It’s hard to imagine that someone who gets paid to play with iPods and write about it requires the occasional break to take on more mundane tasks (which, in my case, included painting interior walls, hewing weeds, ripping up rotted decking, and digging out five years-worth of god-knows-what in the home office), but such is the case. Today I return from a month off ready to re-join this cozy yet specialized world.
But before I do, I’d like to take a couple of moments to reflect on my reflections—some of the lessons I learned when I unplugged from the computer and lived the life of a not-so-handy man.
Reflection 1: Oh, so that’s what podcasts are for!
Up until last month I appreciated podcasting in the abstract. I understood that it was a great way to time-shift audio content much as you can with video and a digital video recorder. But my appreciation remained abstract because of where I work and what I do when I’m working.
I work at home, which means I’m spared the dubious pleasure of commuting. Which, in turn, means that I don’t have an hour to kill driving, bussing, training, floating, or flying to my job. Which—finally getting to the point—means that I don’t spend that hour listening to podcasts.
And when I finally descend the 14 stairs from living-space to work-space to sit before my computer, I need quiet to coherently string these thoughts together. I appreciate
KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center as much as the next political voyeur, but I don’t want to see portions of it slipped unwittingly into a review of some digital doohickie because it’s playing in the background while I work.
Ah, but give me an iPod and a wall to sand, spackle, and paint and I get it. During the month of October I listened to more podcasts than I had in the previous six months and, given October’s unending NPR pledge drives, developed a real appreciation for being able to listen to exactly what I wanted when I wanted to.
Reflection 2: Portable video ain’t the same as portable audio
Steve Jobs has said a time or two that there’s currently no market for portable video. Yet I sit down in front of my computer, flick on my iPod with video, and think “What do you mean? This is so cool! Who wouldn’t want to watch video on this thing?”
And then I take that same iPod outside and, while tearing apart the Black & Decker 18” Hedge Trimmer for the umpteenth time because I nicked the wire fence again (and, thus, bent its blades), it dawns on me that there are far fewer places to enjoy portable video than portable audio.
So while I’m not sure there’s no market for portable video—if you’re stuck away from home with nothing better to distract you (commuting but not driving, flying but not piloting, paying your debt to society, or waiting in a doctor’s office), portable video seems ducky—I now understand that an iPod with video has little advantage over an audio-only iPod when you’re working with (and cursing) razor-sharp power tools.
Reflection 3: The iPod’s interface could be even better
Now that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to my iPod rather than simply examining it, I realize that even its wonderful interface could be improved. For example, while engaged in manual labor I spent a lot of time listening to a shuffling 60GB iPod photo with a music library of around 5,300 tracks. Every so often I’d hear a track and think “I forgot I owned this! I want to listen to that album.” Out of habit I pressed Menu, thinking I’d return to the Album screen. But no, doing so sent me back to the iPod’s main screen where I then had to move to the Album screen and then find the one-album-out-of-800 that I wanted.
iTunes has those lovely little Arrow icons next to a track’s name that, if Option- or Alt-clicked, take you to the entry and its surrounding album tracks if you’ve sorted tracks by album. I’d be thrilled if there was some way to open an album or artist entry from within a track’s Now Playing screen on an iPod.
I’m aware that Apple wants to keep the iPod’s interface as intuitive as possible and this request may make the interface more complicated. I’m also aware that Apple has a lot of very smart people in the iPod division. I hope they’ll figure out a solution that lets me highlight an album or artist entry on this screen, press Center, and be transported to that album or artist in the appropriate screen.
And that’s my month’s-worth of lessons. Anything new with you?