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.


Apple TV Update Coming Down the Pipe

10 July 2008

The Remote application for iPhone/Touch got me to thinking: what if there were an Apple TV update? I just checked and I’m downloading it as I write. I’m anticipating support for Remote and possibly ratings icons for countries other than the US in the Movies and TV Shows menus.

Update: Yes, Remote support is included, as well as MobileMe photo support, replacing .Mac. It’s version 2.1.

What puzzles me is no Australian TV and movie rating icons. We’ve got TV shows now, so it doesn’t make sense.

So just a small update but the Remote is going to be cool.


Remote for iPhone/Touch: Most Likely a Killer App

10 July 2008

Remote for iPhone/iPod Touch

I’d heard about this for a couple of weeks but I’ve just installed iTunes 7.7 and downloaded Apple’s Remote application from the Apps Store. I of course use Apple TV, so an iTunes remote is brilliant but not for me. I was flabbergasted to read on the app’s page that it can “Control the music on iTunes or Apple TV“. How unexpected and seriously cool is this? I’ll have to wait until I can upgrade my Touch, which I am guessing will be tomorrow, so that I can play with this.


iPod Touch 1.1.4 Update: Early Adopters Beware

27 February 2008

It wouldn’t surprise me if later Touch buyers who got the software upgrade (mail, maps, etc.) included do not encounter this extremely irritating issue.

When 1.1.3 came out, I updated and found that it had wiped out my software upgrade. There were holes in my home page where the icons used to be. It puzzled me why this would happen, considering that I bought the upgrade. I thought each new update would contain these features. I managed to get the iTunes Store to give me a new download.

I’ve just applied the new 1.1.4 update and it happened again! I’m really mad about this. This is not how it should be. I’ve asked the iTunes Store for another download again.

So bear this in mind if your in the same boat. Personally, I use the mail feature to monitor work email, so it was pretty inconvenient timing.

iPod Touch 1.1.4 with Software Update

Update: That’s weird. Now my software upgrade is back. I didn’t do anything except invoke a sync. Perhaps that was needed. It didn’t get fixed this way last time.


iTunes 7.6 Subtleties

7 February 2008

Focussed on movie rentals as it may be, 7.6 introduces some subtle bug fixes and welcome behavioural changes, some of which we’ve been asking for for some time.

Bug Fixes

As long as I can remember, iTunes by default used the constant bitrate (CBR) method of encoding, resulting in neat bitrate values such as 128 and 256. The last version of QuickTime was updated to include further bitrate encoding methods. iTunes then dropped the ball and users noticed that their rips now all had varying bitrates, plus or minus the value specified. Apparently iTunes wasn’t told to continue using CBR and started using one of the newer methods. This has now been fixed. Rerip your CDs and your bitrates will be neat again.

Enhancements

Podcasts Option Menu

Something that hasn’t made sense for a long time has now been addressed. Until now you could not sync a number of “least recent new” added podcasts, only “most recent”. This has now been added and it makes things a lot easier. For example, if I download a lot of podcast episodes at once (as is common when I discover a podcast), they would rapidly fill my 4Gb Nano, which is my main podcast iPod. The solution was to uncheck a number of episodes. With “Only sync checked songs” and “Sync unplayed episodes” set, this made it manageable. It adds work, however, as you have remember to check newer episodes as older played episodes come off the iPod. Now I can leave them all checked and by syncing only the 3 episodes least recently added, I avoid filling my iPod prematurely and don’t have to think about it. This is a very welcome change.

You have both the option for “unplayed” and “new”, which seems a little redundant. “Unplayed” means that whether or not a podcast has been started, it does not have a play count higher than 0. “New” means that a podcast has never been started. I guess if you only wanted podcasts that you’ve never played, not including unfinished ones, this would be a usable distinction.

TV Shows Option Menu

Similarly, TV shows now have a new “least recent unwatched” option which finally resolves the stupidity of buying a whole season of a TV show but only being able to sync a certain number of “most recent unwatched” episodes. The focus here is still very much on the basis of only watching an episode once. If you are happy with that, then this solves it right here for you, but if you like to cycle through your episodes, you should resort to my TV Rotation Technique.

Blackadder Series

TV Shows in Album view are now subdivided into seasons, each marked by the album art for the first episode in a season. If you scan the box art for individual DVD sets like myself, this feature vindicates this approach. Looks nicer.

You can now manually manage iPhones and iPod Touches, if you wish. Still not available as drives on the desktop, however.

To Be Addressed

Apple TV does not support these new sync options but it is reasonable to expect that the imminent update will address this.

Unfortunately, you still can’t make a smart playlist select items by Show, as covered in this post. Hopefully this will come. The inclusion of the elusive “least recent new” feature above, at least for podcasts, is very heartening.

I wasn’t expecting anything more than rental support (by the way, this Australian is gnashing his teeth at this being US-only, although it’s not a surprise), so I’m happy that Apple squeezed in some further refinements.


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.


New Music Video Standard

26 November 2007

Yes, I’ve changed again. I follow Apple’s lead. They believe in H.264, so I do too.

The main reason I was using MPEG4 instead of H.264 was an incorrect assumption that 720 x 400 (16:9) was only iPod compatible if the file was MPEG4. I believe I would have tested this resolution with H.264 in the past–I always test–and would have found it incompatible, so I went with MPEG4 instead. Well, I’ve just done another test with four videos and lo and behold, it worked. This means that they upgraded the standard or that my earlier testing was poor. Either possibility is reasonable.

So what does this boil down to? Music videos are now specified as follows:

  • H.264 @ 1500kbps, 640 x 480 (4:3), 720 x 400 (16:9)
  • AAC @ 128kbps

If the source is a video file from an enhanced CD or the web, I don’t get fancy: I open in QuickTime Player and export to iPod. If it’s letterboxed (bane of the video collector’s life), I use MPEG Streamclip to achieve the same result, only I also crop the margins off (QuickTime Player can’t easily do this).

If the source is DVD, Handbrake is of course employed. I start with the iPod High Rez setting, then add 2-pass and greyscale (if appropriate). For audio, you can actually convert 5.1 to Dolby ProLogic II and the iPod will support it. Of course, you’ll only hear the stereo on an iPod, but this is good for using on both iPod and Apple TV, which might be connected to equipment that can support it. It does make a difference and is quite nice to listen to.

Handbrake 0.9.1’s new enhanced chaptering facility, where you can now name the chapters, is a great excuse to rerip video, and I especially like to rip long-form video such as concerts, Enigma’s A Posteriori DVD, Lemon Jelly’s ’64-’95 DVD, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture, etc. with the proper chapter markers. Strangely, the Touch, where I play music video the most, does not display the chapter names. If you tap the screen while a video is playing, it will say Chapter X of X, but doesn’t display the name. Apple has been notified.

Don’t muck with the advanced settings. They’re very good for tweaking video intended for the Apple TV or computer, as these devices are tolerant, but I’ve found that changing the slightest setting will prevent the video from transferring to an iPod (see my earlier post on this matter). You have to stick with stock-standard iPod settings to guarantee compatibility.

So I’m going to start ripping my music video again. The amount of work this entails is made palatable by remembering that I’ve got a number that don’t work with the new iPods and of course, my favourite, the chaptering excuse!