iPod classicIt seems that every year, there are rumours that Apple will drop the iPod classic from its lineup. It was mentioned in 2009 by cnet, WhatHiFi prematurely announced its death in April 2010, CNN suggested it again later the same year, and recently it’s been all over the tech sites once again.

My first MP3 player was a Christmas gift – a Diamond Rio 300. An excellent little machine, which lasted for years, but sadly met its end when it fell off a belt, and proved that it couldn’t bounce all the way down the stairs.

So I needed a replacement. It was at this time that I discovered the excellent site Advanced MP3 players, of whom I became a loyal customer.

The first player I bought from them was a Treo 20GB player, with a laptop hard drive inside. The sound quality was fantastic, but the player was flimsy, and the first had trouble with the earphone socket within a week, the second lasted two weeks before the recharging socket broke, and the third arrived able to play music in the right hand channel only.

I replaced it with an XClef HD500, which also included an MP3 recorder, FM radio and radio-to-MP3 recording. Seemingly indestructible, it accompanied me on close to a hundred train journeys, undaunted by the loss of its power supply (the power supply for my Motorola RAZR phone charged it fine, if a little more slowly). It finally succumbed last year when the dog decided to play with it, finally damaging it beyond all repair.

In the meantime, we also bought – again, from the same site – a Dension DH-100. They don’t make them any more – that was the only picture I could find on the web – but it was a superb player. We used to do a lot of long journeys, and it was invaluable – it was the equivalent of having your entire CD collection with you on the road (OK, we had to compromise sound quality a little bit to fit them all in, but with the rumble of the road as you go along, you really didn’t notice).

So after the dog incident, I needed a new MP3 player. After two attempts at buying various non-Apple players I succumbed and bought the iPod classic. And while it has more capacity – by far – than any of the previous players, but it’s dull. The Rio was a groundbreaker, as was the Treo; the XClef aspired to be something slick, and the Dension was just a seriously awesome product.

The iPod? It’s solid. Unlike the XClef, it’s scratched already, and the paint’s peeling. OK, it has video, podcasts, lots of cool features, but things do go wrong every now and then, and it requires iTunes for just about everything (well, it does the way I have it set up anyway, and that’s because I’m lazy.)

The problem is the iPod isn’t a captivating product. iTunes is a fairly nice piece of software, but other MP3 managers are available (WinAmp, for one). The iTunes store is nice, but I prefer the Amazon MP3 store myself.

It’s the absence of any real innovation in the iPod that is the problem. It was always a “me too” product, that became successful because of the iTunes store (which was also a “me too” – Diamond got there first with RioPort).

So will I be sad to see the iPod classic go? Not so much. It’s a good product, and has good sound quality, but it has never offered any real innovation, simply scooped up all the good ideas and put them in a single place. Even “cover flow”, the one thing the iPod and iTunes might realistically be said to have brought in are based on a third party open source library, if you read the legal wordings.

But if Apple do cancel the classic, well if and when I need a new player, there’s plenty to choose from, and I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.