[Update Oct. 17: A post from TUAW, sourcing Phil Schiller, states that the iPod Touch was simply too thin to accommodate an ambient light sensor. I still stand by this mini rant – I don't think this was one of the compromises that Apple designers should have made to achieve that level of thinness.]
When I first heard about the new iPod Touch, it seemed like a step forward in almost every regard. The new design is thinner, lighter, taller; the CPU faster; the 5MP camera sharper and auto-focusier; and the included lanyard loop and newly designed EarPods made it seem like a fantastic lower-tier device – even starting at $299 for 32GB.
But this latest piece of news from Kevin C. Tofel of GigaOm is a little disheartening: that fancy new iPod Touch, for all of its new features, is missing an ambient light sensor. That’s the sensor on your MacBook, iPhone, iPad, and every previous generation of iPod Touch, that allowed the screen brightness to automatically adapt to your surroundings. Trying to watch a movie in a brightly lit living room? That’s alright, because the ambient light sensor will tell the device to crank brightness up to max. Trying to read a few tweets before bedtime while the lights are all off? The ambient light sensor dims your screen so that you aren’t blinded by a barrage of overly luminous 140-character messages.
That ambient light sensor doesn’t always work perfectly, but nine out of ten times, I’m happy to have it around. It’s part of the design magic behind Apple devices that makes them “just work”, which reduces fiddling around with settings, and allows for more time to simply enjoy using your device. There’s no way that the lack of an ambient light sensor in this 5th-gen iPod Touch is an oversight, but I think it was absolutely the wrong compromise to make – especially since the brightness slider isn’t terribly easy to access on the iPod or iPhone. Adjusting the brightness on an iPad is a matter of bringing up the multitasking bar and swiping to the right. That same operation on the iPhone and iPod requires you to leave your current app, head to settings, tap on Brightness, and then adjust the slider.
Apple could well have removed the hardware volume buttons as well, and simply left users to use headset controls or switch directly to the Music app to adjust volume….but that would have increased the friction that users experience while using the device. With that in mind – what good argument is there for removing a sensor that enabled automatic brightness adjustment?