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Enjoying your music over the past decade has changed significantly. Back in 1999, my method was to carry my boom box on certain occasions with a built in CD player where-ever I was going and hoped that the batteries had enough juice or there was a power socket nearby, I would also tag along with my favorite CDís. Interestingly, I never owned a portable CD player, but most of my friends did and they were quite cool back then. I remember a classmate who owned this beautiful portable CD player manufactured by Sony, it was small and convenient, even to this day, I admire its design, too bad I canít seem to remember the model. Portable CD players continue to be popular and affordable and I often see people walking around with one. With the proliferation of the Internet and advent of peer to peer networks in the early 2000ís such as Napster, Kazaa and sites such as mp3.com along with the decreasing price of CD Burners and easy to use burning software, the music landscape embraced some major changes. Some would say it was for both good and bad. I remember back in high school individuals would bring these mixed CDís of the latest music: reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, alternative rock, pop, you name it, they had it. Of course this was blatant piracy and it just grew and even to this day, you can see on the street corners of many parishes in Jamaica and I am sure around the world persons selling mixed CDís. Itís wrong of course and I donít condone it, especially when the music is really good and I believe the record company and artiste should be compensated.
Introducing MP3 Players
Portable music players have been around for a long time, I remember watching popular technology (now defunct) TV shows such as Fresh Gear and The Screen Savers and seeing the latest devices such as the Creative Nomad which resembled a portable CD player back in 2001. These portable music players most of them were hard disk based and contained little storage. Somewhere along the way came Apple with this idea and interpretation of what a portable music player should be. I remember back in October 2001 when I saw a segment of the The Screen Savers on ZDTV a person demonstrating the first generation iPod to Patrick Norton, I just cannot forget it, I was very impressed. But I was not impressed by the US $500 price tag for 5 GBs of storage and the fact that it was Mac only. The iPod was an immediate game changer, having 1,000 songs in your pockets just seemed out of this world! Although its popularity took some time to grow, I always admired its design and simplicity. It wasnít until sometime in early 2002 that Apple introduced Windows support for the iPod through MusicMatch software. Eventually, with the introduction of the iTunes Music Store, Apple also released a Windows compatible version of the iTunes jukebox software. From then on the iPod just seem to explode and become a dominant standard upon which others followed and scrambled. The iPod became such a major game changer.
Along the way Apple continued to
innovate with the touch sensitive click wheel design while increasing the
storage capacity of the device from 5, 10, 20, 30 etc. I continued to be
impressed by the iPod, but the price remained a sticking point. I so wanted
one and then I started seeing people I know and strangers with the white ear
buds and having the opportunity to play with the device numerous times left
a lasting impression on me, I was basically sold, but just was not willing
to spend the money to buy one. $399 can buy a lot of things in Jamaica and I
was not ready to part with that kind of money for an MP3 player and picture
The year 2007 came, I remember it was in January and Steve Jobs had one last thing to present at the annual MacWorld Expo. I canít remember exactly, but I think I saw the 4 main icons that are always in the iPhone Dock individually displayed and described in Steveís slideshow on stage. Internet Device, Email, iPod and the most interesting one, Phone. All in one device, the crowd of course was amped, and there it was, the speculated iPhone that no one outside of Apple had any idea what it would look like. I must say that day I was blown away. But, the iPhone would remain out of reach for mere mortals like me since it was only available to a US Cellular carrier Cingular which was subsequently acquired by AT&T, along with that the price of $399 and $599 for 4 and 8 GBs respectively seemed ridiculous! I was right too when Apple dropped the price and infuriated early adopters. The iPhone was useless to me, no support for Jamaican carriers such as Digicel or LIME and although a budding hack for the iPhone for your desired carrier came along, I really was not up for that kind of unauthorized experience.
Introducing the iPod touch
In September 2007, Apple at its annual iTunes event introduced another game changer Ė the iPod Touch. The iPod Touch was an interesting device because it excluded the iPhone telephony capabilities and left all the good stuff behind with similar storage configurations to the iPhone, but remained expensive. Again, I was sold and was hoping the price could drop some more and storage increase just a bit more. Over the summer holidays, a friend from the States came to visit and had an iPod Classic with him, the latest generation at the time 120 GB. While he was here I played with the device every opportunity I got and was most impressed by the navigation and screen capabilities, but kind of fell out of love with the classic, it just seemed old in design and stagnant where innovation was concerned. A major contribution to that reasoning is the popularity of Touch Screen and Smart Phone type capabilities in portable devices over the past couple of years. The iPod Touch soon became my ultimate goal. My friend said many of his friends owned iPod Touches, but he was not impressed by them because of what he described as the miniscule storage capacity of the device. 16 GBs versus 120 GBs just seemed like a ridiculous comparison, not to mention the price.I tried explaining to him the major selling points, which included the Internet capabilities, the App Store and of course iTunes and Playlist. Am I listening to 3 Days worth of music in 1 day I asked? But he still insisted the iPod Touch was just no worthy competitor to the iPod Classic, in my mind I disagreed. Still, when it came to making a purchasing decision, I had to consult others because the Classicís 120 GBs just seemed like something too good to pass up. My good friends Byron Hinson and Ryan Hoffman persuaded me that the Touch was a better choice simply because of all the rich functionality you are getting. They also noted that they have rather huge collections and still had ample storage after adding all their music to the 16 GB models. Also, going back to the Playlist scenario it would be unnecessary to pack up the device with your entire music collection knowing you are not gonna listen everything. So there were a lot of things to learn about using an MP3 player and with careful thought and planning along with reading many articles from top tech sites such as PC Magazine.com, Wikipedia and viewing the iPod Touch page on Apple.com I came to the decision to lay down the cash on a 32 GB iPod Touch 3rd generation. It could not have come at a better time too, since I was getting the latest and greatest with fast speeds and numerous improvements. It was really exciting for me.
What about the Zune HD?
You know, I actually considered the Zune HD especially during Microsoftís ramp up towards the release of the device and the Twitter buzz that was going on leading up to its launch, but there were a few lingering setbacks that put the device out of favor with me. The first being, it still seems to be a proving ground for Microsoft. Something in my mind kept asking, is Microsoft really committed to the platform or is this just a case of Apple has this monopoly (or what some call the Apple Envy), we canít let that just happen. The fact that the Zune HD mimics so many of the iPod Touches features and qualities left me asking, why not just buy the real deal and be done with it. Another thing, the Zune HD does not seem to be supported out here in Jamaica or available on the island at all. Again, I have been seeing the growth and success of the iPod since 2001, held the numerous generations and actually experienced them. Another one was personal experience witnessing two first generation Zunes (not Zune HDís) stop functioning before my very own eyes and nothing both owners of the device could do about it. That left a rather nasty impression and I am saying to myself, is that a platform I want to deal with especially where itís concerned for the Zune HD being a first generation device of its kind? Donít get me wrong, I love Microsoft and I love Windows 7, but I had to make a value decision here and just my history of watching the iPod platform become what is made the iPod Touch the better buy.
Apple iPod Touch Specifications & Packaging
The iPod Touch packaging is well done; you see a simulated preview of the device, in a see through plastic shell which is compact and attractive. Opening the package is very simple, just strip the transparent pull here sticker at the top of the hard plastic box. The clam shell reveals the protective adhesive sticker pasted over the iPod Touch screen. Initially I pulled it off before removing the device from the secured shell, there are two grips at opposite ends that you put pressure on to ease the device out of the secure enclosure. The iPod is gorgeous in person; its slim design makes it very appealing (weíll talk more about that later). Within the plastic box, is another box which includes your ear buds, charging cable, docking shell along with a manual and a getting started guide.
Back to the iPod
Now the iPod Touch, itís superb. At first, I thought it would be light and feel flimsy, but itís actually a sturdy design that feels good in your hand, not heavy, but just right. The Touches mantra is simplicity, and you can see this by looking at the device from both front and back. When I ordered mine, I had it engraved, so that was a nice touch no pun intended. But apart from that, there is nothing shocking or looks out of place on the device.
Starting up the device is easy, just apply gentle pressure to the sleep/wake button at the top of the device, the iPod will then start displaying an Apple logo which transitions to another screen that tells you to connect the device to iTunes. Users should make sure they have the latest version of iTunes installed, I had already downloaded iTunes version 9.01 from the Apple website, launched it, and connected my device and the setup wizard started. Setup involves registering the device, and creating an iTunes Account. I had already done some of this prior to receiving the device, the only thing I needed to do was register the iPod Touch which involved going through a 9 step process.
After setting up, I was taken to the management page of the device which featured informative tabs such as a summary of the iPod, used storage, version software installed, available updates and syncing options. Other tabs include Applications, Music, Movies, TV Shows, iTunes U, Photos, Info.
The iPod Touch features a gorgeous 3.5 inch wide screen display thatís bright and vibrant. Apples bundled applications are displayed on the Home Screen, but this can be easily changed by using the iTunes software to move applications to a second screen if you wish. At the bottom of the screen is a dock reminiscent of the Mac OS X dock, with 4 default icons for Music, Videos, Safari (web browsing) and the App Store.
Apple includes an essential set of applications that users can immediately benefit from. Some of these applications are iPhone based versions of what Apple bundles with its client operating system, others are unique to the iPod Touch itself. Letís check them out:
Mail Ė a powerful e-mail client with support for various services such as Microsoft Exchange, AOL, Yahoo! Mail, Gmail and others. The Interface is very simple and straight forward and makes it easy to add media such as pictures or videos to messages you are sending. Inputting text is done through the soft keyboard which I find exceptionally easy to use and immediately got a hang of. I donít like how it resizes text though when in land scape mode, it should maintain the same font size when in that view. Gestures such as pinching does not seem work either. I had a bit of trouble setting up Exchange from the device, I had to do this through iTunes which detected my Outlook account and configured it to synch my mail, calendar and address book.
Calendar Ė another one of Apples desktop programs that have been converted into a mobile based solution, provides integration with your desktop PIM for simple access to events and synchronization with .ICS calendars.
Photos Ė a unique application that stores your images and photo albums. On the Mac you use iPhoto for synching with the iPhone/Touch, but on the PC which I use, I had to install the free Adobe Photoshop Album Starter edition 3.0 which I find a chore to use. I wish Apple would support Microsoftís Windows Live Photo Gallery which is much easier to use and organize your photos in. Viewing photos is a fun activity on the iPod Touch; images can be viewed in both portrait and landscape. The iPod Touches accelerator automatically detects when the Touch is held in portrait mode and quickly changes to that layout on the fly. Browsing your photos is done by swiping with your finger which quickly goes to the next photo in the album. If you want to copy an image, simply hold your finger down on the photo and a copy widget will appear onscreen.
Contacts Ė not much to see here, similar to Apples desktop contact manager, you can easily add contacts and assign a thumbnail photo from your library of images. Also syncs with your Windows Address Book and Outlook Contacts.
YouTube Ė no need to go to the youtube.com website, simply, browse through the wide array of user generated content from around the world. It was quite stunning to watch an interview with Rihanna and Diane Sawyer. It was crystal clear, there were no glitches, although this was dependent on the wifi connection, but I was really impressed with the quality of the video itself on the device, no glitches.
Stocks - What else, you can watch and keep track of stocks for your favorite company.
Maps - Powered by Google, Maps allows you to find directions to anywhere you are going and it actually works out here just fine. I was quite surprised to see my town show up with directions to it.
Weather - I was impressed by this application, since I easily get updates for my location, Mandeville, JM, something canít seem to get to work for the Windows 7/Vista Weather Gadget .
Voice Memos Ė You can use this application which is new to the third generation iPod Touch version 3 software to record voice memos that you can play and are automatically available to listen at your leisure from the iTunes library.
Notes Ė A simple but effective app that provides you with the option write simple notes, to do list, reminders and any text oriented data.
Clock Ė this application allows you to setup multiple time zone clocks for various countries around the world so you can keep track of time in multiple locals on the fly. It also provides capabilities such as an Alarm and Stop Watch.
Calculator Ė Provides both standard and scientific modes, it also features big bold buttons and provides all the essential functionality anyone would need, not to mention the interface is gorgeous.
Settings Ė Allows you to configure a range of options on the iPod Touch such as Network settings, Brightness, language, personal wallpaper and third party application settings plus more.
Music Ė is the highlight of the iPod Touch and features an exceptional interface for navigating your music on the device. You have multiple methods for browsing through your library of music such as list view, by artiste, song or more. I personally enjoy Cover Flow, which provides a visual experience when browsing through your library of music. You tap an album which displays album art downloaded from the iTunes store, displaying a track listing of songs from the album. You swipe to scroll through the track listing and rate songs. The one disadvantage of the Cover Flow on the iPod Touch I noticed, it does maintain its structure like in iTunes. Meaning, the list of songs in a playlist from iTunes are not maintained in cover flow view, instead the songs are displayed within alphabetical order from library. Curiously, the playlist order is maintained in list view. I notice using the iPod Touch involves a lot of discovery, for instance, I discovered that to remove or enable the time lapse, I had to tap the cover art. Itís something to remember, since application interfaces in various apps contain hidden widgets.
Music and Audio can be conveniently viewed and discovered in a number of ways, which includes by Playlist, Artists, Songs, Album or More which includes Audiobooks, Compilations, Composers, Genres, iTunes U and Podcasts. The iPod Touch as I noted is heavily focused on music and Apple makes it very convenient to enjoy your music while also enjoying other cool activities on the device. You can do simple task such as go back to the Home Screen or browse web, add a contact without any interruptions. Even when there is no activity, your music will continue playing. Music is a great experience on this device, if you want a rich, complete experience that makes you even rediscover your music more, the iPod Touch has got you set.
Videos Ė Of course, I am not gonna download any of the expensive videos from the iTunes store, but that doesnít mean you canít enjoy your own ripped videos or home movies on the iPod Touch. I downloaded the free Open Source Handbrake utility and was able to convert many video files in the appropriate format (480 by 320) for the iPod using the supported mv4 file format. They played back flawlessly on the device, I notice I cannot play in portrait mode and the device most be set in landscape if you want to watch video. Overall, itís a great experience and another hallmark of this device. You can also search through your video library using the search box if you have a lot of videos stored on your Touch.
Safari Ė Using the Internet on the iPod Touch is quite an experience. When Apple says itís Internet in your pocket, they are not lying. Of course there are some adjustments necessary and this particularly involves using the gesture and touch features of the device to navigate a web page. Web pages load exceptionally fast too, I was able to view page links by simply double tapping or using pinch to zoom up close on parts of interest in a web page. Prior to browsing the Internet, I had to setup the iPod Touch on a wireless network. This particular network required that I join by entering an alphanumeric key first which was a bit of an obstacle, but it wasnít too much of a problem, but entering 26 characters can be a bit daunting even for the exceptional soft keyboard. The Internet experience makes the iPod Touch a great buy, especially for the many social networking applications available that I downloaded. Some web pages are customized specifically for the 3.5 inch screen which makes the browsing experience that much richer and convenient. Some major convenient features I found when using the soft keyboard include keys for entering .com addresses when typing in a URL in Safari. Also, when you tap in a field it automatically brings up the soft keyboard. One of my I love this device moments was using Google Maps to find my home location, which was just kinda amazing startling when I saw, Cross Keys (or the village of Cross Keys). Quite amazing that no one should have any problems finding where I live. One of the complaints I have heard lately concerning the iPhone OS is lack of support for popular plug ins such as Adobe Flash and JAVA, but I donít miss either one bit to be honest with you. Considering that the the iPod Touch is not intended to be a desktop/laptop, your activities will not be what you experience in Mac OS X or Windows neither is it intended to be.
The iPod Touch is such a Jack of all Trades, music is exceptional, the Internet is powerful, but itís the user experience that puts the iPod Touch at such a high level. Apple went into detail over drive here and itís reflected in every bundled app and the quality also brushes off on some third party apps too.
Navigating the iPod Touch
Working the iPod Touch interface is very elegant experience, gestures make it easy to move from screen to screen or throughout an application. To further simplify things, Apple made it easy to get out of an app and go right back to the home screen with a single physical button located at the bottom of the device. Working in applications provides a natural experience and makes using the device consistent and logical. Programs include their own Dock menus at the bottom with key menus for quickly accessing areas of the program. The Music app for example, allows you to filter music by Artiste, Album, Playlist and more options. If you want to scroll through a programs interface, you simply use a swipe up or down action or swipe across action depending on the capabilities of the application.
Managing multiple applications is something Apple has worked on with the iPod Touch, users can easily rearrange icons on the screen using either iTunes or simply holding down on an icon for a few seconds, which will invoke all program icons on screen to jiggle with an accented Close button. When in this mode, you can drag around icons to the main part of the interface or dock. If you want to quickly search the iPod Touch, just go to the Home Screen and swipe to the left, this will bring up the search screen allowing to search for anything on the device. Results are quite good. Using the iPod Touch for a few months now, I can definitely see that Apple went into engineering the device with the focus on quick navigation and easy access to different areas of the system. You can see this in aspects such as entering information in a field box in Safari or completing a URL.
third Party Applications
There are an estimated 100,000 applications available for the iPhone and iPod Touch, based on my limited experience, the majority are basically doing the same task, games, just plain useless, social networking and relative few paid apps that I am not gonna pay for. The majority of applications I have used so far are mainly Social Networking and Photography. Some applications I managed to try out include Facebook, TweetDeck, LinkedIn, Flickr, Photoshop.com, Yahoo Messenger, WordPress 2 to name a few. They are great applications, especially Facebook and Tweet Deck and really bring amazing experiences to how you access these popular social networking sites on a 3.5 inch device. I donít have a problem with the App Store itself since Apple has invested a lot it seems in engineering and categorization.
The included Ear Bud speakers are quite nice; the quality of audio I would say is not spectacular, but it is satisfactory. I notice the quality comes through much clearer at nights when I go to bed listening the Touch, at times it can sound like the artiste is actually singing in my bed room. So I guess the quality factor comes into play depending on the environment you are located in. Initially they fitted quite nicely, but now I am considering replacing them with something that is willing to stay in my ears, since they are constantly dropping out.
Apple's premier music jukebox player since 2000 has grown to be quite popular since the introduction of the iPod. Right now, itís a bit of love and hate relationship with the software. The first thing I hate about iTunes is the constant huge updates that Apple releases. A minor point update is an entire new version that I have to reinstall from scratch, very ridiculous. Another problem is, the Player itself is getting huge with each release, donít be surprised if the next version will hit the 100 MB jackpot, right now it stands at 90 MBs. I have the iTunes executable pinned to the Taskbar and I notice every time I update iTunes, I have to re-pin again because the previous icon cannot find the application. Apart from that, the iTunes interface is very straight forward and easy to get a hang of. Importing music is very easy, I had my entire library in .WMA format, iTunes does not support this format, so instead it asked me if I would like to convert them. Before it even did this, I made sure that the convert format was set to .mp3 not Apples default proprietary format .AAC
It took about 8 hours to convert about 56 albums, some didnít make the trip it seems and I still need to figure that out. The first thing I had to do was update the albums with album art so I could benefit from it on the iPod Touch through Cover Flow. iTunes does a so-so job with the album art retrieval, I still had to use Google Images and Wikipedia to get some album art for very popular artiste (I am not gonna mention who). I have discovered that iTunes seems to have a very messy library structure, because all my albums in the Music folder in Windows were ripped and organized in Artiste folders, so Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas all had their own folders with the artiste various releases in them. I donít know what iTunes did, but my Mariah Carey #1ís is mixed up and scattered throughout the library, I canít seem to have all the tracks in one place, drag drop does not work. I checked in the library in the Music folder and discovered that it was scattered and mixed up in a different set of folders. I suspect there is some disagreement with the ripped folder structure from which I imported thatís why iTunes decided to do some foolishness where that is concerned.
I had to download the album art for all my albums from the iTunes Store and many were not available, which probably is a sign of the Music store weakness. Apple seems to not have somebody focusing on R&B music of the 80ís and 90ís. I also notice many songs are not available from the store itself and instead of the original album for many songs, they are on greatest hits compilations instead.
The interface is surprisingly clean and easy to navigate though, you can customize it and display menu links that you only want to see. Search results are fast and mostly accurate.
The iPod Touch regardless of its minor flaws is a lovely device to use; the only major drawback for me though, there is no built in camera. A device like this is begging for one, but then again, I can understand Apple not wanting to cannibalize their other favorite device, the iPhone, but I still think Apple needs to add the capability to a future revision. I love the design of the iPod Touch, it feels good in your hand, easy to carry around, drop in your breast or pants pocket and you are off. The performance of the device is very good when you have it set to sleep; it conserves battery life very well if I am doing nothing more than listening to music. If you are conscious about battery life and choose to power off the iPod Touch, starting it up might take a small amount of time if you want longer usage. Integration with iTunes is well done, but I wish Apple could make the error messages more explainable, I received a ď-69 error cannot write to the deviceĒ which turned out to be a problem with an audio file that was corrupted. So, there are moments of being unintuitive regardless of how simple it tries to be.
My first PDA was a Viewsonic V37 Pocket PC and I consider the iPod Touch a major successor to it with a slick UI. I love that I am able to do so many things conveniently on it, from web, to email, to social networking. Its superior capabilities are allowing me to rediscover my music even more too. Of course, itís not a replacement for my desktop, but it provides such a complimentary experience, when you just want to make a quick tweet or write a short post on Facebook, activities I find absolutely inescapable. What about the Zune HD? Well, I explained my views earlier why I hesitated purchasing that device. Thatís not to say itís out of the question when I decide to upgrade in the future (which not for now, these things are expensive), but I think itís still a proving ground for Microsoft. The Zune HD also lacks the vast library of applications that makes the iPod Touch such a great experience, there is something for everyone, from the productive to the useless to the plain fun. I have spent over 3 months now using the Touch and it has even gotten me interested in its telephony capable sibling which probably is a shock to those who thought I would never own an Apple product. I gotta admit, Apple got me this time and they got me real good!