We know we're due for an iPod refresh. It's not a matter of if...it's a matter of when. The internets are abuzz with the latest rumors making the rounds, based on some purported next-gen iPod Nano photos (the photos were not proven as the real McCoy, but sites like Engadget were actually asked by Apple's legal team to remove the photos).
The images showed a short, squat iPod Nano with a screen barely large enough to watch video on (think a standard iPod video with its bottom inch or so lopped off, to make it shorter). Seems to defeat part of the purpose of a Nano (versus a full-blown iPod) to me, but I'll reserve judgment until I see what the real thing deal is whenever it launches later this year
The running theory goes that we'll see new iPods by October. I can't imagine Apple would wait much longer than that--after all, if a company doesn't get its product to retail in October, they're really only cutting themselves out of potential holiday season revenue. (Of course, Apple could just wait until next year, too.) Furthermore, Apple has released new iPods in the October time frame before; doing so again would fit the pattern.
Notably, October marks a milestone for another "little" Apple launch: its new Leopard operating system. The thought of Apple launching a new iPod in tandem with Leopard is an appealing one. Some in the blogosphere are positing that the next iPod's interface might be tweaked so that it better matches up with OSX/Leopard. And that, to me, is both a highly viable consideration--and a highly appropriate one.
Already, the iPhone has taken advantage of OSX--and done so to tremendous advantage. When I used the iPhone, I instantly noticed how smooth it was to navigate through the music playback. I also noticed how different the interface was vis-a-vis the existing iPod's interface--different in a good way.
If the iPhone is the best iPod Apple's ever made, as Steve Jobs posited at the D Conference in May, then it follows that characteristics of the iPhone's interface will find their way into the next wave of iPods. I only wish that chief among those characteristics was a multitouch screen, as the iPhone has. Cover Flow is slick, but I'd give that up any day to add a multitouch screen to an iPod (the screen would be in addition to the Click Wheel, or some modified version thereof; to me, a music-centric media player needs real, not virtual playback buttons).
Of course, Apple wouldn't be the first company to try to unify its user interface across different its product offerings. Take the example of Sony: For the past couple of years, the consumer electronics giant has been moving to unify its interface design across a diverse set of products. The so-called Cross Media Bar from Sony, seen on the PlayStation 3, can now be found on Sony TVs, camcorders, and digital cameras.