Sunday, May 08, 2005

iTunes + iPod = Digital Fecal Matter: PART 1

I’ll admit it: I’m a digital music whore. And as Apple’s market share for digital music gets more obscene by the day, I am astounded by iPod and iTunes’ utter lack of features. This is the first of a multi-edition post. Here are my first two reasons why iTunes and iPods suck.

Reason 1- Battery Life:

On regular use, I’ve never had my iPod last longer than 6 hours, and most of that is without constantly thumbing through songs with the backlight on. And over intermittent use a little over 1 year, that’s already down to 5 hours maximum. That might sound like a lot of time to some of you, but at an average of 4 minutes a song that’s about 75 songs worth of battery life. I wonder why my iPod has 8,000 songs on it but I can only play 75 of them.

Now what am I comparing it to? About three and a half years ago I purchased the ARCHOS Jukebox Recorder, an MP3 player that went completely unnoticed. Granted it wasn’t perfect, but I could get about 20-something hours out of just one charge.

Nor does the iPod have a battery compartment; it has a built in battery, so you can’t buy an extra one for the road (huge aftermarket sales loss, hint hint). So what do I do on a flight from Berkeley to New York (not to mention New York to Pakistan)? My Archos ran on rechargeable AA batteries (of which ARCHOS provided two full sets), so I could get a good 40 hours of enjoyment and not have to go fiddling for a power adapter. Speaking of which…

Reason 2 - Charging Your Battery:

So apparently everyone goes ga-ga over the white minimalist look. It’s not bad, actually, though I resent the idea that Mac-heads think they invented style on a computer (when’s the last time you saw a modding site for Mac fans?). Anyway, one of the major philosophies apparent from many Apple products is their insistence on merging multiple cables into one. This can be a great philosophy if it’s done right and well thought out. The only problem is that if you have one cable for everything, sometimes you can only do one thing at a time…

Take a look at the bottom of the iPod (see picture). One flat port powers the iPod and transfers your music/data. Minimalist? Sure. Smart? No.

Figure 1: Single Interface Posted by Hello

So how can you charge your iPod? Well, if you have a standard firewire port, you can drink some power from your computer while you transfer your music; no biggie. But what if you don’t have one? Or what if you also use a laptop or you want to plug it into someone else’s computer? Apple also provides you with a power wall-adapter as well as a 4-pin firewire adapter (see picture). Enter the difficulties…

Figure 2: 4-pin adapter and wall adapter Posted by Hello

So you’re on the road; you’ve got your iPod and a laptop. After a whopping 5 hours, you’re out of battery life. Why not plug the iPod into your laptop? That way you can either 1) leave the iPod plugged in and recharge your iPod’s battery and/or 2) just play the music sitting on your iPod through your laptop instead. Unfortunately, the majority of laptops have a smaller 4-pin version of the firewire port (which Apple provides). But wait! The smaller adapter doesn’t distribute POWER to the iPod. That = dead iPod.

So I’m on the road in Boston after a flight and I have no juice on my iPod. Eureka! I’ll just buy a USB cable instead (since my laptop has a USB port). As most of you know, USB is a standard interface that provides power to your devices just like firewire. Apple sells these cables for $20. So I buy the USB cable and what do you know, Apple’s USB cable does NOT distribute power either. Very interesting how Apple fails to mention this on the box of the cable. Also interesting is how the “System Requirements” listed on the side of the original iPod packaging say “Firewire Port OR USB Required” even though they don’t give you a USB cable in the box. What if someone buys an iPod and they only have a USB port? Anyway, I digress.

Quick recap: you’ve got no large firewire port, no battery life, can’t use the small 4-pin adapter and can’t use the USB cable. How are you supposed to charge your iPod? “That’s what the wall adapter is for, you horse’s ass!” Not so fast.

If you saw the picture of the wall adapter, it has the two wall socket prongs on one side and a female end of a firewire slot on the other. Hence, instead of plugging the firewire cable into your computer, you’d take that same plug and insert it into the wall adapter. How sleek, right?

Normally, most electronics devices have a separate wall adapter for power and a separate interface for transmitting data. Normally, you can plug a device into the wall, have it charge AND plug the device into your computer so you can actually use it at the same time. So what happens when you merge both power and data interfaces together? Bad news folks. You have to sit there and wait for it to charge for six hours first before you can plug it into your laptop. Can’t do both at the same time folks. That is, unless you buy yet another cable…

Moral of the story: all of these problems could be fixed by either 1) having separate interfaces for power and data, 2) offering better battery life, 3) offering USB cables that distribute power and/or 4) letting users switch battery packs.

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