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iPhone... but what happened to the iPod scroll wheel?

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It's crunch time for the iPod. Can a single device be as easy to use for music as an iPod, and also as easy as a Mac for email, and also work as a phone? Steve Jobs has said yes, and to do this, he's dropped the famous scroll wheel.

Enthusiasm for a new Apple launch is taken for granted. Jobs himself has a charisma that the Wizard Saruman would envy; people who debate with him, even if they initially disagree, "... mostly they remembered that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves," as Tolkien wrote.

And as a commentator, you dare not deny Jobs in public. "When others spoke they seemed harsh and uncouth by contrast; and if they gainsaid the voice, anger was kindled in the hearts of those under the spell... For many the sound of the voice alone was enough to hold them enthralled... but none were unmoved; none rejected its pleas and its commands without an effort of mind and will," Tolkien finished.

The trouble is, he's often proved right. His following isn't just fanaticism (though it is that) - it's also enthusiasm. People who use the Mac like it. People have turned the iPod into "The Perfect Thing" as Steve Levy called his definitive book on the toy.

Will he be proved right in abandoning the scroll wheel?

Two years ago, he would probably not have been right. In those days, people wanted a music player with all their music on it. They wanted it all just in case they wanted to listen to it. In fact, they only ever listened to the stuff they always listened to, less than ten per cent (many surveys have proved this) of the library.

But the Nano and then the Shuffle, has changed the market. The smaller format has taught us to be happy if we can carry just a gig or so of music around.

The difference for the phone designer, is simple. To find your way through 20GB of music requires the mind of a librarian - or, the iPod scroll wheel. But a single Flash chip with a gig, is just a few CDs worth. It doesn't need sophisticated indexing, or a sophisticated user interface. And the Sony Walkman has shown that users can manage a dual-purpose device.

The iPhone has more than one gig, of course; but it also has to carry a lot more data. It has email, video and other computing functions, all of which generate and use storage. Even in the big eight Gbyte version will give the user less music storage than the ipod Nano (eight Gbytes max) and probably less than the 4GB model.

Nonetheless, look at the Shuffle. Only a gig of storage. About 240 "songs" - ten CDs. Even there, Apple decided people wanted the scroll wheel.

So it's a brave decision to go with the new user interface. This time next year, we'll have to see if they decide to launch a version 1.5 with the scroll wheel on the back...

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