iPod touch 3rd Gen Analysis

Generally speaking, Apple’s music announcements bore me since they are just minor hardware and software revisions. It’s more hype than actual technology. Steve Jobs making his first appearance made this one a bit more interesting.

Hardware Analysis

As expected the announcements did bore me, but the teardown iFixit did of the iPod touch 3rd Generation however fascinates me, especially page 2 of their teardown:

iPod touch Broadcom chip via
iPod touch Broadcom chip via

There’s actually two fascinating things in this picture.

BCM4329 – 802.11n with Bluetooth® 2.1 + EDR and FM (Tx and Rx)

The first notable thing is the use of a Broadcom BCM4329[PDF]. This is an upgrade from the BCM4325[PDF] in the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 2G or the Marvell 88W8686 in the iPhone 3G.

Feature wise, here’s how it breaks down:

Chip 802.11g 802.11n FM Receiver FM Transmitter
Broadcom BCM4329 X X X X
Broadcom BCM4325 X X
Marvell 88W8686 X

First of all it supports 802.11n, while even the iPhone 3GS supports only 802.11g. It’s even capable of dual-band operation (2.4GHz and 5 GHz). Apple might enable this at some point in the future, though I suspect not until the iPhone 3GS either receives a silent upgrade to use this new chipset (unlikely but possible) or the iPhone is updated next summer.

This isn’t unprecedented for Apple. Thy shipped 802.11n capable Airport cards for a while before they offered the ability to unlock the feature. Considering iPod touch users pay for every major software release, and Apple charged to enable 802.11n on desktops and laptops, I’d expect the same treatment.

Secondly it supports both FM radio reception and transmission. Yes, it’s true that the iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 2G have an FM receiver, and it likely could be enabled by software. However there is no software to enable it. Apple already supports FM radio on the iPod nano.

FM transmission could be useful for allowing iPods to stream to car stereo’s wirelessly, without the need for a car adapter like currently needed.

So why would Apple include this stuff but not enable it? My guess would be for two reasons. The first is to take advantage of economy of scale, that is buy tons of these chips rather than lesser amounts of several specific variations. Secondly it makes development for firmware upgrades easier (and cheaper) when you only have a few closely related chipsets to worry about. A bonus is that Apple could enable these features in the future (likely when the flagship iPhone supports them) making the products more sticky.

The Missing Camera

The missing camera is the second fascinating thing. To the left of the Broadcom chip is an interesting spot that’s just the right size for the video camera Apple is including in the iPod nano according to iFixit. This could corroborate reports of problems putting a camera on an iPod.

This also isn’t that unusual. Apple sometimes has vestigial hardware artifacts in their products. For example Apple in the past likely toyed with the idea of putting an iPod dock on the Mac mini.

Price Analysis

Considering these are primarily music devices though one can argue the iPod touch is more a gaming device than a music device. Here’s the cost per GB:

Device Capacity Price Cost Per GB
iPod Classic 160 GB $249 $1.56/GB
iPod touch 8 GB $199 $24.88/GB
iPod touch 32 GB $299 9.34/GB
iPod touch 64 GB $399 $6.23/GB
iPod nano 8 GB $149 $18.63/GB
iPod nano 16 GB $179 $11.19/GB

So what’s the moral of the story? If it’s primarily a music device, you get way more bang for your buck with an iPod classic (not to mention slightly better battery life for audio). If your really fussy about size, want a video camera, or have a limited budget the nano is your iPod. If you’ve got money, or want an iPod more for apps, the iPod touch is your device.

Of course buying something more expensive just to get a lower cost per GB is silly, but that doesn’t make it an interesting way of looking at the cost. Obviously hard drives are still have a lower cost per GB than flash memory making the cost of the classic much lower. I suspect this is why the line still exists and likely will for at least another year or two.

Photo from iFixit

2 replies on “iPod touch 3rd Gen Analysis”

The cpu is tagged as slightly more recent design number however it and also the GPU are likely the similar speed as the 3GS. The old Touch with the same CPU and GPU since the 3G was quicker. Apart from getting the clock speed turned up greater the Touch has less software to run because it is not a phone. It should do more than any iPhone to this day in overall performance.

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