4G iPod

As weird as it may seem to you (given that I am a huge Apple fan and love to surround myself with the company’s products), I didn’t own an iPod up to now. I simply had no use for the machine, as sexy and tempting as I always found it to be.

I was running a company and needed to be approachable by people all day, I can reach my office within minutes (no commuting time) and I have two small kids who want to talk to me or play with me all the time, so there was never room to put on headphones. Actually, for the last couple of years there was no room to really listen to music at all except on the train when I was traveling, and for that I didn’t really need an iPod – on the train, I have my PowerBook in front of me.

Things in my life have gotten better in those aspects, though: My business is much smaller now so I have more chances to work on my own while listening to music, and the kids have grown up a little, listening to their own tapes or CDs in their room more than they used to.

The main reasons to finally give in to Apple’s marketing magic and buy an iPod were those though:

First, I needed a portable backup medium for my data. Since the iPod is the perfect Macintosh companion apart from being a cool MP3 player , doubling as an external hard drive and working flawlessly with Apple’s backup.app, the investment made more sense than a separate hard drive plus any flash or card memory based MP3 player.

Second, I wanted to get rid of all those ugly plastic CD covers and the CDs themselves flying around in my office, home and car. My vinyl record collection looks great, but I never found piles of CDs very appealing. Since I had started to convert my not very small collection of CDs into MP3s some years ago anyway, I decided to put the majority of them onto an iPod, put its docking station next to Henry Kloss‘ iPal in our kitchen and wait for Apple to release an Airport dock for the iPod so I could stream music from my iPod wireless anywhere in our flat.

Although my wife looked forward to less plastic in our life, a single problem remained: Since she is working away from home half a day and taking care of the kids in the afternoon, the fact that my iPod would be with me (after all, it’s a hard disk as well) would mean that she’d have no music at home when I wasn’t there.

The solution, of course, was a second, albeit smaller iPod. After all, it was our wedding anniversary some days ago and what kind of gifts can the wife of a nerd expect? (Don’t worry, female readers, I *did* buy flowers as well, I’m a gentleman nerd.)

So there you go, Apple, your perfect digital family! Now send us some money to put us on your web pages. And by they way, I see a market for 1GB KidPods with an icon based interface and rubber casing for $99. I have two beta testers waiting here!

So let’s talk about the player that everybody seems to be talking about, the little machine that is already a cultural icon.

I will spare you technical details that can be better read here or here oder hier and that didn’t change that much from older iPods, even if the new generation is rumored to be a complete technical rebuild that might hold some surprises. Or maybe not.

The first thing you notice about an iPod, wether you own one or just check it out in the stores, is its beauty, including the hardware, software, interface and usability. Which goes for almost all Apple products, of course. If you hate most of the poor product design that sadly dominates our everyday lifes as much as I do, if you have a love for things done simply right, I suggest you buy an iPod even if you hate music. Put it on your desk, look at it, take it in your hand every now and then just to reassure yourself that there is such a thing as digital beauty. I played with a lot of MP3 players and I am amazed at how ugly, complicated and awkward they are. Where are people imprisoned who design those things? In Hannover?

The next thing you notice is that maybe you shouldn’t touch your iPod at all since the second you do, you realize how fast the metal back and the screen get messed up by your greasy fingerprints. Nothing too bad, of course, but don’t expect your iPod to stay as shiny as it was when resting in its lovely packaging. The fact that Apple stopped shipping a cheap case with the new iPods is inexcusable. I know that it made the price drop easier, I know that every product needs to spawn an accessory market to get a real cult following, but a simple bag until I have enough money again to afford one of the numerous iPod cases (most definitely not the horrible one from Dunhill or even the Gucci design accident) is a must, I think. I can live with no dock and no remote since after all the prices dropped by 100,00 Euros compared to the 3rd generation, but come on, Apple, a simple case costs maybe one Dollar to produce, probably a lot less.

Having said that, I never really understood why it seems to be so hard to build mobile products that simply need no extra case. It feels like needing a wallet for your wallet. I don’t want to pull my phone out of a case before I can use it and I also don’t want to cover the design of any mobile device with a case since I wouldn’t have bought it if it needed covering up. I suspect the reasons are simply to keep the aforementioned accessories industry busy and happy and the fact that men as the main target audience of technical equipment get a kick out of putting things into other things. No pun intended.

Back to the iPod. Mac and PC integration is, as you should expect, easy and cool, with a share- and freeware market providing solutions for any tiny individual function that Apple forgot or that only some people might need. Sadly, there are no software solutions yet for the more important functions that would make the iPod stand out even more than it does already and that Apple didn’t forget but left out on purpose.

High quality recording capabilities are on top of every iPod owner’s list, I guess. The hardware can do it, but the software won’t let you. Available iPod microphones are limited to recording at 8KHz, which equals a bad and old dictaphone. It might be enough for voice memos, but imagine how many more iPods Apple would sell if journalists (like me) could use the iPod for high quality stereo interviews, maybe even do some basic editing right on the machine. It is all in there, and of course Apple knows about the chances but they simply can’t allow it, due to their bindings to another industry regarding the iTunes Music Store. Say another „Thank You“ (spelled F.U.C.K.Y.O.U. in some communities) to the music industry who is once again scared for stupid reasons. A recording iPod would also mean that you could rip any audio source, record live gigs and so on, and even though any being that is only partly able to think knows that it doesn’t take an ipod to do those things, the suits in charge are not thinking beings but record industry politicians and therefore we have to wait a little more until they learned. Probably just another 10 years.

High quality recording on the iPod will happen, though, as will sharing between iPods, another much requested feature, and wireless iPods. I personally believe that we will see an AirportExpress iPod dock as early as this year and a bluetooth equipped iPod in 2005, making cable-less headphones as possible as wireless sharing. Mind your batteries, though.

What should and could happen much earlier are some software improvements that I find very useful and which shouldn’t be a thread to anyone:

I would like simple DJ functions on my iPod. Adjustable automatic fading time as already available in iTunes and a „choose next song“ function while a song is playing should be easy to integrate and would turn the iPod into a basic DJ machine, nothing too professional, but good enough for your birthday party. While integrating this, Apple could also eliminate the problem of album songs not playing seamlessly (there is a very short gap between playing songs which is disturbing on some albums where songs float into the next one). And while we’re at it, the display should also show „coming up next“ when a song is playing to inform you about – you guessed it – which song will play next.

Another feature I would love is password protection. Even though I am very happy about having my complete music collection, my most important files, my calendar and contacts info (yes, the iPod syncs those and displays them as well as text files) with me all the time, the thought of a stolen or lost iPod is very scary. And, given the size of the iPod, not too surprising. Short data entry would be okay with the scroll wheel and I’d feel much better knowing that nobody else can access my data. I know there’s workarounds but I don’t want workarounds, I want Apple integration.

The bottom line? After all those words, after all the time hesitating to buy an iPod, I am now a proud owner. The iPod is a wonderful and very useful high quality gadget that I don’t want to miss anymore.

Does anyone know of iPod insurances?

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