Apple iPod Touch: No iPhone Needed

Apple's music player has most of iPhone's features.

July 26, 2011 — -- Apple's most recent iPhone commercial focuses on everything the company thinks you'll miss out on if you don't have one of its handsets. But the company makes what is one of the best substitutes for the iPhone for many tasks.

That product is the iPod touch, which was the best-selling portable media player during the first half of 2011, according to NPD's Retail Tracking Service. Essentially an iPhone without a cellular phone in it, the iPod touch can do almost everything an iPhone can do, including substituting for a host of other gadgets -- at least in a pinch:

HD camcorder: Like the iPhone, the iPod touch can capture 720p video and comes with more storage capacity than most "point-and-shoot" camcorders. There's no optical zoom capability, but that feature is lacking on most camcorders in its price range as well. Like the iPhone, the iPod touch includes basic support for editing and supports Apple's iMovie editing software app, which costs about $5 from Apple's App Store.

Using its front-facing camera, the iPod touch also supports Apple's FaceTime video chat program, as well as Tango and other similar software applications, so it's now possible to create a point-to-point videoconferencing setup using Wi-Fi for about $500.

Digital camera. The iPod touch can capture stills, as well as video; unfortunately, when it comes to shooting photos, the iPod touch's camera resolution is lower than that of the iPhone. This is one of the features that Apple might want to improve for the next iPod touch.

E-Reader. If you're looking to read books and magazines on the go, the iPad -- or for that matter most any tablet -- will do a better job than even the handsets with the largest screens. However, if you're just looking to catch up on a short chapter during a commute, the iPod touch works just as well as an iPhone. It's important to note that due to its intermittent connectivity, the iPod touch can't purchase books on the go or sync to the last page read across devices if you're not in a Wi-Fi hotspot.

MP3 player. Of course the iPod touch can play back music and video just like Apple's older iPods. As with books, though, you may not be able to buy that song you just heard, or stream music from Pandora and other websites if you're not in a Wi-Fi area. Rhapsody, Slacker, Spotify and other services that allow offline listening to music can help close the gap.

Portable game player. Games are some of the most popular apps available for the iPhone, and nearly all of them also work on the iPod touch, which is part of the reason why it's been so popular with younger consumers.

Remote Control. Like the iPhone, the iPod touch lacks an infrared port, so companies have created other ways to enable it to control TVs and other home AV gear. Most of the products that enable an iPhone to act as a universal remote control use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the headphone jack, or a 30-pin sleeve. As a result, they should all work with the iPod touch unless there's something that assumes the iPhone's thicker form factor.

DVD player. No, the iPod touch won't actually play DVDs. Using Apple's HDMI mirroring cable or its Wi-Fi-based AirPlay feature in conjunction with an Apple TV, though, the iPod touch can show movies and TV shows just as well as an iPhone can.

In-car GPS. The iPod touch lacks a GPS receiver, but you can take advantage of several excellent navigation programs available for the iPhone by using an external GPS receiver such as the XGPS150 Universal Bluetooth GPS Receiver recently introduced by Dual Electronics. Note that traffic detection and other features may not work since they require a cellular connection, as does the GPS app by Telenav.

Landline phone. The main difference between an iPod touch and an iPhone is the cellular connection, which means there is no built-in way to make phone calls. However, the iPhone can make calls over Wi-Fi at home using Skype, Google Voice, and other apps. These apps may include charges for calling people who aren't using the app -- especially internationally.

Other. The iPod touch can act as a calculator, voice recorder, and many other devices. There's at least one exception, though. Unless you're in an area blanketed with Wi-Fi, an iPod touch can't serve as a substitute for an outdoor FRS radio, such as those from Motorola. An iPhone can use an app called HeyTell.

All in all, the iPod touch stacks up pretty well against the iPhone – and, of course, it doesn't require a cellular contract. A few accessories are needed for some tasks, but then again the iPhone needs them for some tasks, too.

Ross Rubin (@rossrubin on Twitter) is executive director of industry analysis at The NPD Group (@npdtech on Twitter). He blogs at The NPD Group Blog as well as his own blog, Out of the Box.