Beyond the Barline
Too Much Hype
Well, it happened again. Apple started the hype machine rolling over a new, top-secret product. All that they revealed was that it would be “the next big thing,” but “not a Mac.” Then the rumors started flying. “It’s a PDA/TiVO/game console/AirPort-connected/Postage-stamp sized handheld that costs under $200!” Anything less would be a disappointment. Then, after all the hype and anticipation, October 23rd finally came, and Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s new iPod MP3 player. The Mac community responded with a collective groan.
This is what all the fuss was about?
The blame has to fall squarely on Jobs’ shoulders. He throws about terms like “revolutionary” and “stunning” and phrases like “never before possible” and “nothing like this before” so cavalierly that almost anything Apple’s engineers come up with will pale in comparison to his hype. No, the iPod isn’t revolutionary, and it isn’t cheap (Steve still manages the former from time to time, while leaving the latter to his buddy, Michael Dell), but it is a small, light MP3 player with lots of space and a blazing transfer rate. So what are its strengths and its weaknesses?
It Has FireWire
Perhaps Apple’s biggest innovation is incorporating a FireWire interface in an MP3 player. This gives iPod two distinct advantages. First, the transfer speeds are dramatically improved. 5 GB of MP3s makes more sense when you can load them in a reasonable time. USB is way too slow for large numbers of audio file transfers, even those in the highly compressed MP3 format. Second, the FireWire cable also carries power, so your Mac can recharge your iPod while it’s synchronizing your music.
This is worth at least some fuss.
It’s Also a Hard Drive
What if you don’t have a hundred CDs encoded on your hard drive ready to load onto iPod? You can use it as a portable FireWire hard drive as well. A 5 GB FireWire hard drive the size of a deck of cards is pretty cool, too.
It’s Not Only Small, It’s Light
The point of MP3 players is portability. At 6.5 oz., iPod has set a new standard for portability. It also meets Jobs’ definition of “sex appeal,” which he used in January when comparing the Power Book G4’s form factor with the Sony VAIO’s.
It’s not perfect. It costs a hefty $399, placing it out of the range of the average teen or twenty-something who would be Apple’s most likely customer. It only works on a Mac, and only on either Mac OS X 10.1 or Mac OS 9.2.1. If you’ve been hanging out with OS 8.6, 9.04, or even 9.1, waiting for the dust to clear around OS X, you’re out of luck (though I suppose the drive would still mount, and you could transfer the files manually). It also lacks a line level out (though an RCA adapter will get around this limitation) and, most significantly, an audio input.
What’s So Important About An Audio Input?
At the moment, iPod is just the latest, and priciest, in a long line of MP3 players. With an audio input and portable microphones equal in quality to the audio output and included headphones, Apple would have a device that would compete with MP3 players, MiniDisc recorders, and even portable DATs. That’s a lot more value, and would warrant the $399 price tag.
How Does iPod Compare?
Finally, let’s get an idea of how iPod stacks up against the competition. A comparison like this is far less than complete, as it cannot take into account the intangibles of the individual owner’s taste and temperament, but it’s a good starting point.
|Model||iPod||Nomad Jukebox||Jukebox 6000|
|Capacity||5 GB||6 GB||6 GB|
|Size||4.02" x 2.43" x 0.78"||5" x 5" x 1.4"||4.5" x 3.2" x 1.3"|
|Weight||6.5 oz.||14 oz.||12 oz.|
|Audio Formats||MP3, AIFF, WAV||MP3, WAV||MP3|
|Memory Cache||32 MB||8 MB||2 MB|
|Audio Output||Stereo Mini-plug||Stereo Mini-plug||Stereo Mini-plug|
|Battery Life||10 hours||4 hours||8 hours|
|Mac OS Requirements||10.1 or 9.2.1||8.6||8.6|
|Syncs with iTunes2||Yes||No||No|
There are other players in iPod’s price range with 20 GB of storage (such as the $349 list Neo), but who wants to take the time to transfer 20 GB via USB?
Initial Opinion, Sight Unseen
Among MP3 players with similar capacity, iPod has the decided edge. It’s the first FireWire-enabled MP3 player, it’s small and lightweight, and it also has the extra bonus of synchronizing with iTunes2 (due out this month). But will it sell at $399 in a tight economy? Only time will tell.
Also in This Series
- Ready or Not! · November 2002
- The Other Petition · August 2002
- The Samples Have Been Changed to Protect the Innocent · May 2002
- Record Execs Ate My Hard Drive! · April 2002
- And the Award Goes to… · March 2002
- Expos, From a Distance · February 2002
- My Resolution · January 2002
- Too Much Hype · November 2001
- And They’re Off! · September 2001
- Complete Archive