While today’s news of higher-capacity iPod minis and price changes across the iPod line may garner most of the headlines, I’m just as intrigued by what Apple adds and removes from the iPod line. On the one hand, the company has done some admirable patchwork with new accessories and an iPod software update—it has addressed many of the niggling “if only iPod/iTunes/Apple did such and such, my life would be complete” issues. On the other hand, Apple has removed a couple of once-bundled (and necessary) cables from today’s iPod boxes and made them pricey options. While I’m mostly excited by today’s developments, there’s some bad mixed in with the good.
Let’s begin by accentuating the positive.
When the iPod photo was released, it wasn’t long before digital photographers hoping to use the device in the field expressed their disappointment that you couldn’t transfer pictures from a camera directly to the iPod and then immediately view those pictures on it—you had to process the pictures with a computer first. Apple has addressed this problem with the $29 iPod Camera Connector. When this device is released in late March, photographers will be able to transfer and view pictures on the iPod without the need of a computer. This along with the 60GB iPod photo’s new $449 should make it a must-have gadget for digital photography enthusiasts.
And then there’s the portability of the iPod mini. It’s big enough that you’ll notice it in your pocket, it’s small enough that putting it in a belt-clip case seems like overkill, and an armband isn’t always an appropriate fashion accessory. With its new $19 iPod mini Lanyard, Apple has provided another option and cleared up the mystery of what those two tiny holes on the bottom edge of the mini might be used for.
And finally, there are still a lot of scroll wheel iPods in use, but most owners of these players have resigned themselves to having iPods with the same interface that shipped originally with the iPod—if you wanted such interface enhancements as a Shuffle Songs command in the main menu or an Audiobooks entry in the Playlist screen, you had to buy a newer iPod to get it. No more. The
iPod Updater 2005-02-22 utility includes a 1.5 update for early iPods that brings a Shuffle Songs command to the main menu and, like on later iPods, adds an Audiobooks entry to the Playlists screen. And like today’s iPods, a Music command appears on the main screen of older iPods when you install this update.
And now, the flies in the ointment.
Apple has dropped the price on the 4GB iPod mini to $199, offered a new 6GB mini for $249, created a $349 30GB iPod photo, and dropped the price of the 60GB iPod photo to $449 from $650. To help pay for these price cuts, a FireWire cable is no longer included with the minis or iPod photos—if you want such a cable you have to pay Apple $19 for it. The dock that was once included with the iPod photo is now a $39 accessory. And the iPod photo AV Cable that shipped with Apple’s picture-perfect iPods has also disappeared from the box and is now available for purchase for $19.
For the most part, I’m happy to have Apple unbundle superfluous accessories such as its iPod case or even its remote control in order to cut prices. I’m less happy, however, when it starts charging for necessary items—and, because of a proprietary connector, is the only source for those items.
Apple makes a reasonable case that USB 2.0 is found far more commonly on today’s computers than is FireWire and so the included USB 2.0 cable should be sufficient for most people. It doesn’t mention, however, that data transfer between a Mac and an iPod is far swifter over a FireWire connection than it is over USB 2.0. And, of course, there’s no talk of the many people who possess computers that don’t have a USB 2.0 connection.
The absence of the iPhoto dock is more forgivable. Docks have become an add-on for other iPods for awhile and although they’re the only way to transmit an S-Video signal from an iPod photo, I suspect most people are happy enough to use the iPod photo AV Cable.
Ah, but that cable is also missing in action. Apple went to some lengths to highlight the iPod photo’s ability to display pictures on a television. To impose a $19 surcharge in the form of the cable necessary to turn that feature from promise to reality is, in the words of a respected Playlist editor, lame .