Photo credit iLounge

Every year around this time my colleagues and I at iLounge discuss whether this will be the year that Apple discontinues the iPod classic. Although the old hard-drive based model continues to be the only truly high-capacity device in Apple’s lineup, it also ends up looking more and more like a dinosaur next to every other new model.

The iPod classic saw its last update in 2009 — now four years ago — and even that was a relatively minor update, little more than a capacity bump over the 120GB 2008 model, and no real physical design changes from the original 2007 classic.

Over the first couple of years, the reasons why it survived seemed pretty obvious. Not only was it representative of Apple’s roots — the original, iconic, iPod — but there were a lot of music fans out there who still wanted a way to carry around a relatively large music library. When the iPod classic was last updated, the highest-capacity Apple offered in any other device was the 32GB iPhone 3GS and iPod touch, and even the iPad was nothing more than a rumour. It also debuted alongside a fifth-generation iPod nano with the same general design, so it really continued to feel like part of the iPod family, in a lineup where the iPod touch was still finding its place.

Even as Apple’s iOS devices jumped to 64GB capacities the following year, an obvious place remained for a 160GB device that could store and access all of your music without relying on wireless networks. Wireless data plans could still be slow and expensive, and on-demand music streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio hadn’t really caught on, providing few options for cloud-based music.

With the debut of iTunes Match the following year, however, it seemed that this might finally be the nail in the coffin for the iPod classic. The limited capacity of an iPhone or iPod touch was no longer an issue when you could access your entire music collection from iTunes in the Cloud anywhere that a data connection was available. Combined with automatic caching of played tracks and the ability to download entire playlists for offline use, it really seemed that the iPod classic was no longer nearly as relevant. Even for the cost-conscious consumer, $25/year seemed like an incredibly reasonable price to pay for access to your entire music library from anywhere.

In fact, it was iTunes Match that made me finally retire my iPod classic for once and for all. Prior to that, I had kept my classic around for things like road trips, where I might want to pull up a song that wouldn’t otherwise be on my iPhone. This was often mostly a “safety blanket” however, and the advent of iTunes Match gave me enough of a comfort zone in that regard that the iPhone was suddenly the only device I needed to carry with me.

Now two years after the debut of iTunes Match, the iPod classic lives on, unchanged in the past four years, but still sold. Granted, even 128GB iPhone and iPod touch options have still not surfaced, and again not everyone wants to rely on a data plan. Plus, maybe Apple really doesn’t want to retire the iconic, original “iPod” design.

Still, I continue to be surprised every time that the iPod classic hangs on for yet another year. Do you still think there’s a place for the iPod classic in Apple’s lineup, or is it just a dinosaur waiting to be put out of its misery?