The mini and Me

After my repeated pleas for an iPod mini evaluation unit were greeted with stony silence by all with an @apple.com address (Note to self: Grab gig with major metropolitan newspaper at earliest convenience.) I ventured out into commute traffic to obtain one the good old fashioned way:

Retail.

Although I understood that you could purchase one of these diminutive players on its day of release at any non-Apple retailer (Best Buy, for example, was rumored to sell one to anyone with the cash to carry it out), I wanted the Early Adopter Experience. And the only good way to get that Experience is to do as the Early Adopters do and stand in line at the local Apple Store.

This I did at the Valley Fair store in San Jose, California. In case demand for the little sucker outstripped supplies on hand, I arrived an hour early.

My dual fears that

A) No one would be in the Store and when I requested a mini at the stroke of 6:00 PM a helpful clerk would reply, "Oh, you mean one of these? Pick any color your like. Heck, pick all five colors and we'll throw one in free!" or

B) Unless a particularly virulent flu decimated the ranks of the 500 people who'd camped out overnight to obtain their mini, I was pretty much out of luck.

went unrealized.

There was a healthy line of about 40 people ahead of me. At the front of the line, the group of three woman and a teenage girl—who was being treated to a mini for her birthday—had been there since 4:00 PM. One of these women intended to purchase three (two blues and a silver) and the birthday girl had her heart set on a pink. Nosing around, I discovered that pink was indeed a popular item among the female members of our little band, though green appeared to be coming on strong.

Taking my place in line I questioned those closest to me to the point of annoyance.

"So, anyone here getting more than one?"

"Yeah, I'm getting one for me and one for my girlfriend."

"Colors?"

"Blue for me and pink for her."

"You already have an iPod?"

"Yeah, I've got a 40 gig and my buddy here has a 10 gig."

"Then why would you want a mini?"

That tore it. As one, they backed away and gave me a "Hey, you're not one of us, are you?" look. After an uncomfortable pause, a young man finally replied

"Because it's cool!"

He was polite enough to not append "Duh!" to his reply, but the expletive was clearly written on his face.

About a quarter after 5:00 an Apple Store Employee began distributing tickets to those in line. In hand he had five spools of red tickets—each spool representing one of the mini's five colors. By the time he reached me (the line before me had swelled by another 10 people or so and continued to grow on the back end) he had passed out all the tickets for the green model. He couldn't guarantee that we'd all get the colors we desired, but given our place in line, it was a reasonable guess that we'd do okay (unless you wanted green, of course).

At 6:00, the line began moving. Rather than unleash the horde and point them at a pyramid of minis with a hearty "Go get 'em tiger!" we were let in by dribs and drabs.

Stand in line before counter. Give ticket to clerk. Clerk dashes to the back to get color requested. Clerk returns with box full o' mini. Proceed to counter. Nice woman makes cheerful comment about each mini purchased ("Oooh, two blues in a row. We're on a roll!). Pay. Listen carefully as checkout person tells you that there will be a 10% restocking fee if you return mini opened. If DOA, use 1-year warranty. Thank you. Next!

To save myself a trip in case my mini was indeed DOA, I tripped back to the theatre, opened the box, removed the Do Not Steal Music wrapper from the mini's brushed blue exterior, and pushed the Play/Pause button to switch it on.

Apple had considerately charged my new blue buddy before plunking it into the box. It switched on and showed about a three-quarters charge. I jacked it into my 15" PowerBook with the cable I normally reserve for my 15GB third-generation iPod and within seconds the mini displayed the Do Not Disconnect screen, mounted on the Desktop (with its own mini icon, no less), and iTunes launched, ready to sync its library with my new purchase.

Because I have an iTunes library that exceeds the mini's 3.7 GB capacity, iTunes displayed a message indicating that because all my music wouldn't fit on the mini, a new playlist called iPod Mini Selection would be created from a selection of tunes in my library. The music in this playlist would then be copied to my mini.

I wouldn't term this playlist smart (or even modestly clever). Given that the mini's storage is limited, you'd think that this playlist would skirt large AIFF and WAV files if it also encounters loads of AAC and MP3 files.

Nope.

I'm not sure what the logic is behind this list, but it grabbed files I would rather have done without—a 60MB tune I'd created in GarageBand, for example. It does, however, appear to glom onto entire albums rather than just selections (though it doesn't necessarily include all the selections from a multi-disc album—the playlist included only one of the discs from the Beatles' White Album, for example). With the judicious use of an iTunes' Smart Playlist, you could create a more suitable collection of tunes (and in days to come, I'll show you how to do exactly that).

With the mini in working order I determined to head for home. It was now just after 7:00 PM and things had calmed down considerably. The 100 or more people in line had hunted, gathered, and, apparently, returned home to enjoy their purchase. Store traffic seemed about normal and I didn't see scores of people dashing breathlessly into the store shouting "Are we too late!?"

To make my journey home more tuneful I plugged in the auto charger and FM wireless music adapter that I use with my 3G iPod. Both worked as expected.

All in all, a successful and enlightening outing.

Stay tuned. More to come as I bang on the mini this weekend.

  
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