Thursday, March 12, 2009

Future iPod with about 1 million songs

IBM researchers have reportedly demonstrated technology that will increase hard drive capacity 100-fold, as well as offer major improvements in energy consumption (leading to much longer battery life) and better reliability. Production is estimated in seven to ten years.

The reports summarizing the researchers' findings, which were published in Science (subscription required), use the shorthand "500,000 songs on a portable MP3 player" to describe the advance.

Today's iPod lineup contains no product advertised to hold 5,000 songs, so I'm not sure where the 500,000 figure came from. In fact, the current highest-capacity iPod is 160GB, and is advertised as being able to hold 40,000 songs. So this shorthand would imply a hard drive size of just under 2TB--only 12.5 times bigger than today's largest iPod.

That's actually well short of what Kryder's Law predicts--if hard drive capacity continues to double every year, then the hard drives of 2015 should be 128 times larger than today's. So the IBM researchers' claims of up to 100x capacity, while impressive, are not particularly surprising given the trends of the past decade. According to my calculations, 100x would mean the biggest iPod would have a 16,000 GB hard drive, which would be enough to hold more than four million songs at the current advertised compression rates. Or if you assume that Apple's lossless codec compresses the typical song to about 25MB, it could hold about 650,000 songs--with no loss in audio quality.

Of course, few people would use a portable hard drive of that size solely to store music--movies, games, and applications will probably take up most of that space. Still the idea that we'll be carrying terabytes of data in our pocket in a few short years explains why Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the rest of the industry are focusing so much attention on mobile computing.

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