Try googling “iPhone Nano”, you’ll get 43.9 million hits. It seems a lot. A closer look at Google’s results shows them to be reasonably legit, no spamming. (Bing is less expansive with only 103,000 results, 400 times less than Google…)

The putative iPhone Nano appears to be in great demand. But is popularity a predictor? Are all these “hits” a sign of a product to come? Or is it merely what a critic calls the iPhone oNano, a fantasy?

The iPod story provides an inviting template: Over the years, what we now call the “Classic” begat a large family of Mini, Nano and Shuffle versions. And the iPod Touch, which I’d rather call an iPhone Minus for today’s purpose, meaning it’s not part of the iPod class. (Another wag calls it the iPhone Honest: the one that clearly labels itself as unable to make phone calls. How unfair.)
So, let History repeat itself. Let’s start a family of iPhones, beginning with the cuter iPhone Nano. Right?

Perhaps not.

Looking at the iPod again, one thing never changed: all versions played the same music. Other attributes were added and sometimes taken away: size, screen, physical and logical controls, video… But the core purpose never varied: playing iTunes digital music files. (As the iPod Wikipedia article makes somewhat clear, you can use an iPod without iTunes, but that’s not a statistically significant reality, it’s not relevant to the iPod ecosystem’s business model.) The iPod’s DNA evolved a few accessory strands here and there, but the core genes have been left unchanged. And, going back to the iPhone and the iPod Touch, we see iPod genes living inside a larger DNA sequence

Speaking of the iPhone, what is its main purpose?

Is it making calls, browsing the Web, doing email, synchronizing calendars and address books? It does seem that way: the iPhone provides such services with varying degrees of felicity. (In my sample of one, during the Summer of 2007, when I saw the amount of Web browsing time spent on my infant iPhone, I realized my treasured Blackberry was a goner.)

But these de rigueur, taken for granted functions are necessary but not sufficient to make an iPhone. What does make an iPhone an iPhone is its huge and still growing collection of applications served by the iTunes App Store.

The iPhone is an App Phone.

The App genre (the apps themselves, their distribution system, the development tools) is now fully embraced by the smartphone industry and by its customers. I realize we’ll keep saying “smartphones”, but “app phone’’ gets us closer to the genre’s core reality, to what drives enthusiastic user adoption — and close to triple-digit year-to-year revenue growth.

The apps are to the iPhone what digital music files are to the iPod.

Moving to the Nano suffix. What can we remove from today’s iPhone “Classic”?
Memory, processor speed, storage? Not really. Those permutations are available already. Either in current iPhone configurations, or in the previous generation pricing games: a 3GS iPhone for $49,

while the iPhone 4 trades for $199, both with a 2-year contract. And these variations do little or nothing to change the apps that run on them.

(Out of curiosity, I went and looked for an unlocked iPhone. On Amazon, the previous generation iPhone 3GS is offered at prices between $400 and $600. I’m not sure what to make of such factoid. Grey market? Paying for the ability to then freely switch SIMs and move from one carrier or one country to another?)