iPod refreshed (kinda), Zune retired. Are MP3 players on the way out?

Apple will refresh its Nano and iPod Touch models, but the iPod Classic and Shuffle remain unchanged.

Apple refreshed the iPod Nanos at its "Let's Talk iPhone" event Tuesday.

Apple today announced new versions of the iPod Nano and the iPod Touch, a Wi-Fi capable device first introduced in 2007. Changes are minimal: The iPod Touch will now ship in white as well as black, and pricing on the base 8 GB model drops from $229 to $199. The new Touch ships Oct. 12. Meanwhile, the latest Nano gets some minor software improvements, and some fitness-tracking ability; it ships immediately.

"The most notable changes [on the Nano]," writes Donald Bell of CNET, "are the inclusion of 16 new clock face designs, and a new interface that allows you to swipe between single apps instead of viewing them on a grid." (The iPod Classic, which was rumored to be going the way of the dinosaur, will be spared, but will get no major update; ditto for the pint-sized iPod Shuffle.)

What? You were expecting fireworks? Over at PC Magazine, Will Greenwald calls the iPod line "Apple's forgotten children" — next-generation devices nearly identical to the generations that have come before. "If it wasn't for the white version of the iPod touch, it would be easy to say that Apple wasn't offering upgrades, but discounts," Greenwald writes.

Of course, the iPod is still selling, or else "Apple would have stopped supporting it. However, it's gone nearly untouched. It's clear Apple has no plans to refresh the iPod classic, make it solid state, or give it any new features. It's also becoming uncomfortably clear that Apple is learning towards treating the iPod touch and iPod Nano the same way," Greenwald adds.

Which makes sense in a way. In 2011, most consumers have become accustomed to the idea that a smartphone should serve as a digitized Swiss Army Knife: It should make phone calls, but it should also browse the Web, play music, play video games, and even work like a credit card. We are moving away from a time when we owned a fleet full of gadgets, and toward a time when we own one super-gadget, which can do it all.

What place does the Apple iPod have in a world like that?

In related news, the Zune, an MP3 player launched in 2006 to compete with the Apple iPod, has been officially discontinued by Microsoft. The Zune received a warm critical reaction, but sales were never strong to begin with, and as of 2011, it has been two years since the Zune line was revamped in any substantial way. According to the Associated Press, Microsoft will continue to support the old devices.

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