iPodservations II: The White Earphone Club [Updated]

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Date: Friday, December 14th, 2001, 02:02
Category: Archive

You are probably asking yourself “What the heck is the white earphones club?” This is the phenomenon when you are iPodding, minding your own business and someone comes up to you and asks “is that an iPod you are listening to?” It is usually followed by a “do you mind if I look at it?” The white earphones, it seems, are a dead giveaway. If this happens to you, smile and let them check it out (assuming you are in a safe neighborhood). My favorite thing to do is to hand it to them without saying a word.


You are probably asking yourself “What the heck is the white earphone club?” This is the phenomenon when you are iPodding, minding your own business and someone comes up to you and asks “is that an iPod you are listening to?” It is usually followed by a “do you mind if I look at it?” The white earphones, it seems, are a dead giveaway. If this happens to you, smile and let them check it out (assuming you are in a safe neighborhood). My favorite thing to do is to hand it to them without saying a word.

In the several times that this has happened to me the recipient has always figured out the menus and navigation system on the iPod in less than five seconds. A testament to the excellent, if oversimplified, operating system on the device. The second question I usually get is “where is the stop button?” I still don’t have an answer for that one yet.

Battery life has been excellent on my iPod with yields frequently passing the 12 hour mark despite Apple’s 10 hour estimate. The problem is that my iPod starts acting flaky when the battery gets low. Apple would be better served to start blinking the battery icon earlier in the discharge cycle, giving more feedback to the user as to the charge status. Recharging takes about three hours and could use a little improvement. While charging the battery icon cycles through the charge-level bars sequentially, but give no indication as to where it is in the charge cycle. The icon should act more like a cell phone battery icon and turn a bar solid at intervals so that you can tell how long is remaining with a glance.

While on the topic of batteries: be sure to download and install iPod Update 1.0.2, if you haven’t already, as it fixes a sleep issue that can render your iPod comatose when the battery gets below a certain threshold. I recommend that you install the update from a machine with bus power (i.e. a native FireWire port). If you don’t have such a machine, you may have to plug your iPod into the wall charger to complete the update process. Also, do not cancel the update process as this has caused problems for some users.

A number of iPod cases have emerged in recent weeks including models from Waterfield Design, JR Hill & Company, OWC and Marware and they all have their merits. While waiting to receive cases from these vendors to review on the Go2Mac I still use my Incase MD/MP3 music belt while working out (it has a separate zippered compartment for headphones) and a quikClip attached to my belt or pocket all other times. The combination of Incase and quikClip have served me well so far.

One must for all iPoders should be the Port Protector. I took one of the Protectors, originally designed to cover the ports on the side of the iBook (Dual USB), and cut out the FireWire plug. It works marvelously in the iPod’s naked FireWire port and keeps errant dirt and taco bits from clogging the exposed opening. Sure it is a little expensive at US$16 to use for only one port (two actually, if you also use the eighth-inch plug), but undoubtedly less expensive than any repair to the iPod.

One thing that I am in search of is a good cell phone cradle and flexible arm combination that I can use to mount the iPod in my car. I want such a device so that I can easily glance over and check out any song’s title/artist/album without taking my hands off the wheel. Some interesting candidates are the Panavise PortaGrip 2000 and Revolv Design’s Heavy Duty Pedestal Mount. If you have found a pedestal mount that works for you, please post it in the Go2Mac iPod message boards.

Having good ID3 tags and being able to find a song name is one of the truly best things about having an MP3 player. Especially since radio stations rarely, if ever, announce song or artist names any more. Now, if I could just get a satellite radio attachment for my iPod.

Have you had a chance to check out the VST/SmartDisk FireFly drive? It looks like an iPod (minus the MP3 decoder) and appears to be based on the same 1.8-inch HDD mechanism as the iPod – but retails for the same US$400 price tag.

There has been a lot of discussion about the best way to connect and iPod to a car stereo system – undoubtedly one of its most popular applications. In terms of ease, you can’t go wrong with a US$20 cassette adapter (assuming your rig has a casette deck). The advantage is that it is cheap and simple, the disadvantage is that your sound quality is something just better than the drive through speaker at your favorite fast-food establishment. It is a tragedy to spend US$400 on such a cool MP3 player (ahem, digital hub) and to painstakingly rip all of your CDs at 192 kbps only to have them sound like the last cassette you played. Breakfast Club soundtrack, anyone?

That said, some modern car audio head units come with an auxillary input (either on the rear, or if you’re lucky in the front) that allow you to easily connect an MP3 player. If you have a factory system or an older third party radio the job gets a little harder. If you have a CD changer attached, there is some possibility that you can tap into it to produce an extra input, but it usually requires an additional piece of hardware. Sony head units that have changer controls can be upgraded with the addition of an auxiliary input selector or “aux box” (like the Sony model XA-107, for instance). Once installed, clicking on the source button will now toggle between the internal CD, CD changer and Auxillary.

Several times in the past two weeks I have set up several playlists in iTunes 2, synced with my iPod, only to have several of the songs not sync to the iPod – although others did. This was especially disconcerting when I found out that several SNL clips I loaded into my comedy playlist did not sync before a road trip from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. (Have you heard Will Farrell doing Neil Diamond?) The solution is to uncheck the trouble playlist in the iPod settings in iTunes, sync, then check it and sync again. So far, this seems to work each time, but I find it troubling that I now have to double check my playlists on the iPod after each sync or risk missing songs.

The FireWire cable also requires a perfect connection on the iPod. A couple of times while connected with a non-Apple FireWire cable the connection came a little loose on the iPod end and it disappeared from iTunes prompting the “undo whatever you did” dialog box. This is probably a result of being bus-powered. If the contact is less than perfect and one of the power contacts comes loose, it is the same as unplugging the cable altogether. Be especially cautious when transferring data as losing contact can cause data loss.

Some minor gripes about the OS. While unbelievably easy to master and simple to even the most novice user, it could use a little more intelligence. One of my biggest annoyances is the

small maximum character length of song and album titles. When scrolling between panes long song names are truncated with an ellipses (“…”) in the middle. This makes it difficult to tell the difference between multiple remixes of a given song. Remixes are famous for their long song titles, usually the result of the DJ credits in brackets after the original song name. Not to mention problems with songs like “Elderly Woman Behind A Counter In An Old Town” which gets truncated to “Elderly Woman Beh…” A simple solution would be to add an option wrap long names to two or more lines on the display.

One aesthetic feature i would really like to see is the option of a simple visual during playback. I realize that the display is only one-bit, but it would be cool if Apple developed a visual plug-in or two that could be displayed instead of the standard “now playing” screen. The Sony Clie MP3 player “AudioPlayer” has a cool visual option.

Some tips and tricks worth noting: pressing and holding the “menu” button enables the backlight on the fly. This is especially useful if you keep the backlight off and don’t want to fumble through the menus to turn it on. Forced FireWire mode allows you to connect to machines that don’t have bus power: reset (press and hold “menu” and “play/pause” for 10 seconds) when you see the Apple logo press and hold “forward” and “back” until you see the FireWire logo. If you feel like looking under the hood you can enable the diagnostic mode by resetting the iPod (“menu” and “play/pause”) then at the Apple logo press “enter” “forward” and “back”). An explanation of the diagnostic functions can be found here. To exit diagnostic mode reset by holding “menu” and “play/pause.”

If you are looking for the album list, it can be found under Artists/All, but should be moved to be a top level menu item. As I griped in iPodservations I, a top level choice is needed for genre. Sure, a workaround is to create genre playlists, but this is extra work and I already have enough playlists as it is. Also, cross fading is desperately needed on the iPod, once I got used to it in iTunes 2 I can’t live without it.

iTunes

iTunes 2 could also use a few improvements. First on the list is embedded or grouped playlists. I already have more than I can easily see on the screen at once and simply being able to nest these into subfolders with twirl-down menus would be a huge improvement. Also, the genre defaults in the drop down menu are excessive. Do we really need “Hip Hip,” “Hip Hop/Rap” and “Hip-Hop” for instance? it only confuses things when updating your ID3 tags (hmmm… which one did I use last time?). It turns out that the genre list is populated from ID3 tags from played songs. There more downloaded music you play in iTunes, the more funky your genre list is likely to be. Mine contains such gems as “Bubble Gum Candy Ass Rock,” “Porn Groove” and “Power Ballad.”

This could be easily remedied by adding your most frequently used genres to the top of the list with above a thin line – like Microsoft Word does with the font list and/or providing an “edit genres” screen. I would love to see beat matching in the next version of iTunes, it would be an excellent addition to the crossfade playback option.

Note: iTunes 2.0.3 was released earlier this evening:

iTunes 2.0.3 offers greater control when synchronizing iTunes with the iPod by transferring only the checked songs in your library and playlists to your iPod. This version also adds support for the Rio One MP3 player from SONICblue, a tool for correcting improperly encoded Unicode tags, and improved stability and performance.

Updated:

  • 14 Dec 12:53 – clarified where all those genres came from
  • 14 Dec 02:00 – added info about iTunes 2.0.3

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