Optional 3G connectivity may liberate Apple’s next iPod Touch from the confines of Wi-Fi hotspots.

The rumor, reported by AppleSpot.nl and kindly translated by a reader at 9to5Mac, says that users will be able to pop a 3G SIM card into the iPod Touch and subscribe to a data plan of their choosing. AT&T and Verizon Wireless already offer 3G service for the iPad, so a connected iPod Touch would presumably work in similar fashion.

If this 3G iPod Touch rumor pans out, it’d come very close to fulfilling the geeky dream of a data-only smartphone. Skype could replace a traditional voice plan, and iMessages, the messaging service that will launch with iOS 5 this fall, could reduce the need for SMS. (Apps like TextFree and Textie can also do the job.) Using data-based services could lead to big savings over a monthly smartphone bill.

But as it stands, the iPod Touch isn’t fully equipped to replace a smartphone. The iPod Touch lacks a speaker by the ear, so you’d have to take calls by speakerphone or by attaching a headset. There’s also no built-in GPS chip, so any location-based services would have to rely on Wi-Fi hotspot and cell tower triangulation, which is less accurate.

Besides, there’s no guarantee that wireless carriers will embrace a 3G iPod Touch. Surely, they’d realize that that it could act as a smartphone replacement despite its drawbacks, and that could create some static between carriers and Apple. For that reason, I’m not totally buying into this rumor, though I’d certainly like to see it happen.


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