Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Sunday, April 24, 2005 2:40 am
What more can the iPod do? My lateral thought.
The Apple iPod is a magnificent device. I have had 2 different iPods—the first generation, and a 3rd generation 20 GB one. Sadly they did not fit into my digital lifestyle, and both have been eBayed.

At the time, my work consisted of answering a pager, or concentrating on a task, so listening to headphones wasn’t conducive. My work travel time was about 15–20 minutes, so the hassle of charging, carrying and hiding an iPod wasn’t worth it. When at a desk, I would listen to music on my PowerBook via speakers or earphones (if I was at home). Having an iPod also meant more cables, a dock, charger, case which was just more, in an already cluttered life.

Since then newer iPods have been released. As always the hard disk capacity increase; aside from that new features have been colour, and a longer battery life. Nice. But eventually all iPods with screens will have them in colour. And then what? Possibly OLED screens? Video maybe?

Larger iPod capacities introduce a problem on their own: the current concept of using an iPod involves synchronising data from a computer to the iPod hard disk. As iPods reach 80 and 100 GB, they will be catching up with laptop hard disks, which then mean that synchronising by itself no longer becomes a feasible thing. The Mac mini would have the same problem. “Real” desktop hard disks now go up to 250 or 400 GB so not yet a problem there. Soon either portable computer users start to put their music on external hard disks; or the iPod starts to become more of a hard disk backup and not synchronise everthing.

So far, iTunes’ design as having a monolithic music database has compounded the problem somewhat. It takes effort to maintain a music database with external hard disks, or in multiple locations, while avoiding deleted or duplicated files. I wonder if Apple will eventually recognise this problem by fixing it the “Apple-way”—which involves buying more iPods.

The fix
What if Apple further emphasised the iPod’s role as a music carrying device, adding a feature such that our music is only stored on the iPod? This eliminates the full music library from the notebook or desktop machine. At any time when we launch iTunes to listen to our MP3s, the MP3 files are streamed off the connected iPod. Clever buffering technology could then cache our most played songs and playlists on the notebook/desktop machine hard disk without user intervention. Similarly, groups of songs could be copied at a time to the notebook/desktop hard disk allowing the iPod hard disk to spin down. Disconnecting the iPod then still allows the user to listen to a subset of his entire library.

There are many benefits of this. Primarily is that it involves mostly innovative software. No tweaking to the iPod is necessary—essentially a portable hard disk itself; although knowing Apple they would probably market it as a new feature unavailable to older iPods.

For the user, it allows one to get rid of entire libraries of music—a duplicate of what is already on an iPod anyway. I now have 26 GB of music on my 80 GB PowerBook hard disk.

The benefits to Apple are plenty. If our music is solely on the iPod, our dependence on Apple’s white portable audio player increases. The iPod becomes even more associated with the music listening—even at our computers. Currently iPod=music. My plan can change this (slightly) to music=iPod. And maybe more people would buy iPods because they are running out of space to fit those pirated MP3 files. Of course it just so happens that they can listen to their music on the run as well. It’s all good for Apple.

Eventually, it may even be possible to plug my white music player into any computer, and listen to my music via iTunes. Listening only, not copying of course (and authorisation still applies). This way, I get to manipulating music and playlists on via iTunes (infinitely easier than on an iPod). I also get the benefit of desktop speakers, and charge my iPod battery at the same time.

Bad points: It does introduce some complexity to the current “just sync and it works” strategy—which is why the above idea should be optional. Secondly, having a redundant duplicate of our music, is a good thing—which is why the music needs to be further backed up to CDs/DVDs/more external hard disks. Backing up is a good thing, and more is better. It just doesn’t need to be in my PowerBook internal hard disk, that’s all.

[posted with ecto]

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