Recipe for a Real Breakthrough

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Date: Wednesday, October 24th, 2001, 13:54
Category: Archive

Just like most people like us, I was waiting with baited breath for the announcement of Apple’s “breakthrough digital device.” Truth be told, I’m still waiting.

Don’t get me wrong. The iPod is an amazing MP3 player, but in the end that’s all it really is… an MP3 player. Granted, it doubles as hard drive, but this is hardly innovative. Others (Archos, Creative Labs, etc.) have been selling players with that feature for some time now. Archos offers a 20GB version with optional remote control and recently introduced a model that records!


Just like most people like us, I was waiting with baited breath for the announcement of Apple’s “breakthrough digital device.” Truth be told, I’m still waiting.

Don’t get me wrong. The iPod is an amazing MP3 player, but in the end that’s all it really is… an MP3 player. Granted, it doubles as hard drive, but this is hardly innovative. Others (Archos, Creative Labs, etc.) have been selling players with that feature for some time now. Archos offers a 20GB version with optional remote control and recently introduced a model that records!

The only true innovations introduced with iPod are the integration with iTunes and the FireWire interface. As far as integration with iTunes goes, who better to do it right than Apple? Just attach the iPod to your Mac and iTunes launches and synchronizes all your music between iPod and desktop seamlessly. If it works as described, it’s simply beautiful.

But how much weight should that capability receive? If another manufacturer were willing to spend time on a decent plug-in this feature could be added to any player. I’ll admit it probably wouldn’t be as slick as Apple’s implementation (few doppelgangers are), but I would hardly call this feature a “breakthrough.”

For my money the one feature that sets this player apart from the others is FireWire, Apple’s high-speed interface that allows transfer of data at rates of up to 400Mbps – 30 times faster than USB. You can copy an album to your iPod in 10 seconds! The speed is great, but the coolest part of is that FireWire also supplies power to the iPod. It charges right off your desktop machine! In fact the AC Adapter they sell for the iPod is just a power brick with a FireWire port. That’s just too cool and undoubtedly enables the iPod’s small size.

On the other hand, it’s most likely FireWire that sets the price of the iPod. Other companies have 20GB/USB devices for the same price as Apple’s 5GB/FW device. So you have to ask yourself which is more important, storage capacity or transfer speed? Personal preference I guess. Would you want to hold more music than you can play in a single charge? Do you have an hour to spare to transfer your music? Not me. Is the iPod’s FireWire a breakthrough? Only for impatient people.

If you really want to make a breakthrough product here are a few ideas off the top of my head…

  • Do more with the LCD screen! Show a graphic equalizer or iTunes visual plug-in. Show me a picture of the album’s cover. Eye candy, sure, but who else does it? Let me view text and picture files (even movies!) from the hard drive. iPod could be a basic digital book. I could view a list of phone numbers and appointments and leave my Palm at home.
  • When the iPod is connected to a desktop Mac you should be able to hear your music through the desktop speakers via FireWire. Then if I’m at someone else’s machine I can listen to my music without headphones and without giving them a copy of my music. The RIAA would like that.
  • The ability to connect it to a digital camcorder and record directly to iPod instead of tape. It could automatically launch iMovie when you attach it to the desktop.
  • You should be able to attach a FireWire camera or microphone and record directly to the iPod. Or even attach an FM Radio module.
  • Since FireWire supplies the power, how about an extended battery pack for twice the play time? Or a module that uses standard AA batteries in case I can’t charge it on the road?

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you’ve had some of your own, long before iPod came along. With a name like iPod I’d expect it to be a little more versatile. Pod implies that it can connect to more than just one thing and store/present more types of info than just music.

The interface is flawless and ultimately what Apple does best. Based solely on the demo at Apple’s Web site I already know how to use it. The interface is so simple, there’s really nothing you can do wrong to hear the song you want. The only thing that bothers me about the design is that it has no clip or strap or any provision for carrying the iPod besides putting it in your pocket. Why in the name of all that is geeky would Apple design such a beautiful machine and then make me carry it in my pocket where nobody can see it? What were you thinking, Jonathan Ive? I predict we’ll soon see a slew of cool looking iPod carrying cases (that are just a wee bit too small for you Palm Pilot).

Overall the iPod is a beautiful device, but certainly not the “breakthrough” it was hyped as. When I heard the word breakthrough I was expect a device that would convert the masses. Something so amazing that people would have to have it because it’s the best and people who didn’t get it would feel like the were “settling” for something less. I don’t get that feeling with the iPod.

All the things I’ve mentioned compounded with the fact that the necessary iTunes is Mac-only software, it seems Apple is preaching to the choir. But boy, can they preach! Praise Jobs and pass the iPod! When I’m in the market for an MP3 Player, I will likely get an iPod. I just hope enough other people feel the same way that the iPod isn’t listed after eMate in the history books.

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