone, but that’s OK.
Much of the tech world has suffered what I call ‘creative atrophy’, meaning they’re incapable of seeing a new device for what it is, rather than what it’s not. When talking about the iPod Touch you’ll hear disparaging remarks like “it’s for children”, or “it’s a dead device”. These may be true statements, but there’s a larger picture these ‘experts’ are missing.
Recent iPhones, especially the larger iPhone 6 and larger-still 6 Plus, have begun to cannibalize the iPad market, which itself poached older iPod Touch users. People clearly want iOS devices, but Apple hasn’t figured out how to make their family of iDevices all coexist in the same space without gobbling each other up. We’ve seen the venerable iPod Classic basically disappear, and the iPod lineup has been dropped entirely from the Apple Store bar, so those wanting the most ‘pure’ experience away from smartphones or tablets are left with few options.
In truth, the iPod Touch is closer to the iPad than iPhone, despite predating its tablet cousin by a few years. Heck, if Apple decided to rebrand the Touch as iPad Micro I wouldn’t be surprised. It may yet happen.
Why Not An iPhone or iPad?
So why make yet another iOS device? Why not just let dying markets dry up and force survivors to adopt the iPhone and be done with it? Believe it or not, there actually are people who’d love access to all those smartphone apps and goodies without the monthly smartphone price. True, the lack of cellular data means not being able to send a text while driving in traffic or reading the latest news while crossing the street; these are sacrifices us cord-cutters are willing to make.
Apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Ebay, Amazon, Netflix, even regular email. Or creating or editing documents with Word/Excel, creating videos, recording podcasts, Skype calls, reading (or writing) books, e-commerce, online dating, Chromecasting, and thousands more, some more useful than others, but that’s for users to decide which is which.
And don’t get started on games – oh boy. Apple’s iOS has led the charge to changing the way we buy and play games, from simple blockbusters like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Plants vs. Zombies and Clash of Clans to more complex creations like Modern Combat, Implosion: Never Lose Hope, or X-Com: Enemy Within? Or other blockbusters like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or even Borderlands episodic series? If you don’t think iOS is a viable, thriving gaming platform then you don’t know what you’re talking about.
The iOS app/game market is so good that even competing ecosystems, especially Android and Windows Phone users, want a piece of the action. Google’s Android Play Store, despite making serious inroads lately, can’t really compete in some areas, gaming especially. The Touch gives them nearly unfettered access to Apple’s App Store while remaining loyal to their Android phones, the best of both worlds.
Under the Hood
The iPod Touch 5 introduced so much newness to the iPod family that fans felt spoiled: a thinner aluminum body, featherweight, bigger screen size, Lightning connector, new EarPods, etc. OK, the price jump (minimum, at the time, was $299 for entry) was also new, but let’s not dwell on the past. At least they’ve returned the entry-level Touch (16GB) to its respectable $199 price. Thanks, Apple!
Three years is an eternity in mobile development, and since the last true iPod Touch revision in 2012 (the horrid, camera-free model doesn’t count) its mobile brother, the iPhone, has seen tons of love, features, and upgrades like fingerprint scanners, larger screens, a kitsch gold-ish body…Sadly, the iPod Touch 6 has none of these things (OK, it’s got the gold-ish color), opting instead for a massive upgrade to its tech that may constitute the single-biggest power update to any Apple product ever. There’s still no GPS or ability to tap into the sweetness of cellular rental (i.e. like some iPads) but those things will probably never happen. We saw a similar parity jump when Apple brought the iPad Mini in line with its bigger iPad Air family, their only difference being screen size and weight.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: minus the massive technical overhaul, the new Touch 6 has the exact same Retina display (1136×640 resolution IPS) and screen size (4”), the same sleek aluminum body, the same dimensions (4.86″H x 2.31″W x 0.24″D), same weight (3.1oz), etc. Apple has finally removed the wrist-strap clicker, but it won’t be missed. Available colors range from space gray, blue, silver, pink, and, yes, highly covetable gold. The upside is that any accessories or cases you have for the Touch 5 will work without a hitch, so there’s that.
Apple has outfitted the Touch 6 with the beefier 64-bit A8 processor, almost – but not quite – the same found in the iPhone 6, along with its M8 motion coprocessor. RAM is finally a full 1GB (up from a measly 512MB), along with faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi (up to 3X faster), Bluetooth 4.1, and for you digital hoarders there’s expanded storage options from 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, even to a huge 128GB. True love means never having to delete memory-hogging files. You still can’t use Apple Watch with it, but hey, it’s Apple Watch, so that may not be a deficit.
For you benchmark-loving geeks out there, we’ll leave the hard stuff to our friends over at Ars Technica who’ve done extensive power tests on what the Touch 6 is packing under the hood. As its A8 chip is clocked at 1.1GHz, about 27% slower than the iPhone 6’s 1.4GHz A8, expect some differences – and a whole bunch of surprises.
Ars claims the Touch 6 has a 500% better CPU and a 900% faster graphics performance over the Touch 5, and given its got a smaller screen (and less pixels to push), as well as support for Apple’s Metal API, effectively your Touch 6 experience should mirror that of the iPhone 6, more or less. That’s VERY impressive.
Apple Music – Love It or Leave It
It’s no shocker that Apple introduced the Touch 6 with a big push towards Apple Music, their new streaming service resulting from their buyout of Dr. Dre’s Beats (and desire to kill off all competitors like Pandora, Spotify, and the rest). Despite the fact that Apple Music is, well, a streaming service it does work almost perfectly on the cellular-free iPod Touch, even on the older Touch 5. But the Touch 6 makes streaming and listening much faster.
But first, a few caveats. At the time of this writing Apple Music is, despite its pedigree, just a decent streaming service that wants to be your default music service for everything, online and off. To accomplish this for iDevices Apple hasn’t just added but merged Apple Music within a redesigned Music app, which makes playing offline music more clunky and confusing than need be. This change pushes all of your own music into a single tab, My Music, with even more confusing mini-menus that always emphasis Apple Music over your own stuff.
For those tech-types with long memories think Google’s failed attempt to merge Google Buzz within Gmail or, more recently, Google+ with everything Google. It’s confusing, cluttered, and most often, doesn’t work like it should.
There are reviews, previews, and other impressions of Apple Music elsewhere, so I’ll leave that part of the service for you to discover. It’s mostly a decent Spotify clone, but with a much larger library of artists and albums. Editor Chris Mitchell and I spent over an hour trying to find untraditional artists (think electronica, think Japanese rock, or some combo of the two) and came up empty. It’s really an impressive set offered, and those looking for easy discovery should be happy with how much stuff is available here.
As the Touch 6 is WiFi-only, you won’t have full streaming access once you leave your trusty WiFi connection, but you will be able to download songs (if you’re a paying subscriber) to listen to offline. Doing so requires you flicking on a few iCloud settings, etc, and merging your libraries so everything is copacetic. But a warning: NEVER, EVER let Apple manage your personal music collection. EVER. Doing so makes songs, albums, playlists, etc, disappear from your device, corrupting your iTunes library in the process.
Why Apple hasn’t realized how harmful this feature is to libraries is beyond me, but I’d wager an unusually compliant tech-journalism industry shielding them is partly to blame. I had to spend a few hours re-arranging, uploading, and fixing my personal files (not all of them music) before I could leave the house.
Performance + Gaming
As a diehard Touch 5 acolyte – it’s been my sole device for nearly three years now – I can easily say the Touch 6 lives up to that promise, and then some. True, you’ll have to get past the initial iOS Effect, where everything looks and performs pretty much the same at first, but once you do the Touch 6 begins to shine. Then it roars.
Everything, and I mean everything, runs faster and better with the Touch 6. Apps load and run better and faster than ever before, as is switching between them. Browsing the web means less crashing and refreshing, and typing text is so crisp and irresistibly satisfying that you’ll finally want to finish that Great American Novel you’ve been putting off (no fear, as copies are available on iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive, all accessible on the Touch via WiFi).
And what can I say about gaming? Playing games on the Touch 6, despite being restricted to the same screen size, is just a better experience in every way. Games load faster, look better, crash less, with faster framerates (when applicable) and performance. And, unlike the constant issues we see with PC gaming, there’s no compatibility issues from the giant tech upgrade from A5 to A8 processor; all your apps and games are available here for you to download and enjoy, without issue, and performing ridiculously well. The iPod Touch 6 is a monster gaming machine, and should be so for years to come.
As much as Apple updated the CPU’s performance, they’ve made similar upgrades over the Touch 5’s “OK” 5-megapixel camera. The Touch 6 now boasts a much better 8-megapixel iSight camera on the rear and improved FaceTime HD camera on front. Features that iPhone users have taken for granted like burst-shot, slow-motion, and face detection are now available for you to exploit. Minus a few features (like no two-tone LED flash) that may only hold interest for photo purists this is essentially the same camera found on the iPhone 6, so there’s more feature parity for you to gloat over.
Right off the bat you’ll notice the difference a more powerful processor (A8+M8) make with that new camera – and it’s incredible. The viewfinder stability alone is astounding, meaning you’ll be able to see what you’re aiming at with less lag and better accuracy. Burst-shots means you’ll screw up less and those shots you’ll actually want to share look better than ever. And for those of you vain enough to want every facial crevice and crag to show up while using FaceTime (or Skype, or any other videochat app) you’ll get that with the new front facing camera. It’s not really my thing, but you might as well go for the glory.
And that’s not even taking into account the sheer megapixel upgrade (5MP to 8MP) and new sensors…I’m no photo expert, but the fact that you’re able to pack a near-iPhone 6 quality digital camera experience in such an inexpensive package means the Touch 6 will appeal to amateurs and professionals alike looking to pick up a second (or first) clicker on the cheap. Seriously.
Not everyone wants or needs an Apple smartphone or tablet. There are users who may want a second device for kids, for themselves, to browse or play or do whatever they might do with an actual smartphone (except make calls, though you can do that with apps, too). Or may those dedicated non-Apple users on Android, Windows, or BlackBerry wanting to taste the sweet fruits of iOS apps and gaming, or maybe even develop them. There may be a time when the government mandates everyone have a smartphone and service (don’t laugh), but until that happens I’m happy there are other options to choose from.
When Apple founder (and resurrector) Steve Jobs spoke of the continuing variation of the computer he spoke of cars and trucks; each serving the needs of its user differently. In that vein the iPod Touch 6, miraculous that it even exists, serves its purpose and audience better than any other device, period. Tech journalists, nigh an oxymoronic profession, forget that not everyone gets their goodies for free – most of us have to pay real money for our gadgets, and consider them investments for the long haul. The iPod Touch remains a nice little compact on the road of technology, happily chugging alongside its fellow cars and trucks.