Wk21: iPod Classic – the whiz kid, now the black sheep

No, dude, really. How do I do album shuffle on this?

Apple was a fancy niche computer brand until they struck gold, somewhat accidentally, with the iPod. Released in 2001, it really broke through when Apple released a Windows-capable version of iTunes in 2003.

The iPod hit mainstream. The white headphones. Those TV ads. Then other models came along – nanos and shuffles. Finally, the iPhone and it’s cousin, iPod touch.

But what of the humble, original iPod? Now dubbed the iPod Classic, the reason many people started paying attention to Apple in the first place is now dying in obscurity.

My 160GB latest generation iPod Classic managed to wipe itself a week or so ago. And it occurred to me how terribly outdated it is. The current iPod Classic (the sixth generation one) was last given a real update in 2007. That’s 4 years!

In those 4 years, Twitter has rose from nothing. The iPhone and the iPad has come along. The entire career of the Fratellis has come and gone. The world has changed so much – but 4 years with no change for the iPod Classic.

Some Apple stores don’t even have them on display. It is a surprise every year that it isn’t phased out completely every year. Apple has moved on, and the iPod Classic is left behind.

Most of my music friends still use them though. The reason is easy – that capacity. 160GB of awesome space – 30,000 songs or so.

If they are trying to move us all across to iOS devices, they keep forgetting about capacity. 64GB is the top of the range, and a lot of it is used up by apps and things that go with those devices. Whereas in 2005, the iPod already came with 80GB for music.

(The reason, on a technical side, is the different types of drives both devices use.)

I have spent a hell of a lot of time digitising my music. And I like carrying around as much as I possibly can in my pocket. This is something I learnt to love with previous iPods.

So lets look at what it does – for music. I don’t care about cameras. I don’t care about games. What I want is the best possible device to listen to mp3s in my pocket.

For music, the iOS devices still lack a few things. Basically, for all it’s all-in-one-ness, the iPhone doesn’t make a terribly great iPod.

My favourite thing on the iPod Classic is the album shuffle. It basically plays an album in the proper order, and when it’s done, picks another album to play from start to finish. So you’re not just diving into thousands of tracks blind.

Even better is the ability to change from Song shuffle to Album shuffle on the fly. You can scan through songs randomly, but if you hit across one on an album that suits the mood, you can go into that album.

The track counts and play information seems to be more reliable. I often listen to albums on my phone, and my play counts remain unchanged. I know this sounds like a nerdy thing – but it should work and it doesn’t.

Other little things. Lyrics work better on the old iPod. Physical buttons meant you can scroll tracks blindly. I have perfected the in-pocket un-hold and next-track.

In fact, the iPod side of iOS gadgets have not really changed since launch. If anything, the iPad takes away one of the better features – cover flow.

That is not to say the iPod Classic is perfect. Far from it.

It seems hopelessly dated for one.

It is hopelessly slow for another. Trying to activate cover flow with 25,000 songs is almost impossible. It takes too long for the images to load.

Search is hard. Not only due to volume, but no keyboard means it’s a complicated scrolling process. Creating playlists are a drag.

Album covers are so small as to be rendered useless. (Oddly, the iPad has made me fall back in love with album artwork, seeing new details on the covers of albums I already loved).

What seemed so innovative in 2005 is now dated and old. Take the click wheel. So clever to begin with, it’s lack of accuracy is now a bane.

But the capacity wins out. It really does. To have just about everything I want on hand is better than any cover flow or genius playlist. I spent years working on my collection, why not have it with me? Why can’t I listen to an old Bob Dylan b-side followed by a new Bon Iver track? Or every album by Elvis Costello? Why let hardware restrict me?

It is far too late for me to go back to a pathetic 64GB.

(And for all it’s faults, it is still better than any non Apple mp3 player.)

Could someone build a better iPod app for the iPhone?

Seems kind of silly, but people have created other browsers, other calculators etc. Apps can access your music library. It’s just a button on your phone, after all.

Here’s what would be great:

Something that can allow me to edit things on the fly.

Something that allows me to correct artwork on the phone

Something that previews what tracks are about to come up on shuffle

Something that does the album shuffle thing

There’s probably more things that can be improved. Could some nerd out there do this now? I’d pay for it.

Could all be moot thanks to the upcoming iCloud predictions. Everything will be on the cloud, right?

I think it will take decades, if ever, for could computing to be everything. But right now, the iPod Classic is still the best mp3 player for the music obsessive.

And I’m worried Apple are going to can it any second. I will probably go buy one or two new ones, keep them sealed, and use them when my current one dies.

The ball has really been dropped for music fans. And if Apple doesn’t pick it up, hopefully some young app-maker will. I just need them to create that 1TB iPhone.

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3 thoughts on “Wk21: iPod Classic – the whiz kid, now the black sheep

  1. I have to agree Danny, I love my Classic still but it’s been dying and i would like an update, but not sure if they ever will

  2. Totally agree….

    When my 160Gb classic recently died I was at a complete loss and the bozos att eh apple store couldn’t get it through their head that i did not want to be “up sold” to one of the smaller drive formats – I use the device for music and music only and I fill it up easily with 30,000 tracks and it is still nto enough for my complete collection.

    The classic needs an update in some way – as I have played with the ipod touch/iphone music system and it totally sucks… and new app for them which allows access to the music catalogue on the drive plus a much much bigger drive would make me change – but until that occurs I’m staying with the iPod classic for music listening purposes – if they do annouce that they are canning it – I think that like you I will also buy a couple of spares to use until such time that the terrabyte drive phones or ipads come out with a much better operating system for accessing music

  3. Awesome post Danny. Totally agree. The Classic most definitely needs an update! Or the iPod Touch needs to increase its capacity to 160GB or even 320GB, seeing as its video/games/apps compatible.

    I love the in-pocket, un-hold, next track technique haha.

    Hopefully Apple or a competitor will pick up the ball in large capacity, tech-friendly mp3 players soon!

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