November 21, 2006
I have a great deal of respect for Apple's iPod juggernaut. They've almost single-handedly legitimized the market for downloadable music. The kind you pay for. The kind that, at least in theory, supports the artists who produce the music instead of ripping them off.
That said, I have some problems with the iPod.
- The iPod is boring. How can I properly rage against the machine with the same standard, factory issue music players that everyone else has? I don't want this to devolve into a knee-jerk rejection of all iThings, but let's be honest here: when every soccer Mom carries an iPod, it's no longer a cool technical accessory. It's completely mainstream. I'd be lying if I said this didn't matter to me.
- The iPod has no support for subscription services. I'm a member of Yahoo Music Unlimited, which gives me unlimited access to a massive library of music for 6 bucks a month. I can stream any of this music to multiple PCs, or I can download it to my hard drive or mobile audio players. And it's in a very respectable 192kbps 2-pass CBR format, too. For that same six bucks a month, I could buy a whopping six tracks from the iTunes store. While I can certainly understand the desire to own music, why not give us a choice? Apple's insistence on purchase-only models is a huge mistake.
- The iPod does not support WMA. Although Jobs grudgingly made the iPod Windows compatible two years after its introduction, he still gets his jabs in. The conspicuous lack of WMA support is a not-so-subtle f*ck you to the Windows community. And what of OGG? Or FLAC? Clearly, the hardware is capable, but the political forces inside Apple won't allow it. You'd figure a company that had the guts to make a stunning, wholesale switch to x86 processors could deign to support a few alternative audio formats on their music players. But no.
- The iPod lacks features. I'll never understand why the iPod chooses to deliberately ignore FM radio and its rich history in the music industry. Heck, you might even want to record FM radio. That's just crazy talk! And the list goes on: there's no voice recording, no EQ settings, no gapless playback, etcetera.
- The iPod requires custom software to work. Every music player on the market should have this down to a science by now:
- plug in the USB cable
- drag and drop your music on the device
- disconnect the cable and ROCK
The iPod fails miserably on this count: it requires iTunes installed (or another custom application) to transfer any music to the device. You can't even use it as an external hard drive without setting up a separate, special partition on the device first. Of course, use iTunes if you want, but you shouldn't be forced to use iTunes because the hardware is a brick if you don't. How did Apple get this so very, very wrong?
Now, your goals may not be my goals. But when my wife wanted a new music player to replace her aging Rio Carbon (RIP-- a great little player for its time), these are the criteria I used to evaluate them.
Unfortunately, music devices that can be used seamlessly and interchangeably as a generic external USB hard drive and digital music player are quite rare. The sole exception, at least for hard-disk devices, is the Cowon X5L. The Cowon is a decent player, but it suffers from Soviet Russia-era design aesthetics. Due to lack of choices, I was forced to compromise on devices that support Microsoft's Media Transfer Protocol. When connected to a Windows XP or Windows Vista machine, MTP support allows you to drag and drop music directly on to the device-- without installing any software. It's not ideal, since it's tied to Microsoft, but it's the best I can do.
The Digital Audio Players Review website had the most helpful advice. Their top pick was the
Creative Zen Vision:M. I agreed, so I went with the pink one. You know, for the ladies.
It's a great little device, and as promised, we just dragged and dropped our music on it-- which happens to be a mix of MP3 and WMA files. And it worked with our Yahoo Music Unlimited subscription as well.
To complement the 30gb hard drive player, I also picked up a flash device-- the new, larger 4gb iRiver Clix.
I've owned a few iRiver products in the past and they've always been excellent. dapreview gave the Clix high marks, and so has everyone else who has reviewed it. The feature set is great. It meets every one of my criteria, throws in video support, and even goes a little beyond with support for Flash Lite games.
I respect the way the pioneering iPod has collectively led the industry out of the dark Napster ages. And I like the iPod design. But until Apple at least supports subscription services and the WMA/FLAC/OGG file formats, I can't justify purchasing any iPod hardware.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
"Back when I had a media player that worked like a regular fs I wrote a small app that fitted my routine."
You illustrate my point exactly. The idea is one of layman useability. In order for you to use your player the way you wanted, you felt the need to write your own script to load it. A non-technogeek wouldn't dream of such a thing. The software that comes with the box is all they'll ever use, or _maybe_ a popular, pre-developed alternative. They'll certainly not create scripts or even search for and tweak an obscure file manager to meet their individual needs.
It's true that a filesystem-style player can have many varied apps written for it with lots of choices and configurations and no take-it-or-leave-it standard. That's precisely what kills it for many users.
I think iPod and iTunes are great tools for music listeners. There may be better ones and iPod and iTunes could be improved, but I am quite content with those. Though I miss some good songs that I can name that are not for sale in iTunes. It is always a dissappointment, when you browse like hundreds of average songs in iTunes and then you find somewhere else some info about a great song, but then the song is not in iTunes for sale.
There actually are lots of average music, but somehow I only like some of good hits. Music does not have to be super brilliant, but just good enough and sort of that I like.
And this is of course a difficult one: How do I find the music I want in iTunes? If there were a list which had like 50 songs that I like, I would buy them all. But no, there are like one song here and another there, and I have to really seek for them - many times with help of information picked up from somewhere else. The beta version of "Just for you" and hot lists are not helping much at all, maybe little.
I wonder how many of the Apple fanboys in here realize that they're the ones that Jeff was talking about in point #1. Maybe some of them do and that's why they've got their knickers in a not.
I tend to be agnostic toward the evangelism and not deliberately try to disassociate myself with a particular demographic, UNLESS it tries to do "forced conversions". The farcical overreactions of some people to any criticism of the iPod basically ends up being free advertising for the Other Guys.
As for subscription services and compatibility, don't hold your breath. Apple's revenue from the iTunes store dwarfs what the iPods themselves bring in, and they understandably don't want to kill their own golden goose. It's a major negative for the iPod, but it's a perfectly good business strategy for Apple.
Well I am not actually a iPod fan, but iPod is good enough for me. I think music is more important than having not exotic non-main-stream walkman.
Though I spent this evening searhing for music in iTunes. It has many different kinds of rating, searching, and sample features, but still I managed to buy just one song this evening. And that song was good only in the very beginning and in the very end, but mostly I did not like it. Maybe some 2% of all the songs are such that I do not like after purchase when I hear the whole song. Of course, there just does not exist too many brilliant songs in the first place...
Now here is another one. Fairly ok, but less than perfect: DJ Luka "I Found Peace (Radio Edit)". I bought this too. Dragged to my list, and its going to iPod with sync. Easy.
I recently got a new Toshiba Gigabeat to replace the Nomad 3 that made a break for it when I was at the gym sometime. It's a sexy little piece of machinery - 60 GB of storage, plays videos off of my Tivo, has MTP support, yadda yadda yadda.
My girlfriend's got an iPod and she likes it OK enough, but no radio tuner (which mine's got), the very real possibility of using iTunes and the awkward iPod interface were dealbreakers - I know people love the interface, but I've got 50-odd gigs of albums on my player and sorting by genre just doesn't do it - the joystick-ish interface with the overlaid letters works better for me.
Unfortunately, I got mine in shiny black instead of kawaii pink. My loss.
If all your friends have it, it must be good. IPod has penetrated the market so, that lots of people has iPod. And thanks to Apple, iPod is a good player, that is, the player does work. And it is at least fairly easy to use. And there is a distribution channel of music, namely iTunes. So this is a sure bet, if you do not want to take your chances with other players. Now Microsoft is coming with Zune, and we shall see, what happens. Its certain that some people will buy Zune, and so Microsoft may take some market share. Apple needs to keep going in order to be able to compete.
actually, if you just download sharepod, which is saved on the ipod itself, you can make music go from computer to ipod OR ipod to computer(any computer) completely itunes-free. and if you want your wma music, well, you still cant have it like it is but if you get a file conversion software like switch then you can just change it to mp3 or m4a or really whatever you want. my biggest complaint about the ipod is the fact that its so much more expensive than other players with more storage and more features that you dont have to pay extra for. its just stupid.
Look, I appreciate all the points you've raised, and yes, the lack of drag and drop capability can be rather irritating, also, I have a lot of music in flac and adding that can be a real pain, but then, I've been using a 160 GB iPod Classic for several years now, and it just blows anything else right out of the water for sheer capacity. iTunes has it's quirks, but it just takes a bit of getting used to. I haven't found any other portable music player, that can hold 160GB or more, and is widely available in India, which is where I live. The iPod (160 Gb Classic, specifically) may have it's problems, but it's the best that I have found.