4th-Generation Lanyard Solved

23 October 2008

My lanyard woes are over. My good friend wielded his mad skillz and modified a 1st-Gen lanyard. It was pretty simple in the end, but care was needed. A Dremel drill was used.

The Nano is held on principally by the headphone plug. The dock connector, which is purely plastic and contains no metal, has been cut down to provide an additional physical connection, but primarily prevents the Nano from turning on the headphone plug.

4th-Gen Nano with Modified Lanyard (Click to enlarge)

4th-Gen Nano with Modified Lanyard (Click to enlarge)

It’s not as secure as a plug plus dock connector, but tests indicate that the connection is secure as the headphone plug snaps into the jack.

The body of the plug just meets the lefthand edge of the Nano, with no unsightly hangover, although the curved body means that the corners of the metal are slightly raised. The 2nd-Gen lanyard would not be suitable as it is much wider.

Metal Corners (Click to enlarge)

Metal Corners (Click to enlarge)

This is a pretty obvious mod, but I wanted to document it as a satisfactory conclusion to this matter.

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4th-Gen Nano Features

11 September 2008

I want to set the record straight: the Nano does not have a “wide screen”. It’s 4:3, 2 inches, 320 x 240 pixels, 204ppi–identical to the 3rd-Gen’s. The screen only seems wide because the tall screen in portrait orientation is striking. It seems roomier, and it is for lists.

I noticed something unusual regarding language. If you set the language to English (UK), the Videos menu changes subtly. Movies becomes Films and TV Shows becomes TV Programmes.

Spoken Menus is utterly awesome, not just for blind users, but think about how you could navigate the iPod in the car without looking at it. With this setting on, the iPod announces every menu it’s in, plus the names of the artists, albums, songs, etc., that you highlight. iTunes generates all the spoken words that the Nano will need, then copies these across on sync. It doesn’t take very long. You can use any voice that you can set in the Speech system preference.

Another accessibility feature allows you to make the font in lists bigger. It looks like you only lose one line on the display when set.

With every new iPod, you have to get used to its physicality. This one is very light and like holding a very blunt blade. The scroll wheel is not flat–it curves very slightly to match the curvature of the body. Similarly, the select button is no longer helpfully indented, but is also curved to match the body. It will take a little getting used to, especially after using the squat 3rd-Gen for a year.

The new included maze game uses the accelerometer to move a ball around. Notably, this game can be played in either portrait or landscape modes. The two other Apple games, Klondike and Vortex, appear to have been updated as they offer some degree of portrait/landscape mode. Klondike can be portrait-oriented until you go to the game board. Vortex can be played in either portrait or landscape modes. This is particularly nice. Third-party games are played in landscape mode, with the scroll wheel on either side. You can change this at any time. No nice rotation effect, just a simple swap here. On launching third-party games, the Nano helpfully announces that the button assignments have changed with a screen showing the new mappings, prior to the game loading.

The lanyard snafu is a small blemish on what is a good evolution in Nano design. I’ll be really happy when this puppy is swinging round my neck.

Update: The standard iPhone headphones cause a Voice Notes menu to appear in the main menu. The microphone works perfectly. A nice touch is the file format used: Apple Lossless, not WAV, so you get the same quality in approx. half the size. Voice Notes are automatically synced back to iTunes and placed in their own playlist.

The radio remote works perfectly in all functions.


Lanyard for 4th-Gen Nano

11 September 2008


(Click to enlarge)

The ride is over. Neither the 1st-gen nor 2nd-gen Nano lanyard fits the new 4th-gen Nano. I’m pissed about this. It’s because the cross section doesn’t allow enough room for the port and the headphone jack to be as far apart as on previous models. I’m going to have to resort to modifying an existing lanyard.


2008 iPod Models

23 July 2008

It’s two months until iPod Season™ and speculation inspiration hit me today.

iPod Classic: Death or Rebirth?

I think that this year could see the end of the click-wheel Classic iPod. Here’s the reasoning: the price of the iPhone has dropped precipitously, making the price of the iPod Touch suddenly untenable. The Touch’s price has to tumble too. Where does that leave the antiquated-looking but capacious Classic?

Here’s my bombshell: I think it’s possible that the Classic could live on, but not as a click wheel. I propose that the Classic could evolve into what is essentially just the iPod menu of the iPhone. That means no Wi-Fi, no apps, nothing but what you see when you push the iPod button on your iPhone. Think about it: This would make it possible to price it below that of the Touch and maintain distinction between models, but at the same time allow it to leave its click-wheel interface behind. I’m projecting the same 80Gb and 160Gb drives as in the 2007 models. Flash is still too expensive in these frankly enormous capacities, so it may be a year or two before flash can catch up for a reasonable price.

iPod Touch Classic Screen Mockup

So that gives you a new Classic–an iPod Touch Classic–in a similar form factor to the current, but with a big, beautiful, touch screen with all the benefits that brings, and the back-to-basics concept of carrying all your music in your pocket. I imagine that to keep costs down, the same screen as used on the iPhone and Touch would be used. The Touch is still far in front of the competition, so this brings this laggard into line and viable for another year at least, until at last hard drives can be abandoned for roomy new flash technology. Being heavily stripped of features and using common components and OS would make it very affordable. Think of the savings in OS design: Apple could build their iPhone OS, then throw out everything that’s inapplicable for this model instead of maintaining another codebase.

The Touch: Let’s Get Relevant

10 months ago, I bought the Touch. I’ve never been completely happy with it because it always felt like a substitute for the iPhone. Now that I have an iPhone I know exactly why the iPhone is better: when you walk out of your house or your office, it no longer becomes a network brick. All that aside, there is a definite need for the Touch because the iPhone is attached to that most necessary of evils: a mobile carrier. Not everyone can or wants that expense.

So, we need the Touch. But why does it have to feel so cheap and crippled compared to the iPhone? This year, I think it could start to feel its own way. It already has a killer feature that the iPhone doesn’t: 32Gb. Where to go from here? It’s time to fill in some of the missing features.

Let’s start with a camera. A number of applications can use photos and as it’s a mobile device, it makes sense to capture the photo then and there instead of hoping an applicable one is in the photo library. Applying photos to contacts, anyone?

Next, it’s only got Wi-Fi to locate itself. Let’s throw in the same GPS that the iPhone 3G has. Now location-based services can be useful.

I think these two features added to the Touch, along with its focus on capacity (perhaps even 64Gb could be viable this year) would help to define it as a relevant device, different to but not cannibalising its phone-based sibling.

Nano: Oh God Let it Be Lanyardable!

This one is the hardest to predict, but I feel good about 3 sizes: 4Gb, 8Gb and new 16Gb. I think it will retain the click wheel because in order to turn it into a touch screen it would have to get Mobile OS X, and I can’t see that you could run that OS for very long on the tiny batteries these models have. Perhaps next year.

My main concern is whether I will be able to use a lanyard with it, because there is only one way to carry a Nano, and that is around your neck. The third-gen from last year worryingly was not accompanied by a specific lanyard, but luckily the first-gen lanyard fitted properly.

Shuffle: Can it Still Keep Going?

Who knows? The Nano is far superior and the price of this year’s entry model would get so low that I imagine it would start to cannibalise Shuffle sales. I’d like to see it hang around for another year. I don’t think it needs to be changed, but a new wardrobe of colours would be a logical move.

Summary

It’s important to remember that iPods evolve slowly over the years, they don’t leap ahead, except when the first iPod was introduced, and the first Nano, of course. The iPhone innovated, and the advances made their way into the iPod space, but they didn’t begin there. The ideas I’ve presented here are feasible and fit in with the type of evolution that we have experienced from Apple.


Audiobooks: They’ve Come a Long Way

11 December 2007

There’s never been a better time to play audiobooks. The 2007 iPods are extremely intelligent when it comes to enhanced audiobooks, which are AAC files with a chapter track. These are functionally equivalent to enhanced podcasts.

Modelling this look here on a 3rd-Gen Nano is the final episode of the much-loved but inevitably cancelled Australian national radio show Get This, with the actually rather-famous comedian Tony Martin and his lovable young roguish companions, Ed Kavalee and Armitage Shanks:

Get This on 3rd-Gen Nano

This file has been stitched together from the three-part podcast that consists of the entire final show minus the music. I’ve removed the beginning and ending ads, chaptered the file and tagged it down to the release date and copyright information. It’s now a .m4b file, no longer an MP3 podcast, and appears in the Audiobooks library in iTunes.

Note the third line down, Slim Shady Sr. This is the name of the currently playing chapter. The first line is the name of the overall track. The progress bar is divided into the chapter markers. If you click forward or reverse, it will jump one marker. What’s really cool is the fact that once you’ve clicked the audiobook in Music > Audiobooks, the Nano and Classic show you all the chapters, like you’re looking at a music album. If you’ve stopped playing somewhere in an audiobook, then return to this menu, there will be a new item at the top, Resume, which allows you to rapidly pick up where you left off:

3rd-Gen Nano Audiobook Menu

Here’s what this audiobook looks like on a Touch:

Audiobook on iPod Touch

The Now Playing screen looks like any music track, but if you flip the cover, the chapters are broken down into tracks similar to what you see on the 3rd-Gen Nano and Classic. No Resume option as above, but tapping the audiobook will pick up from where it left off.

Oh, and why is the podcast of a radio show considered an audiobook? The basic logic is that it’s not music, so it shouldn’t be in the music library and I consider podcasts to be ephemeral, so I like to move the ones I want to keep out of the Podcasts library. There’s no other place to put these. They are “spoken word”, so that’s the stretch I use, plus they do lend themselves to this type of treatment. And this type of content is considered an audiobook at Audible.com.

PS: If you would like the above file, you can download it from here for a limited time.


Video for the New iPods: Compatibility or Quality?

5 October 2007

The type of content I’ve most enjoyed on the Touch so far is music video. I’ve filled mine about 75% with music video which I watch at work. As I have 414 separate videos, I’ve been rotating them through and one thing has become clear: compatibility is more important than quality, especially if the prime target for viewing this content is an iPod. I’ve just had a batch of MPEG4-encoded videos, all of which played on my 5th-Gen, fail to display video on playback on both the Touch and Classic. Audio is fine, just no video. I think this is because I used to push the envelope, encoding at 1500kbps MPEG4, which is the highest MPEG4 video bitrate the iPod can support, and also because I made 16:9 videos 720 x 400 pixels instead of the iPod standard of 640 x 360. Result is incompatibility or, at best, borderline compatibility.

So I’ve made the decision to make every music video iPod-compatible. It will result in lower-resolution 16:9 videos but honestly, I can’t be bothered trying to push the envelope any more. I’ve got too much on and I’ve been enjoying the iPod quality. QuickTime Player or iTunes will convert a non-DVD video between 320 and 640 pixels wide into a H.264 video with the same resolution. Handbrake 0.9’s new GUI access to the command-line parameters gives much better results. The new chaptering feature adds another reason to redo your long-form video.

So that’s my advice to you. This of course applies to any content targeted at an iPod. I still rip DVD movies and TV Shows at a much higher quality because they are aimed at Apple TV.