Our informed readers and insiders have been somewhat split on the answers to these questions.
A hard drive (compared to Flash/NAND) uses a lot of juice. Hard drive-based devices require more battery and stabilization space than RAM based device like the iPhone. To have both in a device the form-factor of an iPhone would be pretty tough – but doable if the device were to be made thicker. The hard drive alone would add significant bulk to the device and its spinning could also throw off the accelerometer that adds so much cool functionality to the iPhone’s OS.
However, 1.8 inch hard drives are relatively cheap and huge. For the price of a 16 Gb flash-based iPod, Apple could probably give you a 160 Gb hard drive based iPod that was a few millimeters thicker and might not have the same battery life. Would users be cool with that? Yes, certainly. Would Apple’s designers? Probably less so, but it certainly is in the realm of contention – especially knowing that millions of potential customers are salivating over the possibility.
As for Wifi, we know the iPhone certainly does it quite well. The only question is if including Wifi will hurt the iPhone sales (it certainly could) and will Apple – and by extension AT&T and the Euro-carriers be willing to accept that? We know Apple doesn’t really care too much about it’s partners but they do care about their iPhone. If they release Wifi in their iPods, they will have to beef up the storage in the iPhones at some point soon as well.
Wifi-based iPods bring up a lot of other possibilities as well. Perhaps some of the storage loss by going exlusively flash RAM based could be made up by having your music/video data on Airport Extreme based, inexpensive USB hard drives? Streaming your MP3’s and movies over the WLAN or Internet would be extremely cool. Just ask Sling customers.
VOIP also comes to mind. We know however, that the new iPods don’t have phone-like speakers and mics. Therefore, it is probably not Apple’s long term plan to use the iPod as a phone. Of course Bluetooth or tethered headsets could easily be used and I am sure someone like Skype or Cisco would be happy to add a bit of software that could enable this.
What about future releases? At some point in the future we know that the iPod and iPhone will be the same device. It is just too easy and imperative to add VOIP functionality to a iPod sized device. The flexibility and function of VOIP services kills traditional carriers’ capabilities. Look how hard it was to get visual voicemail from AT&T? Skype and Vonage had that functionality a few years ago.
When the smoke clears in the portable device industry, Apple wants their devices to the THE SINGLE device people carry around. Apple’s current portable device lineup have the ability to be those devices. Maybe by Macworld, we’ll see something moving in that direction.