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iHype or iCool
The verdict is mixed

John Gaver
September 5, 2007

John GaverToday, after much media hype leading up to it, my favorite computer company, Apple, announced some new products and upgrades to others. So, was there real reason for all the hype or was it just a lot of wow about not-ready-for-prime-time products, like the iPhone? Well, until we can get our hands on those new products, we can't be sure, but the new products sound awesome. On the other hand, the upgrades to the iPhone amount to little more than a Band-Aid to treat a compound fracture.

Since I am a Mac Evangelist, I'll talk about the good stuff first. The whole iPod line has been revamped But, the biggest news is what appears to be a marvelous new iPod Touch.

The Touch looks and operates much like the iPhone, with the same kind of touch-screen, but without the phone. It even has wireless capabilities and will also allow you to access the iTunes Store from any Starbucks store. Neat, huh? It will also sport a version of Safari. However, there was no mention that the browser would work at Starbucks. This leads us to believe that the only place that the browser will work will be wherever you already have a trusted network. However, since that product will not ship until October, we probably won't be able to find out all of the details till then.

Now for the caveat. Did Apple use the same crippling, recessed headphone jack that it used in the iPhone or did they actually listen to all of the complaints about that worthless iPhone jack and actually make the Touch jack useable. If they used the same jack, then I would strongly recommend that music fanatics avoid the iPod Touch, since your audiophile headphones that likely cost as much or more than your Touch, probably won't fit the jack. (That jack, by the way, is just one of the many reasons why I returned my iPhone four days after I bought it.) If Apple has not ported the headphone jack problem to the Touch, then the iPod Touch might well represent the next revolution in portable music players. We'll just have to wait and see.

But, the iPod Touch is only the beginning, As mentioned above, Apple has revamped it's entire iPod line. The most exciting upgrade, is the iPod Nano, which has been flattened and widened, so as to include a large 320x240 pixel, 2-inch video screen. You read that right - video on the Nano. It is also the highest pixel density that Apple has ever shipped. The Nano will also support games and cover-flow. The storage will be twice that of their older siblings, for the same price - 4GB for $149, 8GB for $199.

The standard iPod has been upgraded and is getting a new name. It will be called the iPod Classic - obviously, to distinguish it from the new iPod Touch. It sports an all-metal case that is slightly thinner than it's older sibling and claims 40 hours of music or 7 hours of video on the 80GB version, that will sell for $249. But, get this. There will be a 160GB version, as well, for $349. Wow!

Now for the Downside

Apple also made a much hoped-for, but largely disappointing announcement, concerning the iPhone. First, they have finally added customizable ringtones to the iPhone - at least, in a fashion - a fashion that is several seasons out-of-date.

That fashion is more in line with 2004, than 2007. You see, you can only make iPhone ringtones from tunes that you purchased from the iTunes Store (not from CDs, tunes that you generated yourself or ringtones that you want to port from your old phone). But it gets worse. Not only do you have to purchase your ringtones from the iTunes store, but you can only use certain "Apple-approved" tunes from the iTunes Store, at that. Not every tune on iTunes is available as a ringtone.

In other words, if you didn't buy it from the iTunes Store, you can't make a ringtone out of it. If you are like me, most of my favorite ringtones came off of CDs that I bought years ago. But, even if you did buy the song from the iTunes Store, you may well find out that iTunes will block you from making a ringtone out of it, since only a portion of songs on the iTunes Store are authorized by Apple, for ringtone generation. Then, to top it off, Apple wants to charge you $0.99 for a ringtone made from a song that you already paid $0.99 to buy from them, in the first place. Hello?!!! What's wrong with this picture?

Then, Steve Jobs attempted to convince us that ringtones cost about $2.50 each. Yeah, right! And I once saw a pig fly. Only the terribly uninformed pay for ringtones anymore - at least not since the advent of PhoneZoo. That's a web site where you enter you phone model and phone number, upload any song that you own, use their easy-to-use web tool to crop the section that you want to use and send it to your cell phone. It's that simple. And, what does this cost? Zilch! Zero! Nada! It's FREE! And it works with just about every cell phone and smart phone on the market, except the iPhone. The iPhone still has a long way to go, to match even the most basic cell phone, on ringtones. In fact, the iPhone still has a long way to go (period).

Price Cut!

The really great part of the iPhone announcement was that they are cutting the price of the iPhone to just $399 for the 8GB model and doing away with the 4GB model. Unfortunately, even that announcement was dramatically tempered by the fact that Apple had failed to address any of the myriad other far more important shortcomings of the iPhone than mere ringtones, such as the headphone jack that won't fit most headphone plugs, the missing copy and paste facility and the lack of voice dialing, a video camera, instant messaging, Java or Flash support or Bluetooth stereo support. Like many others, I gladly paid the $599 for my iPhone, before I realized that is was not yet ready for prime time. A price cut is welcome, but until they fix the serious shortcomings with the iPhone, it will remain just a toy and serious users won't care.

Apple put into the iPhone some truly great features, but left out many of the most basic, useful and even necessary features and they expect us to get excited about a crippled ringtone download application and a price cut? I am afraid that if Apple doesn't get off the stick soon and really fix the serious shortcomings of the iPhone, they will lose the tenuous lead that all the hype has given them. In fact, the Nokia N95 already features a 2.8" screen, integrated GPS, HSDPA, 802.11g WiFi, Bluetooth stereo, a microSD slot (up to 2GB hot swap), stereo FM radio, a user replaceable battery and a 5MP still/video camera, with flash, a headphone jack that fits all standard headphones and it works all over the world on any carrier. Sure, it's not as easy to navigate, but it does important things that the iPhone doesn't. An 8GB version of the N95 is about to be released. How long will it be before Motorola, Samsung, Blackberry and others release full-featured, large screen products to compete with the iPhone?

As a long time Mac evangelist, it pains me to have to admit that I bought an 8GB iPhone on June 29 and returned it on July 3 and am now seriously considering a Nokia N95 or a Blackberry 8820, when it comes out in the USA or picking one up on my next trip to London. After all, as much as I LIKE the glitz of the incomplete iPhone, what I NEED is the functionality of a complete product.

Hype or Home Run?

Apple's announcement comprised element's of hype, while hitting one or more balls that may turn out to be home runs. The new iPod lineup is an absolute home run. The iPod Touch has home run written all over it, but it could fall far short, if Apple included the same recessed headphone jack that they put on the iPhone. The Touch is, after all, a product designed for high end buyers, most of whom have already spent hundreds of dollars on the very best 3rd party headphones on the market - sometimes even more than the cost of the iPod Touch. Those users won't want to go back to Apple's inferior headphones, just for the glitz of the Touch. When the Touch is released, the headphone jack will be the deciding factor for many potential buyers. As for the iPhone announcement, the price cut was welcome, but only brought the price down to where it should have been in the first place and only had it included the features that have become "standard" on all smart phones, which it still does not. Some people may find the iPhone's new ringtone download feature useful, but with the easy availability of free tools like PhoneZoo, being limited only to music that Apple thinks is suitable for ringtones, is not likely to be acceptable to most people.



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