Apple® has launched its latest, must-have digital music player – the iPod nano. I believe this will mark the point when ‘nano’ is no longer technobabble geek-speak but a fashionable, street-creditable, ‘in'-term. And so ‘nano’ will begin to enter everyone's vocabulary for something that is just very small.

That, of course, is a two-edged sword for nanoscientists. While there will be general recognition that their research involves working on very small scales, such loose use could see the term lose some of its ability to define studies of novel behaviors and phenomena on the scale of billionths of meters. You already hear complaints that the cachet of nano leads everyone to use it in their papers and grant proposals, even when not required, diluting its usefulness as a scientific term.

So, what of the iPod nano? The digital music player comes in 2 GB and 4 GB versions, holds up to 1000 songs, is pencil-thin, and weighs just 1.5 ounces. Stylish design is combined with ease of use, and it is a lot smaller than its competitors. As a result, demand for the product is huge.

The launch has highlighted potential problems if a lot of hype is created around a new, popular product at the edge of technological innovation. When some customers experienced problems with the color displays, sometimes within days of buying their new iPod nano, their complaints resulted in a lot of bad press. Apple was forced to admit that there were faults with a small number of the devices and offered refunds or replacements. Some of the shine surrounding the product was lost. More generally, this is perhaps a cautionary tale for making too much of the hype surrounding nanotechnology. Mistakes when trying to commercialize new nanotech products could taint perceptions of ‘nano'.

The new iPod is much smaller, yes. Tiny, even. But can a 3.5” × 1.6” × 0.27” product really be called nano? Certainly, it is gratifying that Apple believes ‘nano’ encapsulates everything they want to say about a small, trendy, stylish, revolutionary, technology-driven product. But isn't this exactly my complaint: that it is called nano without being nano?

Well, perhaps not. The iPod nano is so small because it uses Flash memory, not a hard disk drive. And it does show what is possible when devices are patterned at the nanoscale. Samsung, which supplies the memory for the iPod nano, uses 70 nm process technology for its 4 Gb Flash memory.

Materials Today hopes to capture some of the excitement surrounding both nonvolatile memories and nanoscience at a conference in Beijing in September 2006. As an advert in this issue shows, Materials Today Asia will include three symposia on functional materials for nonvolatile memories, synthesis and assembly of nanostructures, and the interface between biology and materials. I am confident that, in Tae Won Noh, Younan Xia, and Dan Luo, we have the best conference chairs possible. We hope you will be able to join us.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(05)71132-9