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 And it occurred to me how terribly outdated it is.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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30 for 30: iPods

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.

13. IPODS

The "photo" iPod

Like everyone else, I got an iPod. It changed the way I listened to music.

I was planning this blog for later in the series but circumstances dictated otherwise. My iPod died. Gone. Just wiped to zero. 5 years of play counts, artwork, playlists etc – no more.

It was a 160GB silver ‘classic’ – which made it sound dated as soon as it came out. It’s travelled with me everywhere, and I used it for around 5-6 hours a day – at least. In the last week, it’s battery life was down to about half an hour, and it would turn itself off for no reason. Until today, when it decided to give up the ghost for good.

So, goodbye iPod. 24,000 songs, all gone. It was fun.

I was late to the iPod. Most of my friends had one by the time I did. I even bought one for a girlfriend before I got one for myself. I only really decided to get one when I decided to do some travelling. So I bought a 60GB one, in 2005.

Oddly, I did get an early mp3 player as a present. It was very hard to use. It made me resist “going digital” for a while.

I prepared by ripping some music to my computer before I even got one. In an ill made decision, I decided to start with Elvis Costello. Not just ALL his albums (up to Delivery Man, 21 of them), but all the Rhino bonus discs. Get Happy itself was 50 tracks. My iTunes had 20 versions of Watching the Detectives, what with all the demos and live versions. When I finally got the iPod, it was basically an Elvis Costello iPod.

So I wiped all that and started again. I tried to be more democratic about it the second time around. Basically, I would put one album on by every artist I really loved. Live with that for a bit. Then choose another album by them, and spread the net wider to artists that I liked. Then again, another round. It was like the nerdiest NBA draft picks.

I managed to hit 24,000 songs on my iPod, including several thousand I deleted over the years, before she died. I think by the end of it, every Elvis Costello album was back on there.

I wasn’t that excited by the iPod to begin with. I remember looking at it, on my sofa, in my house, thinking, I kind of just want to put these albums on my stereo. But I figured it might be handy.

The click-wheel was clever though. That alone got me past the gate. Much like the iPhone later, the iPod wasn’t only easy to use – it was kind of fun to use. Looks at me scroll!

I quickly took to it. I could listen to music in the garden! I could listen to music when I go for a smoke! I could listen to music on that walk from the train station to home. I could even listen on the train.

In fact, the biggest negative is that when I got an iPod, it killed my reading. My reading has still never recovered. Maybe it might now.

I got the first ‘Photo iPod’. Hilarious to think of it now. I remember how Tom, an early iPod owner, had this two colour one, with buttons across the top. We used to listen to stuff in his car. And that geeky pleasure of thinking ‘mine is cooler’.

The best thing about this new iPod was that you could load colour album covers on there and it would come up on the screen. This was exciting at the time! And it wasn’t that long ago. It was the same year the FOURTH Harry Potter film came out. Yet it was exciting to get colour on the iPod.

I remember showing my friends who were musicians their own albums, with artwork, on this iPod. So wanky. But we were all fascinated.

This first iPod travelled with me overseas. I have hundreds of memories of walking through Europe, listening to music. Maybe I missed some of the sounds of a city, but as a music nutter, I couldn’t be happier.

60 GB turned out to be not enough. I had to keep deleting things. Finally, I had a car accident and found myself in a wheelchair for months. I got an iPod and meticulously imported all the info across to a new, 160GB monster. It took weeks.

I keep breaking headphones. Glasses and headphones. Geez, I have spent so much money on those things. And I approach headphones the same as glasses – buy something cheap because it will break or you will lose them.

I bought a really expensive pair once – Seinnheiser somethings. It had a case. A very complicated folding motion would collapse the headphones and you would twirl the lead around it’s body. It was as fun as folding a map. I had it for two weeks before I left it in a cab.

So I usually go for the second cheapest pair there is. I use James’ theory on this. If you buy the cheapest one, everything about it is bad. But if you buy the second cheapest, it means at someone thought about these headphones on some level (could have just been the price).

No wonder they keep breaking all the time though. Usually the bit near the pin, that goes into the iPod, goes first. But sometimes the headphone itself falls apart. But dozens of pairs of those is still cheaper than that expensive pair.

In recent years, I’ve discovered (cheap) in-ear headphones. Odd at first, now I’m used to shoving rubber things in my ears. Sure it blocks out a bit of noise and sounds stronger, but it just stays in the ear and bit better.

My second iPod, the 160GB monster, lasted me until this week. It recorded 5 years of my listening habits. I got quite obsessed with looking at it statistically.

For example:

Most played song was Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. 78 plays.

Of 24,000 songs, only 1000 had never gotten at least one play.

However, half that collection was 4 plays or less. So there’s a lot of junk on there.

Poor ‘Sunday Girl’ by Blondie, was added to my iPod 4 years ago, and I never listened to it once.

I would add roughly 20GB of music to my iPod every year.

It was fun, looking at listening habits through maths. Well, fun for me anyway. I’ve lost all that now.

For the last few years, every morning, I listen to five songs that have zero plays. I get a lot of albums, and I still buy plenty of them. It’s one of many tricks I had to explore my collection.

And it’s great to have all those songs in your pocket. Whatever thought tickles your fancy can be there. God knows there have been times when the sun is shining and the only thing that could make me feel better is to hear Make Me Lose Control by Eric Carmen. And before the iPod, how would you ever hear that song?

Mainly though, I would just shuffle. Thousands of songs, what will fate dial up? Whether I’m on the a crowded train on the Circle Line, or walking around Berlin, lets see what song I can pin this memory to.

Trish mentioned today that I was taking the death of my iPod well. For some reason, it didn’t really matter to me all that much. I did try for an hour to save the thing, but in the end it was easy to let go of. I think, maybe, I was in need of a change.

The iPod death was always the biggest worry. I remember Jon, with an early iPod, losing everything, and paying big money to computer experts to no avail. I have almost lost my iPod many times, and those were scary moments.

I’ve put Born to Run (the album with Thunder Road on it) on my new 160 GB iPod. I’m going to put some records I’ve loved from this year. And start the draft again. Five years ago, the first Velvet Underground album I reached for was The Velvet Underground & Nico. I’m thinking now it’s got to be Loaded. But even part of me thinks maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s time to find another new path altogether.

Maybe the shuffle thing should go too. Maybe, like many of my friends, I should just rotate my collection. Who knows. Without music being my job, I don’t need half of that stuff in my pocket. Hell, having gone through cassettes the CDs, I’m not even sure iPods will last that much longer.

So, It’s kind of exciting to start again. I get to rediscover all my music. Or maybe I will finally get some reading done again.

Ideas Graveyard #1: The Walkman

Sony Walkman

Sony Walkman - 30 this year

A new, irregular column where we remember ideas in music and technology whose time has come…and passed.

We’ve been wanting to do this column for quite some time. Some brilliant journalist at the BBC just gave us the excuse we needed – they asked a 13 year old to compare a Walkman with an iPod. The article is great (“It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape”) and well worth checking out. We wont repeat it here.

But how about the Walkman then? It does share one very important similarity with the iPod – it became so ubiquitous that the brand name became the product name. Just as people call most mp3 players ‘iPods‘, most portable cassette players are “Walkmans“, despite it being the name of Sony’s version of the ‘Personal Stereo’. The one from our youth was an Aiwa.

That BBC article uses a very old version of the Walkman. By the time it was in it’s last years, the Walkman looked pretty cool – and still does today. Check out the WM-EX170 as an example. And there were plenty of pretty colours as well, and lots of great designs.

A cool, later era Walkman

A cool, later era Walkman

The most groundbreaking thing about the Walkman was not the Walkman itself. Sony also pioneered the headphone buds, getting rid of the big ear enclosures. We have a pair of those things in our ears right now. These new lightweight, portable headphones were sold with the Walkmans (seems so obvious now), making them instantly accessible. So in 1979, Sony Japan released it’s masterpiece. Although it wasn’t an immediate hit, it caught on and 50 million were sold by Sony alone in ten years.

(The iPod has sold almost 200 million. Crazy.)

Suitcase record players and boom boxes aside, the Walkman was a truly portable music player. Later versions easily fit in a pocket, or at least a school bag. It opened up new possibilities for this format called the cassette. It was also sturdy – people could and did jog with Walkmans. Sure, it doesn’t fit the same number of songs, and other silly points. But how we used the Walkman is pretty similar to how we use the iPod today. Casual portable listening. And hey, our (Aiwa) Walkman could record. That durability didn’t last into the iteration – the Discman. That spinning CD just couldn’t handle bumps.

The Walkman continues as a brand. It’s Sony’s line of mp3 players. It’s one of the most popular mp3 players in the world after the iPod, iPhones, Zunes, Creative ZEN, Sandisk and about 10 others. It’s a good idea to reuse the name, but a Walkman will always be about cassettes for us.

A great history and museum of Walkmans can be found at Pocket Calculator – http://www.pocketcalculatorshow.com/walkman/history.html. Well worth a read, if only to see how tough it was to sell the name ‘Walkman’ outside of Japan.

Walkmans at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walkman

Has Apple Forgotten the iPod?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple - Forgetting something?

Apple‘s announcements this week are all over the web. At their annual WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), they touted new MacBook Pros, iPhones and more. But what about for the pop culture fan? Somehow it seems like Apple is leaving them behind.

When the iPhone was announced, it was a combination of a phone, a net browser and an iPod. Since launch, the interface of that iPod has, really, not changed.

Amongst the highly tech-y new announcements were some things that relate to pop culture.

1. The new Quicktime X. Looks quite interesting, and is set to launch in September with the new operating system. We like the look of it, and lets face it, there is no GREAT video player at the moment. We mix about with the current Quicktime, VLC, Windows Media Player, iTunes for some, our DVD playing program (add YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more – wouldn’t it be great if that was all in one screen?). It looks a lot neater and nicer, but will it do much more than the existing quicktime? With Apple doing such great business on video in the US, it would be great to see them lead in this area. But hey, anyone else who wants to take the crown here, we welcome you.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/03/07/a_peek_at_apples_new_quicktime_x_interface.html

2. Line 6/Planet Waves unveiled a new application for guitarists. It’s basically an all in one guitar amp simulator. Pretty cool, but is there a line out? I can’t imagine people using their phones over a decent piece of music gear. Especially as they botched the presentation. We couldn’t tell if that was a real guitar or some new piece of hardware. Coolest thing though – setting the tuning of your guitar on the phone.

More here – http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/06/08/iphone_os_3_0_app_highlights_tomtom_gps_line_6_more.html

3. We can now buy and rent TV shows and movies from iTunes over 3G on the iPhone. If only they weren’t over priced already, and if only I didn’t have to pay data charges on top of that. Fail.

4. The new iPhone operating system promised a hundred new features, only some of which were presented. Maybe there is new functionality in the iPod side of things but we wont know til June 17th when it’s released.

It’s clear that Apple‘s current success and acclaim started with one product – the iPod. They took full advantage, but it seems like in recent years they have forgotten about the poor iPod. Last year’s changes amounted to very little. Genius has been given a lukewarm response. It will be interesting come September to see what changes Apple brings to the iPod line. Or is the iPod over? And the gaming/internet/all-in-one device like the iPhone going to rule us all? We don’t know, but we don’t know many people who use their iPhones over their iPod, especially if they need more that 16GB.

There seemed like hundreds and hundreds more announcements from Apple during their WWDC. There’s great coverage over at Apple Insider – http://www.appleinsider.com/

and hey, we took our image from the great site gadget site Gizmodo.

IPod '09 rumours begin

The current iPod family

The current iPod family

It’s May and we are starting to get rumours of this year’s iPods. For the last few years without fail, Apple has unveiled a new range of iPods in September. And every year, Apple fanatics try to piece together leaked tips from inside the Apple bubble and predict what is coming.

Generally, it is considered Apple’s ’08 refresh was a disappointment. The year before they launched the game-changing iPod Touch. They also made a 160GB iPod classic with a new interface, making the core device pretty much untouchable. Nanos and the Shuffle continued strong. Last year’s addition of the Genius function and a new shape for the Nano failed to set the world alight.

The first rumours we are hearing is from Macrumours. The addition of a camera in the iPod Touch and maybe even the Nano. It seems pretty certain that the new iPhones will have VIDEO camera capabilities. This could be a cool new feature in the iPod product line. The other rumour is the rainbow range of colours across all lines.

We’re not sure it’s a big enough change to impress the world at large. But then again, what is? The iPod works so well – the fact that it just works is one of the reasons it’s the best in the business.

What we would like to see? The classic/nano interface could be vastly improved. Better cataloging for video and podcasts. We see the thousands of new features for the new iPhone and we wonder if the iPod is being left behind. We hope not.

We’ll find out in September.

Apple UK –http://www.apple.com/uk/

Certified financial planning for the Zune

Microsoft is really gunning for Apple. And their weapon of choice is price. It’s almost scare tactics. A series of ‘Laptop Hunter’ ads have been floating around, pitting PC laptops against Macs. Now, the fight is being taken to the Ipod/Zune arena.

(You know Zune, right? Craig Ferguson put it best. “Bill Gates is trying to break the iPod‘s Stranglehold on the iPod market.”)

Some crazy accounting here. I like how this guy, ‘Wes Moss’, is a certified financial planner.

Wes, by the way, was fired from the Apprentice – http://www.theapprenticerules.com/candidates/profile-wes-moss.html

OK. Let’s stop here. This is not a Microsoft bash. Although – they make it so easy.

Our problem is that this ad, and Microsoft‘s whole schtick at the moment, is misleading.

This whole price, price, price scare is – well, scary.

Putting on some dude from the Apprentice as a Financial planner, playing into families fears of the economy to stomp their wares. It reminds me of when politicians yell higher taxes into the sky in hopes of making people vote with their wallets.

And the mathematics just ain’t true. In dire economic times, does anyone want to add a new monthly bill to the burden? Who doesn’t already carry at least some music library with them? Don’t I need a new, not terribly cheap Zune to take advantage of this? And once I cancel my subscription, I can only keep 10 tracks a month. As Zune only reaches Canada and the US, if a customer moves, they have lost most of their library and have paid far more than a buck a song.

Zune is not here in Europe yet and everyone knows why. They are already struggling at home, and they don’t have what it takes to get out into the world. They really have to lift their game if they want to survive.

Our favourite Zune bashing video after the jump

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The Prince Ipod formerly known as $2100US

The Prince Ipod

The Prince Ipod

Prince has come along way in the last decade. Having left WB records, he fell off the radar after tattooing the word ‘Slave’ to his face, and recording mediocre albums like ‘Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic‘.

Two years ago he made a triumphant return with 21 nights at London’s O2. He sold his albums with newspapers, gave them away with show tickets and even released a 3CD, with the wonderfully silly name LOtUSFLOW3R as a Target exclusive in the US. He also sued Youtube before anyone else.

Embracing technology and new ways of getting his music out there, he is becoming what David Bowie was ten years ago. We are fascinated by the man, if not his new music.

The Purple One’s latest endeavor is the publishing world. Last year he released a £30 hardcover book of his 21 night stand in London. This year, he has followed it up with, one of the most expensive fan baits I’ve ever seen. A $2100US deluxe book of the 21 nights (again) and it comes with a Prince Ipod.

The over sized, 280 silk paged, leather bound, 17KG collection is limited to just 950 copies worldwide. And let’s face it, he will probably sell them all. That’s a nice $2m in Prince’s pockets.

So what’s on the Ipod? Not much. 40 minutes of footage (taken from 21×3 hour sets…) and 15 songs. It looks like an Ipod Touch.

Let’s go crazy? It’s definitely extreme. I can’t see who this will appeal to, but you only need 950 people worldwide for it to be a hit.Prince is one of the very, very few artists that can attempt anything like this. I can’t see many artists being foolish enough to follow suit.

Is this how the world is going? Was digital music not driving the cost of music down? The deluxe edition/fan package game is getting out of control. Along with sets like this, VIP concert packages for large shows are in vogue. Will it end?

That said, if someone made one for one of my all time favourite artists, and for some strange reason I could afford this – would I change my tune? That’s a tough question to answer.

Check it out for yourself – http://www.princeopus.com/

And his official site – https://www.lotusflow3r.com/th3b0mb.html