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Overdelivering

1376 words

Let me interrupt my little nostalgia TEX series for a day to mention the new iPod models Apple introduced today. They are quite typical for current Apple: Representing a strong standing in hardware, being tiny and amazing and still getting enough things wrong to upset me. Yet, the bottom line is smaller, cheaper more capacity, less good looks. So let’s go through the sizes, shall we?

While being a sweet design, I keep thinking that the second generation iPod shuffle is pretty close to idiotic. The clip just increases the size of the toy dramatically, yet it’s not particularly useful. And instead of being well designed in the way of the original iPod shuffle which you could directly plug into a USB port, the current edition needs a docking device that makes the iPod look stupid because it’s upside down, doesn’t use a standardised connector and lacks all the features (like line out) which make the proper iPod dock useful. To me this is a step back in pretty much every regard. And a new set of somewhat dull and wholesome colours won’t change that.

Next the iPod nano. Which technically speaking is the third generation iPod nano or the fourth generation iPod mini. I’m sure it’s an amazing device, tiny and with that high resolution screen, all the graphics power. But it looks like ass. Somehow Apple get these only right in the odd revision numbers: The iPod mini is a beauty and a design classic. The first generation iPod nano looked somewhat pimpy shiny and was so scratch unresistant that it wasn’t funny. Then the second generation iPod nano just picked up the smooth all metal design of the iPod mini again and made it even smaller. Great stuff! And the new version? Really odd proportions, apparently thicker than the predecessor, shiny two piece plastic design again. Let’s just say I am not convinced. And the colours on offer aren’t worth mentioning either.

Then the iPod, which has now the middle-of-mediocrity name iPod Classic (that just smells of compromises and hints that it will be end of lifed soon and stop working when Intel processors come to iPods). I started thinking that the iPod is pretty close to being dead. Its hard drive sizes only grew slowly while the amounts of music, photos and videos people have in their computers exploded.

Just look at my personal iPod experience: I have ‘3rd generation’ 40GB iPod. This is probably one of the worst full size iPods ever made because none of its buttons provides any tactile feedback. Yet it came with 40GB which was rather huge a few years back. I had between 10 and 20 GB of music on my hard drive back then and this seemed like the future proof solution to me. But time passed. More music was added to my collection and – at least as significantly – once I had the drive space for it, I added all of my CDs to the iTunes library which edged my music library over the 40GB mark. This, in turn, led to two things: One is the inconvenience of having to manually manage the iPod’s contents. The other is that 40GB of music mean you have a really long list of artists which does push, if not break, the limits of the scroll wheel’s convenience.

But now, with a 160GB version on offer, at least the size problem may not be eternally solved but I could at least fit my whole music and photo library on it and still have some space to spare. Navigation may still be problematic, though and I’m not entirely sure an improved navigation system can fully solve that problem.

And, finally, the iPod touch, which I’d prefer to call iPhone iPod. So it’s essentially an iPhone without the phone. Which, considering that the cool stuff about the iPhone is everything but the phone, seems a cool thing. A large screen iPod with a wireless network connection and a web browser. Cool stuff. It remains to see how great it really is and what the point of not giving people access to their e-mail, the Google Maps application or to notes (come on, even the 3G iPod can display notes!) is. But it looks like a no-nonsense version of the iPhone and that is a good thing.

Inverted

The odd thing is that these new models completely reversed my view of the iPod world. Last week my position would have been that the only reasonable iPod to buy would be an iPod nano. It had the best design, it would only take a part of your music library (but so do all other iPods) but a part that’s large enough to offer a bit of choice and still it was tiny.

This week the iPod world has changed. I certainly wouldn’t want an iPod nano. Mainly because it looks like shit. But I can totally see how one could want an iPod shuffle for when you need a tiny device, a 160GB iPod for when you need all your music and an iPhone iPod to look up Wikipedia entries without having to move your butt when discussing current events after dinner.

As such, the new lineup is a strike of genius.

Giggling

And somehow I suspect that over in Cupertino they are laughing. Because of all the people who added a few hundred bucks to their profits by buying an iPhone (which, it seems, should be nothing but an iPhone iPod plus some phone hardware that shouldn’t cost much more than a tenner) at the original price. And because after the iPhone looked (and probably is, when compared to the competition) tempting but possibly a bit pricy both for the device and the sucky phone contract, now the iPhone iPod comes along. And in a way it’s exactly the answer people wanted: an iPhone without the bad bits. Which is cool. It’s also a way to blow three to four hundred monetary units on what is essentially a toy. One that can’t even hold all your music or photos.

Freakingly clever bastards, I say. I’d still like one to browse the web from the dinner table. (You won’t believe how often we need to look stuff up. We can access the world atlas without getting up and the encyclopedia is just a few steps away…)

More

I guess more can be discussed here. Like ringtones. Then colours? To be honest, I know very few iPod mini/nano/shuffle owners who didn’t choose silver as a colour, so that is the de facto colour of the device. I wonder whether Apple intentionally makes those extra colours dull/boring so they can say they offer colours but people will still go and buy their devices in black/white/silver as god/Ive/Jobs created them. And how Apple want to rip off people even more for those (Why didn’t they just keep their iPhone free of people’s bad tastes?) Or buying music from iTMS via the iPhone iPod’s wireless connection (nice – now let’s see whether the thing can hooked up to your shared iTunes libraries at home, that would add another good feature to the kitchen usefulness of the device despite just having a small storage capacity). Or what about that Starbucks thing? Sounds creepy to me. Why tie stuff in with some particular corporate bastards rather than letting every wireless network provider offer similar services. Then Cover Flow. It’s big with Apple now. And seeing that all display-touting iPods now sport it, it makes sense to have it in the X.5 Finder from some strategical corporate point of view I guess. But then again, that doesn’t make it a useful interface (and I guess making decisions base on corporate strategy stuff is more a Microsoft-ish thing and a big reason for the quality of their products). Then the speed. I would have expected something along the lines of the iPhone iPod. But not quite yet. Perhaps in half a year or a year’s time. This suggests that the technology needed for all this must be quite well understood and cheap already. Which probably is a good thing.

Now give thousand Euros and I’ll find a way to spend them…

September 6, 2007, 0:05

Comments

Comment by Simone Manganelli: User icon

While being a sweet design, I keep thinking that the second generation iPod shuffle is pretty close to idiotic. The clip just increases the size of the toy dramatically, yet it’s not particularly useful.

For you. For something small like that, it makes total sense to include a clip. If Apple hadn’t, you’d probably be buying clips for like $15 or $20 which is ridiculous considering the price of the iPod shuffle. And they’d almost certainly be clunky. Also, without a clip, the iPod shuffle would be easily lost, given it’s small size and weight.

And instead of being well designed in the way of the original iPod shuffle which you could directly plug into a USB port, the current edition needs a docking device that makes the iPod look stupid because it’s upside down, doesn’t use a standardised connector and lacks all the features (like line out) which make the proper iPod dock useful. To me this is a step back in pretty much every regard.

This is the most ridiculous comment about the 2nd-gen shuffle that I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it a number of times. The 1st-gen shuffle didn’t have a Dock either, so it didn’t get all the standard Dock features anyway! So removing the standard USB port and using a Dock instead somehow makes it worse because it loses features it never had?! Seriously, that’s just an idiotic statement to make.

I can understand the frustration with having to port around a Dock with your shuffle, now, but it also brings it in line with the other iPods. Also consider that the size of the standard Dock connector is larger than the iPod shuffle in two dimensions, and the shuffle is barely longer than the Dock connector in the third. To keep the size so small, it’s impossible for Apple to use the standard connector.

And a new set of somewhat dull and wholesome colours won’t change that.

Jeebus, what colors do you want? Blue dalmatian? Puke green? Brown? This is another idiotic statement. If you don’t like the colors, buy the standard silver!

It’s clear to me that you don’t actually think that you would find an iPod shuffle useful. You say you see how others might find it useful, but even if Apple fixed your complaints, removed the clip, offered it in whatever color you actually wanted, and replaced the standard USB port, you still wouldn’t buy it.

Then the iPod, which has now the middle-of-mediocrity name iPod Classic (that just smells of compromises and hints that it will be end of lifed soon and stop working when Intel processors come to iPods).

Sigh. The only compromise that’s been made is to keep the classic in the line-up because of storage capacity concerns. Had they eliminated it entirely, they would’ve lost lots of customers who have large libraries of music and/or video and/or want to use the iPod as a hard drive.

That was seriously such a no-brainer decision that I think it’s highly amusing that you have such a different perception of it than just yesterday.

Lastly, why do you think that Intel processors will necessarily come to iPods? They’ve used ARM processors for a while, and even the iPhone uses an ARM processor. What’s the point? Worse battery life? That you base your perception of the iPod classic around that is also kind of ridiculous.

This week the iPod world has changed. I certainly wouldn’t want an iPod nano. Mainly because it looks like shit. But I can totally see how one could want an iPod shuffle for when you need a tiny device, a 160GB iPod for when you need all your music and an iPhone iPod to look up Wikipedia entries without having to move your butt when discussing current events after dinner.

Um, yeah. The iPod world hasn’t changed, you just think the nano looks like shit. The iPod shuffle hasn’t changed from yesterday, so if you think the iPod shuffle was useful today, then you thought it was just as useful yesterday, because the only thing that’s changed is the colors. If you think the iPod classic is useful because of its large storage capacity, then you thought it was just as useful yesterday, because the main thing that’s changed is the storage capacity.

The only thing that’s changed is you think that the iPod nano now looks like shit because it’s short and fat. And you say pretty much as such. I guess that’s a valid opinion, but it seems pretty lame to say that you don’t think the iPod nano is worthwhile anymore just because it lost a little in one dimension and gained it in another.

By the way, the new nano is NOT thicker than it’s predecessor. The 2nd-gen nano was 6.6 mm in depth, while this new one is 6.5 mm.

I agree with a few things in this post. I wish Apple hadn’t allowed custom ringtones at all. And I think that Jobs falling over himself to fawn all over Starbucks was creepy too. (It’d be cool to have some sort of iPod-integrated speaker system that would automatically broadcast the last 10 songs to iPod touches or iPhones, and allow anybody to buy and setup such a system.)

But on the whole, this post seems to be a lot of misplaced complaining.

September 6, 2007, 1:25

Comment by ssp: User icon

If Apple hadn’t, you’d probably be buying clips for like $15 or $20 which is ridiculous considering the price of the iPod shuffle.

YMMV. The main way I have seen people carry iPod shuffles so far was clipped to their pockets. I.e. where they could have just stuck the thing into the pocket.

So removing the standard USB port and using a Dock instead somehow makes it worse because it loses features it never had?! Seriously, that’s just an idiotic statement to make.

Yes it (the removing) is. It means that you cannot connect the iPod to any computer to walk up to. But it doesn’t actually offer any improved features (and adds more cable/clutter to your computer).

To me ‘bringing in line’ with other iPods would mean having a proper iPod dock connector that means the iPod shuffle can also be used with the myriads of 3rd party accesories. Of course getting the dock connector in there would be hard, but that really is Apple’s problem. Either when designing their iPods or their dock connectors.

It’s clear to me that you don’t actually think that you would find an iPod shuffle useful. You say you see how others might find it useful, but even if Apple fixed your complaints, removed the clip, offered it in whatever color you actually wanted, and replaced the standard USB port, you still wouldn’t buy it.

You might be wrong there. I am frequently contemplating to get a used first generation iPod shuffle.

But on the whole, this post seems to be a lot of misplaced complaining.

I didn’t notice any complaining. In fact I think I even used the words ‘clever’, ‘genius’ and ‘overdeliver’ in relation with Apple which is much more than I usually do.

September 6, 2007, 9:00

Comment by Dave2: User icon

I don’t even know where to start.

First of all, I think the clip on the iPod Shuffle is genius. So handy to clip to your shirt or pocket so that the controls are handy. The thing is so small that NOT having a clip would make it almost impossible to use (and the incredibly small size is WHY it doesn’t have a USB plug on it… which I would have thought was obvious, but oh well). I love mine so much I bought two of them… one for music (on shuffle) and one for audio-books (no-shuffle). They are perfect travel companions that are practically unnoticeable, which is exactly as it should be. Thank heavens you don’t have a design position at Apple, because I’d hate to be stuck with the massive piece of crap that has a built-in USB port and a standard iPod dock! That is totally not what this product is about.

I think the iPod nano is pretty cool… if you think it “looks like shit” then lets see you come up with a design that is that small which has widescreen for video. There’s only so many configurations you can have, and this one seems a heck of a lot more natural than if they had done the screen and the click-wheel side-by-side, which really WOULD look like shit. What Apple came up with is small, fits easily in your pocket, and has VIDEO. Pretty amazing.

iPhone without the bad bits? Don’t get me started. I’ve owned several mobiles, a Treo, and a Blackberry… the iPhone is easily the best of the lot. It is the single best purchase I’ve made in recent memory. I use it constantly, and it is a godsend while traveling. I can’t imagine my life without it now that I own one. I can’t wait to see what happens with iPhone next, and applaud Apple for FINALLY making a mobile phone that is actually a joy to use instead of the total shit that has been crammed down our throats for ages by companies that just don’t care.

I won’t even go into the color choices, which are wholly subjective. Apparently you speak for the entire world when it comes to what colors people want, so I’ll just take your word for it.

September 6, 2007, 9:43

Comment by Simone Manganelli: User icon

To me ‘bringing in line’ with other iPods would mean having a proper iPod dock connector that means the iPod shuffle can also be used with the myriads of 3rd party accesories. Of course getting the dock connector in there would be hard, but that really is Apple’s problem. Either when designing their iPods or their dock connectors.

You’re missing the point. Your definition of ‘bringing in line’ still means that you “cannot connect the iPod to any computer to [you?] walk up to”. If you want to gripe about the iPod shuffle requiring a Dock, that’s fine and dandy, but saying “this is a step back in pretty much every regard” implies that you lost other features with the switch from standard USB port to non-standard iPod Dock, which is flatly not true.

I didn’t notice any complaining.

I noticed “less good looks”, “idiotic”, “dull”, “middle-of-mediocrity”, “shit”, etc. :rolleyes:

September 6, 2007, 9:55

Comment by ssp: User icon

@Dave2:

The thing is so small that NOT having a clip would make it almost impossible to use

I’m not sure. I’d say it’s so small and light that it’s totally feasibly to not even need to clip it anywhere. If you thing your pockets are too far, you could just leave it hanging down.

I think the iPod nano is pretty cool… if you think it “looks like shit” then lets see you come up with a design that is that small which has widescreen for video.

Oh, I can see why this kind of design is needed if you want wide-screen video and a (tiny) scroll wheel. And the arrangement may be so canonical that even I might have ‘come up’ with it. But that doesn’t make the thing look better, does it?

The ‘pretty amazing’ thing would have been to put the touch screen on the nano iPod as well. But I guess the time for that hasn’t come yet. So possibly the fifth generation iPod mini design will look good once more.

iPhone without the bad bits?

I am sure many people like it, the fact that so many happily forked over almost USD 2000 to Apple and AT&T proves that. Still, many other people don’t want (or need) to spend loads of money on a mobile phone contract which is part of the iPhone experience. And other people want fast data access on their phone and may prefer one with UMTS access that can also be a modem for their computer. You may not be one of them, but the iPhone deal just isn’t very attractive for those people, even though they might like the other aspects of the iPhone. The iPhone iPod solves that.

[I think your question completely misses the point here. Nobody doubts that the iPhone is revolutionary UI wise. And nobody doubts that trying to outdo other mobile phone companies UI wise is like shooting fish in barrel. But still, the iPhone’s networking power isn’t the best. And both that and the contract you need to get with it will not suit everybody.]

@Simone: I hope saying: ‘all the disadvantages of a Dock with out potential’ advantages will be clear enough.

OMG, a ‘shit’ sneaked into my text! If you take any such negative comment of mine as ‘complaining’, then I beg you to also label me as a mindless Apple fanboy for calling the iPod mini a ‘beauty’. If ‘looks like shit’ and ‘is a beauty’ is what comes to my mind when seeing these toys, that’s it. These aren’t complaints, they are just my view on the toys. You don’t complain about the Mac press raving madly about the iPods’ beauty either, do you?

September 6, 2007, 11:20

Comment by Dave2: User icon

Funny. I’m paying $20 LESS per month with AT&T per month for the same 450 minutes plus data than I was getting with Verizon. Not only does iPhone make the data services something actually useful, but it’s cheaper as well. Heck my iPhone pays for itself by the time my two-year contract is up! Of course, now that Steve’s giving all iPhone early-adopters $100 at the Apple Store, I guess it pays for itself sooner than that. When people whine, Steve listens!

So when you say “people don’t want to spend loads on a contract” I just don’t get it. You make it sound as though that vast majority of people want high-speed data (which is in very limited coverage) or to use their phone as a computer modem. This seems rather far-fetched to me, as so much about what makes an iPhone great is already there. When you are lost on a rural road somewhere in the backwaters of Georgia, do you really care that a Google map takes 10 seconds to load instead of 5? Not that a rural road in the backwaters of Georgia would ever have 3G high-speed coverage, but still.

The comparative low cost of an AT&T contract make the amazing features of the iPhone the bargain of the century. I just don’t know how any other conclusion can be drawn when I’m saving $20 a month! :-)

September 7, 2007, 1:11

Comment by ssp: User icon

@Dave2:

As usual we have vastly different needs. From my point of view needing 450 minutes of mobile phone talk time would be more than enough for two years. I just wouldn’t need it every month.

And at least among the people I know, extremely few need mobile phone data services. And those who do actually want them because they live in areas without DSL where they have decent UMTS connections for an internet connections. None of these needs is fulfilled by the iPhone deal.

If you used to spend USD 80 or more per month on your mobile phone, great for you. Most people I know spend half or rather a quarter of that.

It’s great that the iPhone deal perfectly suits your needs and that you’ll even get a retro-discount now, but that’s no reason to pretend it will suit everyone’s needs.

September 7, 2007, 1:38

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