Sunday, August 22, 2010

iPods Suck!

The iPod, while initially a revolutionary device, has a very clunky user interface for large amounts of music. The iTunes software when run on Windows, is slow and difficult to use. And like all Apple products, it is configured to tie you into their propitiatory software and marketing.

I just wasted several hours of my life updating my iPod. It is a difficult thing to do, and often when you are done, you end up with duplicate or even triplicate copies of songs on the device, or find your playlists scrambled.

When the device came out, granted, it was revolutionary. Apple bought up the entire first year's production of 1-inch hard drives, mated them to a D/A converter, a small display, and a unique user interface. Suddenly, music from your CDs could be downloaded onto this small device, which wouldn't skip while you jogged.

But as the drives got larger and larger, the once-vaunted "wheel" design became clunky and hard to use. Putting everything in alphabetical order only seemed like the least intuitive way of organizing things. Even the hip Onion News made fun of the wheel interface.

The problem with the iPod is that it uses a proprietary format for your music, so when you download music from your CDs, you have to convert to their format. The problem is, the format is based on the MP3 standard, and it does not provide the full range of audio playback suitable for use on a home stereo. For headphone use, it may be acceptable, but on a stereo, it sounds a little tinny.

Because of this, I rip my CDs into Windows Media Player format, at high resolution (the iPod does not give an option of bit rate for your music, whereas Windows Media Player does). Hooking my laptop to the stereo, I can play back all of my CDs at full resolution, and also have a much, much easier user interface to use than iTunes, which is designed more for selling you songs from their website.

Also, if you use only the iTunes format for your ripped CDs, well, you lose all your data if your computer files are corrupted or you move to a new computer. Better to have "source" data for your iPod tunes, or you risk losing it all if iTunes crashes (you could always load your 1500 CDs onto the thing again, but maybe not).

Converting files from Windows format to Apple format is a slow and painful process, usually requiring the computer to run overnight. And the result is often that the associated data and album artwork is scrambled.

Want to update your iPod? Better have access to the original computer you formatted it on. The iPod will only "sync" with its original mate, and if you want to add more music, you can't do it from another computer - that is, unless you want to wipe it out and start over. So if your computer crashes or is obsolete and you sell it, well, you have to re-install all your songs on your iPod all over again. What could be simpler?

As I write this, I am updating my iPod. The original iTunes files were corrupted, so I had to re-load all my music. If I had relied on iTunes to store all of my files, I would have lost ALL of my music (over 8,000 songs). Fortunately, I stored the music in the higher resolution Windows Media Player format, and the only thing I need to do now is convert this data to iTunes format and then resync the iPod.

Simple, eh? Well, it has been running for nearly 48 hours now, and still has not completed the conversion. Ouch!

So why do I have an iPod? Well since they were the first and fastest to market and command a near monopoly share, all the accessories for MP3 players are designed around the iPod. My alarm clock, external speakers, and car stereo interface are all iPod standard. It is much harder, if not impossible, to get similar interfaces and matching equipment for generic MP3 players or the ill-fated "Zune".

Of course, there are "hacks" in the Internet which allow you to unlock an iPod or work around the restrictions. But these are clunky as well and require a familiarity with computers.

And that's the rub. Because the of clumsiness of the user interface, I am forever being asked to help people out with their iPods. The vaunted "intuitiveness" of Apple software notwithstanding, no one seems to be able to figure out how to work the damn things. So most folks load music on their iPod and leave it at that.

And we wonder why the music industry it dying out. If you need a degree in Computer Science just to buy a song online, that leaves out a whole generation of Americans, basically anyone over 50.

A better solution would be a player that plays multiple song formats, so you don't have to reformat songs into proprietary formats to fit them into the hard drive (hard drives are huge now, why bother?). And it should be easy to use, so that one wrong click doesn't simply erase all of your work.

Of course, such a device would make it easier to pirate music, and no one would bother to purchase music anymore. Making these types of devices easy to use, while still protecting digital rights (without being fascist) and actually promoting music purchases is one conundrum that has yet to be solved.

Maybe someone will invent something. But please, not anything from Apple!