Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Thoughts on the iPod Touch

Yeah... not every column is about food...!

My friend, Rich Koster, purchased an iPhone when it first hit the stores, and he has been a very passionate advocate for the device. He even provided a section of the DisneyEcho which is specially-formatted for iPhone users.

In early September, Apple announced the upcoming availability of their iPod Touch, and it was in stores near the end of the month. After discovering that my precious first generation iPod Nano had a screen problem apparently from ear buds being pressed too hard against the screen when it was in my old, beat up Altoids container, I purchased an iPod Touch on Friday, October 12. I must say that I am happy with my purchase so far!

The iPod Touch is a very nice iPod. It's a bit bigger than the classic iPods, and much bigger than the Nano and Shuffle models, but still quite thin. It also omits the iPod's click wheel. As a result of the larger size and lack of click wheel, you get a 3.5" 480x320 picture viewing area that is unmatched by any iPod.

The model I purchased comes with 16 GB of storage, which is sufficient to hold all my rock and roll MP3s plus nearly a dozen ripped DVD videos. Actually, I haven't finished ripping my favorite DVDs, and I still have about 3 GB of memory available.

As is implied by its name, you interact with the iPod Touch using finger touches. It takes a little getting used to the way the unit interprets your touches, but once you get used to it, it works nicely. As an experiment, I tried to use the stylus from my iPaq, and it didn't recognize it at all. I'm not sure what to make of that—the software probably is assuming that you are using your fat fingers and the thin stylus is considered "noise." It would be nice if the unit could take notes using simple handwriting, but it really isn't a PDA after all, and no other iPod has that capability, either.

A recent Business Week article complained that the iPod Touch "fails to wow" because the device, despite its close similarity to the iPhone, doesn't have the iPhone's email application or its microphone, camera, and Bluetooth connections, as well as the iPhone's specialized widgets for stock quotes, weather forecasts, etc. I can see the point of view of the reviewer, but I would rather think that the iPod Touch isn't so much an iPhone as it is an iPod, and that's how the comparison should be made.

What sets the iPod Touch apart from other iPods is:

  • A scrumptiously large viewing screen perfect for watching wide screen movies

  • The "touch" input method versus the old click wheel

  • Built-in WiFi

  • Safari browser and YouTube applications

  • Missing games that were available on the classic iPods

That last item needs some explanation.

Although I never played Solitaire on my old Nano since the screen was much too small to make it workable, I still liked the idea that the device came with games that you could play. With the larger screen on the Touch, one would think that games would be a natural with the device, and I'm surprised that Apple has not addressed this at all yet.

On the topic of things that the Touch is missing, how about the ability to cache web pages and/or web sites for off-line perusal? It would be a wonderful idea for the Touch to be able to collect web pages in the morning for later perusal during the day when I may or may not have WiFi access. This could be as simple as an RSS reader with caching added. It could be as sophisticated as AvantGo, a web page/file synchronization service for PDAs and smart phones. It could also be as eminently wonderful as Microsoft Reader, a full-scale book reader for reading electronic books. The main point is that the data that would be perused on the Touch can be stored on the iPod itself, rather than necessarily accessed in real time using WiFi. That would allow it to be used where WiFi is unavailable, as when riding in a vehicle, at places with locked-down WiFi, or even places that simply just don't have WiFi at all.

Apple recently announced, in an open letter from Steve Jobs, that they want native third party applications on the iPhone, and plan to have an SDK in developers' hands by next February. I'm sure that when this is done, games will soon be made available, and I also hope that off-line viewing of web content and/or electronic books will be available as well. The only question that remains is: at what price?

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