Posts Tagged ipod

Living with an iPod touch

I held out for a long, long time. I'd even talked myself entirely out of getting one. Like they say in the classics though, "you think you've escaped, but they pull you back in". I now have a 32GB iPod touch and it's doin' alright, even though it took me nearly a week before I bothered putting any media on it!

I think what finally did it for me was the App Store. I love being able to simply go to an app on the device and easily look for software, installing what I like with no fuss. I especially like the fact that my downloads are synced with my computer, so that I don't have to keep track of all the individual items I've installed (unlike my phone; I can't think where all the sis and sisx files for different stuff I've installed might be).

My Facebook friends will know that I'm much more active there suddenly. Why? The Facebook app on the Touch — I no longer have to start up a computer or open a browser to update my status or reply to comments. I had a bit of this function with Fring's Facebook interface on my phone, but the large screen of the Touch makes things like this much more friendly.

I came very close to getting an iPhone actually — but not to use as a phone. This was after I'd realised that it's just as valuable as an Internet-connected device as an actual phone. The cost of iPhone service is still a bit prohibitive to me though, especially for an occasional-use device.

One of the things that had turned me off was the closed nature of the iTunes ecosystem (iPod, iPhone, Apple TV, iTunes). People sometimes ask me about Skype, and I say that the worst thing about it is that it Just Works. I mean, it's a closed system with no interconnections other than those provided by Skype themselves — by this nature it should fail, and yet because it works (arguably) better than any other desktop VoIP product it enjoys immense success. Same goes for Apple's stuff: the iTunes ecosystem Works And Works Bloody Well.

I've been thinking for ages about sync for calendar and contacts and stuff; I've been hunting for services and software and tools for ages. I could build something myself, and indeed started to (I've looked at Google Apps, used Chandler, checked out Ovi, and played with Sync4J before it was called Funambol). I could spend time and effort coming up with something myself…

Or I could just buy an iPod.

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iPod touch: device lust

They’ve done it to me once more, those folks at Apple.  In 2003, while I was in the US for a residency trip, I fell in device-lust with the third-generation iPod.  I brought one home, and I’m still using it (on its original battery, I might add, although there’s a bit of a telltale bulge developing on the rear casing).  Now, a new range of iPods has been released, and I’ve got that familiar tingling in the back pocket… and an unexpected reflection on technology’s progress (or lack thereof).

A little while back I decided that my next portable audio device would not be an iPod.  I really don’t want to be tied to the Mac for something as simple as music and podcasts, and figured that I must be able to do these things with Linux.  To this end, I experimented with using Amarok to talk to my iPod but it just didn’t work well — corrupted playlists, Amarok refusing to simply unmount the iPod without giving it a soft reset, which caused it to reboot and remount again.  Tools like Rhythmbox and gtkpod were no different, which is hardly surprising since they all use the same libraries for actually talking to the iPod.  So, I decided that as long as the iPod still lived it would be enslaved to the Mac, and my music would stay managed by iTunes until such time as I could justify replacing the iPod.

Creative nearly had me a few months ago: the Zen Vision:W (I think that’s what it’s called, their wide-screen video device) has a good feature set…  but it just didn’t look right.  The 60GB version was too chunky — too thick, mainly — and the interface just felt wrong (although I concede that a little bit of time cleansing myself of iPod interface conditioning would probably have got me right).

Now, Apple has released a new range of iPods… and has again made the competition look old.

Many of you out there will be unfamiliar with the hype around the iPhone — as it is a North-America-only (USA-only?) device at this time, that’s not surprising.  However if you have seen it (or even only pictures of it) and you are outside iPhone-owning territory you may well have wished that the iPod functionality of the iPhone was available as a standalone device unencumbered by the regulatory crap that a phone has to comply with.

Well, wish no longer — that’s pretty much what the new iPod touch is.  All I’ve seen about this thing is on web pages — firstly on Wired and then on Apple’s web site — but I am head-over-heels in device-lust with this thing. 🙁

There isn’t much I can say about the features that Apple can’t say better (besides, this wasn’t meant to be a ra-ra post for the thing).  Check it out at Apple’s site: locally to me, that’s here at Apple Australia.  Of note though are the fact that it has Wi-Fi built-in, and comes with the Safari web browser, integrated YouTube browser, and integrated connectivity to the iTunes Music Store (you can buy music from the Store on the iPod, and when you next sync to iTunes it will merge the purchased music into your iTunes library).

I have to say though, the biggest surprise I got was when I went to the Apple Store to check the price.  While waiting for the page to load, I did a swift estimation and figured that the 16GB version would be over AU$800.  I nearly fell on the floor when the figure came up: AU$549.  My current iPod cost me around US$420 at a time when the Aussie dollar was lucky to fetch 60 US cents.

The one feature which took my breath away is probably one that I will never see though.  Apple has penned a deal with Starbucks to hook the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store component of the iPod touch into Starbucks free Wi-Fi.  Whenever you walk into an enabled Starbucks, the iPod touch automatically recognises Starbucks’ Wi-Fi network and hooks up.  Wait, it gets better.  When this happens, your iPod touch will show the details of the song playing in the store at the time, and give you a link to the iTunes WiFi Music Store to buy the music.

Why did that take my breath away?  Because right back to when I was at Uni, this kind of integration has been foretold but has always been “somewhere in the near future”.  The petrol pump that would automatically register the car’s chip and charge the fuel to the owner’s account.  The food packaging, fridges and pantries that would update the shopping list on your wristwatch, and the supermarket trolley that read the shopping list and displayed the layout of the supermarket with the locations of your needed items shown.  This is the “vision of the near future” that I was given by technologists (and instead we got RFID).

I was once standing in the Borders bookstore in South Yarra and heard a lovely song that moved me deeply (and no, I’m not prone to being overcome by store music).  A fortnight later I was in Singapore and heard the same song while having breakfast with Susan in the hotel restaurant.  On both occasions there was no-one around who would have been able to assist me locating the song — such is the way of telco-piped ambiance — and I was left to Googling remembered fragments of lyrics (successfully, I must say, for that’s how I was introduced to The Sundays).  I’ve never bought music online, but if I could have looked at the device in my pocket and instantly known what that song was, they’d have gotten a sale for sure.

Thinking about the technology behind it, it really is madenningly simple (says he with perfect hindsight).  Something like a DAAP server (wouldn’t even have to be one in each store) streaming to the store’s Wi-Fi, and an AirPort with an amp and speakers attached (instead of the usual piped music affair) picking up the same DAAP stream.  Regardless, to think that at least a little bit of that “vision of the future” is at last a reality is, well… nice.  I feel a little older, but in a good way. 🙂

Alas, the iPod touch guided tour video shows the start of the rollout of the “Starbucks” feature: a map of the continental USA, with New York City marked for September, Seattle in October, then LA February 2008 and Chicago in March.  Apple’s iTunes Starbucks site says “major metropolitan areas in the US by the end of 2008”.  No mention of internationals.  Sigh.  Oh, but the feature works with iTunes on a PC and with the iPhone too (so now we have three ways to miss out, right?).

The new iPod range is available now, with the exception of my new objet d’adore which is on the Apple Store for advance ordering with availability at the end of September.  Other newcomers are massive capacity iPod Video: now called “iPod classic” and starting with 80GB capacity or go to a whopping 160GB version, new iPod nano that’s shorter and wider than the old one but now does video, and new colours for the iPod shuffle.

So much for my tech spending freeze…  I figure I’ll spend the next few weeks researching what life would be like with one of these — whether going down to 16GB storage would actually hurt or not; how movies really look in H.264; whether I’d have to re-encode all my movies, or worse, encode them in H.264 as well as MP4 (since the few times I tried to play back H.264 encodes using XBMC were less than joyous); whether the video functions would even be relevant since all I ever do is listen to podcasts.  Then, when the thing is actually in stores… just go and get one anyway.

Tech addiction sucks like that.

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