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Next week marks a kind of harmonic convergence for the U.S. economy. It combines the biggest travel days of the year – traditionally, the day before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving – with the biggest shopping day of the year, the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers call that day ”Black Friday,” because it’s often the day that pushes them into the black after nearly a year’s worth of red ink.

In other words, a lot of people will spend a lot of money next week on gifts for friends and relatives (and, let’s face it, for themselves). And those same people will be riding on planes and strolling through airports. Why is that significant? Because planes and airports just happen to be the best places on Earth to see which gadgets other people are toting.

Au courant gadget-toters will be showing off two major items this year, and I predict that those same two items will pop up over and over again on other traveler’s mental Christmas lists. They are, of course, the iPod Nano and the new video iPod.

If you’ve seen one of these glistening plastic beauties, you’ll understand why. The Nano takes the original idea behind the iPod – elegance and power in a small package – to its furthest extreme. One wonders whether a music player could be any smaller and still be usable. (Case in point: the iPod Shuffle.)

The latest version of the standard iPod, meanwhile, fits pleasingly in the palm like the older iPods, but is thinner, has a longer battery life, and sports a sleek back-to-basics look. Its color screen is among the sharpest and brightest in its size class. And at $299 and $399 for 30 GB or 60GB of hard drive space, respectively, the new 5th-generation iPod is actually cheaper than its 4th-generation predecessors. 

Given that devices with white earphones and little Apple logos have been littering the floors under Christmas trees for several years now, my prediction may not sound very bold. But here’s one that is: I think the video iPod will outsell the Nano.

Apple, or perhaps I should say Steve Jobs, seems more interested in promoting the Nano than its video-playing big brother. That’s understandable: the Nano is a marvel of engineering, and Jobs did, after all, spend more than a year saying Apple would never build a video iPod. (Video is “the wrong direction to go,” Jobs said in October 2004, at a press event unveiling the iPod Photo.)

But the standard iPod’s larger screen and video capability make it much more versatile. And watching U2 videos or Desperate Housewives on an iPod is just, well, more fun than listening only to music. Unless shoppers have a practical need for the smallest possible music player, they’ll choose the device that delivers more value. (Think of it this way: the 60 GB video iPod costs $6.65 per gigabyte of storage, while the 4 GB Nano costs $62.25 per gigabyte.)

I could be wrong. The whole iPod phenomenon is a demonstration in the marketing of cool, and the Nano’s cool factor may make it more attractive to gift-givers this year.

I’m no expert. So let’s open up the debate. Please use the discussion window below to let other TR readers know which device you’d rather receive this year – and I’ll report back later with a summary of commenters’ opinions.

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