iPod Photo: What They’re Saying

We’ve told you what we think about Apple’s latest addition to the iPod family. But how has the unveiling of the iPod Photo and its duskier, U2-themed counterpart been received outside of the immediate Mac universe? To save your fingers the strain of undue surfing from pundit to pundit, we’ve combed the Web to gauge the reaction to this week’s iPod developments. And the consensus seems to be that Apple has another winning product on its hands—unless it doesn’t.

Leading the pro-iPod contingent is New York Times columnist—and Macworld contributor&8212;David Pogue, who contends that the addition of the iPod Photo “makes so much sense.”

The iPod has always played your songs, in your chosen sequence, at a volume only you can hear; now it also shows snapshots of your life, friends and memories. In other words, Apple has found a way to make the iPod even more expressive, individualized and personal. Rational, schmational — get me on the waiting list.

Alyce Lomax of The Motley Fool is less impressed. While acknowledging Apple’s ability to innovate, she’s “not sure I'm completely sold on the idea that the iPod Photo will be as much a smash success as the regular iPod. Although it might be a great tool for parties if you're showing off tens of thousands of digital photos of your lovely children or your last vacation, I have a hard time imagining that photos are as catchy on this platform as music.” As for the iPod U2 Special Edition, Lomax likes the black-and-red look, thinks it may only appeal to diehard U2 fans, and concludes: “I can imagine that some of today’s hipsters who might be attracted to a black iPod would likely shun the idea of the connection to a particular band. Can you say “sellout”?”

(Indeed, some U2 fans are saying exactly that, at least according to this story in The Independent. Then again, the person quoted in that Independent article says that she said no such thing in other reports. So take that with however many grains of salt your nutritionist suggests.)

Over at Macworld ’s sister publication, PC World, Harry McCracken speculates on what the future might hold for additional iPod releases. Harry’s take: most iPods will probably have some photo-displaying capability before long and a smaller, cheaper flash-based iPod still might appear one of these days. My reaction: I agree on the first point—it seems to fall in line with Apple’s digital ambitions—but not one the second. Apple has shown no inclination to bother with flash-based MP3 players and the feedback it’s getting from the marketplace—phenomenal sales for a hard drive-based player—is probably doing little to spark any enthusiasm to head in that direction.

Speaking of the Windows world, the admiration for the new iPod is exceeded by the amount of questions surrounding the new device. For instance, at Engadget, they’re wondering whether HP’s version of the iPod will get the iPod Photo treatment (can’t help you there, but the Pogue article referenced above does do an excellent job of explaining just how the iPod Photo works with a Windows machine) and why Apple doesn’t just come out with a video-playing iPod (probably because the iPod Photo is just a first step, and Apple wants to make sure it gets that technology right before tackling the trickier problem of making a video player that's as stylish, compact, and profitable as the iPod). Meanwhile at the Microsoft Monitor weblog, Joe Wilcox suggests Microsoft could learn a lot from the way Apple has branded and marketed the iPod. Not to worry, Joe—as most Mac users will tell you, if there’s one thing Microsoft excels at, it’s adapting things from Apple. (And if you’re wondering just how the iPod Photo compares to the Portable Media Center running Microsoft software, Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers a handy comparison.)

The iPod Photo’s sharpest pan comes from Slate’s Paul Boutin, who writes “It’s now five hours after Apple’s U2-bedecked press conference, and I still haven’t stopped yawning.” For Boutin, the presence of a color LCD screen or a popular Irish rock band doesn’t solve a fundamental problem he has with the iPod.

Apple’s player is the only way to go if you suddenly want to listen to a Clash song from 25 years ago, but if you need to find out the news from five minutes ago, your iPod is useless. You’re better off with MyFi or even a clunky, AM-only boom box. Forget that new U2 tune-the iPod theme song should be “Dancing With Myself.”

I’m not prepared to tell Boutin he’s wrong—I don’t doubt he’s disappointed there’s not a wireless iPod like the one he describes at the end of his commentary. But I do think his analysis suffers from a syndrome common among tech pundits to quickly check a new product to see if it has every feature imaginable and then, when it inevitably doesn’t, pronounce it a ho-hum effort.

No, the iPod Photo does not feature motion video, nor does the iPod give you the ability to wireless update your music library. Yet . It may well do both of these things—and more—one of these days. But for now, Apple is concentrating on delivering an iPod that handles digital images as well as it handles music. That’s just one step—a pretty significant one, actually—but it’s not the last step.

Finally, Apple’s other big music-related announcement this week—that the iTunes Music Store will come to Canada next month at long last is receiving surprisingly subdued play in the Canadian press. I say “surprising” because any iTunes-related story to appear in the pages of Macworld in recent months usually prompted a flurry of letters from readers north of the border reminding us that Apple had yet to expose them to the wonder of 99-cent music downloads. Well, welcome to the party, Canada. And you’ll be happy to know that moments after Apple announced the expansion of its music store into nine additional European countries, we received the first trickle of e-mail from Irish readers wondering what Luxembourg has that they don’t. Ireland, it seems, is the new Canada.

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