Touched by an iPod: My Story

30 September 2007

The Polyphonic Spree

There’s no end of good coverage that will tell you what this iPod can and can’t do and how it compares to the iPhone and other iPods, so I won’t rehash any of that. As I always try to do at The Tunegardener, I seek to provide the viewpoint of an individual user. Even though I am not your average iPod consumer (did you buy three this season?), I hope to bring some balance to all the criticism which, given that a lot of it was levelled before it even arrived, should be regarded with a pinch of salt. However, this criticism did affect my feelings about it. Now that I’ve had a chance to play with one, here are some personal observations that I hope will help you decide whether to get one or not.

Firstly, if you feel you can’t afford it, move straight on to the 3rd-Gen Nano. I love that little thing and it’s tremendous value. This year’s entry level 4Gb, which I bought, cost me a little less than last year’s entry level, which was 2Gb. This year you get double the storage, a great new interface and entirely watchable video. Dynamite deal. Just make sure that you wear it around your neck like a proper Nano owner.

Battery life is not good (I used about 80% in one hour on the first outing!), although I have been squandering it on maximum brightness, wireless on, browsing, audio and lots and lots of video. I have been close to a charging station at all times, so it hasn’t worried me too much. Over time I will learn how to be more frugal.

To be honest, I would have liked a larger screen. The PSP has a 4.3″ screen. Still, it would be a little hard to hold if it were bigger and it’s probably adequate. I’ve been using a 5th-Gen for two years, so I guess I’m a little used to that. It’s starting to grow on me and the difference is especially noticeable with content I’ve been watching for some time like Rocketboom and Geekbrief TV. The screen really comes into its own when displaying album art in music mode (see above). All my efforts to create high-quality 1000-pixel scans are now really paying off, although it makes even marginal artwork look good.

The aspect ratio of the screen was of concern too. I wanted a 16:9 screen but when the iPhone was announced with what appeared to be a 14:9 aspect ratio, it seemed clear to me that the iPod Touch would gain the same screen. The iPhone needs that space at the top of the screen for a speaker and camera, but the iPod doesn’t. I guess they kept it for symmetry. Anyway, the aspect ratio turns out to be okay. 4:3 or 16:9 content is only cropped marginally and is watchable either in full with black margins or zoomed, though I’d still like a proper 16:9 screen in the future.

The browsing experience is not something I thought would be good on a small screen, however, it’s surprising how addictive it has become. The ability to swap from portrait to landscape on the fly makes it workable. You’ll find a lot of blue Lego bricks on pages, which indicate the presence of Flash content, which isn’t supported. Other omissions from standard browsers: there is no way to download anything; pages are not cached once loaded, so if you move out of network range, the page becomes blank; no copy/paste; and you can’t open a link in another window unless the page is programmed to do so. Consider browsing for reference only. It is a good network finder, much more sensitive it seems than my laptop. You can watch the Wi-Fi Networks settings page as you roam to see what’s in range, whether they are unlocked or not and the signal strength.

The iTunes Store is a really well-thought-out feature. Images load really fast and previews begin playing almost immediately. I have spent more in the first 48 hours than I had in the last 3 months. It’s pleasurable to be able to do this on a handheld device. Files download very fast and sync back to the computer automatically. It’s pure Apple integration.

A surprise for me was how enjoyable the photo function is. I have been neutral with regard to the idea of putting photos on iPods. I preferred to devote the space to other content. However, this screen makes photos stand out. It’s a great experience. I’ve caught myself showing friends photos, something I’ve never really done before. It appears that the photos are not scaled down to the display’s resolution because zooming doesn’t result in instant pixelation. You can resize to an adequate level for viewing on a handheld device.

The oddity of the headphone port on the bottom instead of the top still puzzles me. Were they worried about interference with the wireless antenna? I don’t know, but surprisingly, it works well. When watching video, you rotate left and the port is at the top of the righthand side. I found I could crook my hand under it and it became more secure, like this:

iPod Touch Handling Technique

That’s the lovely Susannah Legge from The Hampdens, from the music video Generation Y, which was purchased from the iTunes Store.

As suspected, Apple’s own Radio Remote did not work. I got the incompatible message. I was hoping that I could still use the controls and that the incompatibility related only to the radio component, but alas, they don’t work. You still get audio, so if you have one of these and want to use it as an extension with a great clip, you could. Disappointing on the whole, as this is the one iPod that desperately needs a remote. I find it quite difficult to pause using the on-screen control.

Cover Flow

Performance is impressive, especially in Cover Flow view. This is the only Cover Flow variant I’ve seen where there was no delay before covers appear. The only exception is YouTube, which is a little sluggish in loading preview images.

I could go on but I think I’ll wrap it up for now. I think that anyone with an interest in this device should buy it. Accept it for what it is and you’ll realise that it’s a pretty impressive accomplishment. Yes, this isn’t what it ultimately should be and it seems to be a stripped-down iPhone, but once using it, you’ll realise it’s a unique experience, and well worth making some trade-offs in order to use.


I Got the Touch! I Got the Powerrr!

27 September 2007

iPod Touch/Stan Bush

iPod Season ends for me with the arrival of the Touch. Power ballads are hastily installed in keeping with this cheesy theme. Rocking commences. Impressions later. I’m touching now.


Lostify 0.7 Saga Finally Gets Cast: Lowell Stewart Directs

21 September 2007

Lostify Banner

Lostify, that amazing Mac app that provides a GUI interface that tames the howling maelstrom of power that is AtomicParsley, has gained the ability to add cast listings. This applies to movies or TV shows, but I guess it could also be applied to AAC audio for applications that would make sense, like radio shows (Lostify works with AAC–I’ve been using it for ages to tag copyright and full release date, among other things). The following types of cast are supported:

  • Actor
  • Director
  • Codirector
  • Producer
  • Screenwriter.

You don’t have to specify all of these. Typically you will tag actors and director. Results look great. Here is what it looks like in iTunes:

iTunes Long Description

And here it is on Apple TV:

Cast Tags on Apple TV

Isn’t that a thing of beauty?

As far as I know, currently only iTunes and Apple TV are capable of displaying this information. I’m sure that Apple will think of more ways to use this in the future (iPod Touch?).

Go get this update and pay the man some money to show your amazement that it’s possible for mere mortals to wield this mighty power!


Lack of 3rd-Gen Nano Lanyard a Pain in the Neck

21 September 2007

The new 3rd-Gen Nano has brought to light a disturbing trend. I live by the lanyard. There is no better way to interact with this type of iPod. It was originally designed to be worn. When I bought this year’s Nano I started looking for the accompanying lanyard headphones, standard since its debut two years ago. Apple didn’t list any. I rang Apple and they said that they didn’t have any but that third-party manufacturers would undoubtedly fill the gap. This is what I was afraid of. No lanyard headphones at launch and the hold switch at the bottom told me that Apple didn’t plan on lanyarding this one.

The Apple rep I spoke to said that lanyards were very popular in the first year but have waned since. It’s all your fault, Nano owners. You’ve been carrying the things and putting them in your pocket instead of wearing them as the glorious pieces of jewelery that they are.

1st-Gen Lanyard on 3rd-Gen Nano

Luckily, there is an Apple solution: the 1st-Gen Nano lanyard headphones. Last year, they moved the dock connector and headphone port further apart, rendering the 1st-Gen lanyard useless. Surprisingly, this year the original arrangement is back. The Nano grips the plug like grim death, so you can be assured that it’s safe. This was my major concern. One test with a friend’s convinced me that it was the way to go. It was good to see that the 1st-Gen lanyard, in both standard and in-ear versions, was still available from the Apple Store.

So that’s a solution for proper Nano owners. It’s a good set of headphones in a streamlined package, with attractive silver plug that grips well. Wear it a little low so you can hold it far enough away to watch video. It does work. Get blinged up with a classic!


Make Use of the New Album-Rating Feature in iTunes 7.4

13 September 2007

A poorly advertised new feature in iTunes 7.4 is the option to rate whole albums as distinct from individual items.

Rating in general can be tricky, as it’s arbitrary and one rating must necessarily be compared with another in order to be meaningful. Apple could have created 10 stars (and strangely enough with a bit of voodoo, you can rate with half stars) but that’s getting too complex.

Long ago I realised I could only effectively rate songs as they relate to each other on a particular album. It’s hard to compare The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s outstanding Take Five to AC/DC’s Heatseeker because they are so different, although I’ve rated both songs 5 stars. Therefore I have a lot of 5-star rated songs, but some albums I like more than others. This is where the album rating comes in. Spiderbait’s Grand Slam is one on the top of the list, but Bowie’s Heathen, although cherished, comes in a bit below in my personal estimation. Now I can rate them accordingly. This allows me to more effectively create playlists based on the best songs of all time. For example, I could filter 50 songs rated 5 stars but the album has to be rated 5 stars too. This guarantees the truly best songs. Conversely, you could create a playlist that filtered an album rating of 2 or 3 and cause yourself to reevaluate just how you feel about those albums.

Album Rating

Albums are rated automatically by iTunes, indicated by open stars. As soon as you rate one song, it starts averaging all the individual song ratings and applies this to the album. As you continue to rate songs, the average gets more accurate. You can override at any time and select a rating just like you do with individual tracks, by clicking a star, only you do this in Album View underneath the album artwork. This will change the open stars to closed stars, and iTunes will stop averaging the album rating. If you haven’t rated some songs and you define an album rating, it will update all the unrated songs with the same rating, also indicated by open stars, which can also be changed manually.

We can assume that you bought your albums because you liked the music, so it’s also reasonable to assume that there will be many highly rated songs that saturate the top two ratings. This made it hard to identify the truly great songs without this additional rating option.


Cover Flow on iPod: Why it’s Good

12 September 2007

iPod Classic, Cover Flow

Okay, so Cover Flow is a little small on the 3rd-Gen Nano and the Classic, but it sure beats scrolling through a list of text. I’ve wanted this for a while, as I’m intimately familiar with the covers of my albums and think of them in visual terms. This is especially good on a Classic, where thousands of albums can be housed. Trying to visualise the albums from the text listing on old iPods leads to overlooking a lot of music because it’s too hard to do rapidly while scrolling.

The interface is not bad on the new iPods. You scroll with the scroll wheel, then click to spin a cover around. Click a track and it starts playing. Press Menu to go back to Cover Flow. It remembers the last cover it was displaying, even after a sync.

Here’s something insanely cool: I’ve just discovered that with the iPod in the Universal Dock (first version), in Cover Flow view, you can actually scroll left and right with the remote! How cool is that? It’s a little limited compared to using the wheel itself. You can’t rapidly scroll by holding down the button and if you click Play/Pause, it immediately starts playing the album from the beginning rather than presenting the songs for selection. But this is a nice hidden interface detail. Perhaps the dock will interact with the iPod in more ways in the future.

I can’t wait for my Touch, to play with that Cover Flow.


Artwork in the New iPod Landscape

10 September 2007

iPod Nano 3rd-Gen

Been a bit lax in tagging your music with artwork? Well if you get a new iPod, you are going to notice just how important artwork is to the interface. The Nano and Classic interface has advanced astonishingly and features artwork on the righthand side of the screen in menu mode and thumbnails in list views. The Touch will use artwork even more strikingly, filling most of the screen with a cover in portrait mode. And it should be obvious how critical artwork is to CoverFlow, now standard on three of the four iPod models.

It’s not like you don’t have options. The easiest is to update to the latest version of iTunes (which you really should do often) and check the option Automatically download missing album artwork in the General tab of the Preferences. When you import a CD, iTunes will try to find a match in the iTunes Store and will automatically download it. You can do the same thing for CDs you’ve already ripped by clicking one of the tracks and selecting “Get Album Artwork”.

I’ve covered the subject of artwork before. It’s near and dear to my heart. I don’t want to see these new iPods with missing artwork because you will be missing out on the full experience as these iPods are more visual than ever before.

*PS: Get some high-quality artwork from my own site, Album-Art.net. The interface is crude (folder listings) but the artwork is good. My standard is 1000 x 1000 pixels, 100% JPEG quality, colour-corrected. A lot of the artwork is currently at this standard. I’m always adding new covers and upgrading older ones, so you’ll find some useful stuff.