The Evolution of the iPod Nano

Love it or hate it, the iPod has blazed quite the trail in the MP3 player world. Every other player wants to be the iPod, and Apple has managed to stay ahead of the pack by continuing to innovate with each new generation of its players, changing form and function with the times but sticking to a design that's simple and intuitive.

The iPod Nano is Apple's bestselling player, so join us as we take a look at this seminal unit's origins, and its legacy. Click Continue to read on.

iPod-Nano-feature-ipod-mini.jpgiPod Mini: What came before
Debuted: January 6th, 2004
Capacity: 4GB
Price: $250
Colors: Silver, gold, pink, green, blue
Screen size: 1.67" monochrome LCD
Battery life (audio): 8 hours
Dimensions: H: 3.6" W: 2.0" D: 0.5"
Weight: 3.6 ounces

Claim to fame: At launch, the iPod Mini introduced the iPod line's most recognizable and useful feature: the click wheel. Previous iPods used a mechanical wheel for scrolling and control, but the wheel was surrounded with buttons. With the Mini, all that functionality was consolidated into one convenient touch-sensitive wheel. Most of Apple's current iPods, despite the company's recent infatuation with touchscreens, still use the same click wheel fashioned after the Mini's. Apple gave the unit over a year of breathing room before releasing a second version with far more battery life — one of the main criticisms leveled at the first Mini.

iPod-Nano-feature-1st-gen-nano.jpgiPod Nano: 1st Generation
Debuted: September 7th, 2005
Capacity: 2GB, 4GB
Price: $200, $250
Colors: White, black
Screen size: 1.5" 16-bit LCD
Battery life (audio): 14 hours
Dimensions: H: 3.5" W: 1.6" D: 0.27"
Weight: 1.5 ounces

Claim to fame: The switch in names from the Mini to the Nano wasn't just cosmetic: the new model's stainless-steel body was slimmer, thinner, and was almost half as light as its predecessor. It ditched the Mini's grayscale LCD for a 16-bit, color one for the newly added picture viewer, though it also lost the colorful cases. Despite its small size, the Nano was found to be surprisingly robust, and marketable: Apple sold its first million Nanos in only 17 days. Apple quickly released a 1GB variant for only $150. Overseas, however, the reception was a little more rocky. Complaints were made that the Nano's screen was far too easy to scratch, and an incident in Australia stirred up fears of exploding Nanos.

iPod-Nano-feature-2nd-gen-nano-2.jpgiPod Nano: 2nd Generation
Debuted: September 12th, 2006
Capacity: 2GB, 4GB, 8GB
Price: $150, $200, $250
Colors: Silver, black, blue, green, pink, red
Screen size: 1.5" 16-bit LCD
Battery life (audio): 24 hours
Dimensions: H: 3.5" W: 1.6" D: 0.26"
Weight: 1.41 ounces

Claim to fame: The second generation of the Nano continued Apple's seemingly immutable pricing scheme, offering a low-end model for $150, and two larger ones for $200 and $250. Still, the amount of storage that you got in a G1 Nano a year before doubled with the second generation. The new Nano also took after its Mini progenitor instead of its own first generation, with multiple colors and a rounded, scratch-resistant aluminum case instead of the first gen's steel. Instead of releasing a smaller iPod Nano this time around, Apple tested the waters with a limited edition, $250, 8 GB red iPod, which was sold as a tie-in to Product Red, a humanitarian effort started by U2's Bono.

iPod-Nano-feature-3rd-gen-nano.jpgiPod Nano: 3rd Generation
Debuted: September 5th, 2007
Capacity: 4GB, 8GB
Price: $150, $200
Colors: Silver, black, blue, green, pink, red
Screen size: 2.0" LCD
Battery life (audio): 24 hours
Dimensions: H: 2.75" W: 2.06" D: 0.26"
Weight: 1.74 ounces

Claim to fame: Apple's G3 iPod Nano has a shape that's a little more squarish than the previous generations, though still rounded like the second-gen Nano. The unit also has the same aluminum body (though, starting this year, the players have an aluminum front and a steel back), the largest screen yet that's twice as sharp, the ability to play videos, and aesthetic upgrades such as cover flow — a sliding selection of the album covers on the player. All in all, it's an attractive redesign with plenty of added features, and it's been doing as well as any of the other generations. iPod sales figures continue to climb and Apple has sold over 150 million iPods to date.

iPod-Nano-feature-4th-gen-nano.jpgiPod Nano: 4th Generation
Debuted: September 9th, 2008
Capacity: 8GB, 16GB
Price: $150, $200
Colors: Silver, black, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, pink, red
Screen size: 2.0" LCD w/ backlighting
Battery life (audio): 24 hours
Dimensions: H: 3.6" W: 1.5" D: 0.24"
Weight: 1.3 ounces

Claim to fame: Apple's current 4th generation iPod Nano is an amalgam of everything the company has learned with its iPod line. The new unit is tall like the G1 and G2 before it, but has the third generation's roomy, vibrant screen (rotated 90° compared to the 3G) and rounded, aluminum body in more colors than ever. The G4 adds an accelerometer as well as some iPhone-like functionality: the screen always orients itself upright in relation to how you're holding the player, and when you shake it your songs are automatically shuffled. Will this new generation of Nano carry a torch as bright as the rest? We'll see — Apple has also continued its traditional of lower launch prices for bigger units, which should help.

Despite the release of the iPhone and the iPod Touch with their fancy touchscreens, Apple's still rolling out the classic iPod models with its revolutionary click wheel. The Nano is obviously still roping in new buyers, too — it got me. So which generation got you?

Note: All specs listed are as of the product's original launch.