Category: "Technology"

Why the iPod sucks

I hate the iPod, everyone who knows me well knows I hate the iPod, not everyone knows my reasoning, it follows.

Longevity problems, dare I mention the battery issues that have plagued the iPod, batteries in a device with this kind of price should not fail or lose a significant amount of charge for years - months and weeks is simply not acceptable, what's more if (or when) the battery fails this actually requires Apple to sort it because the batteries aren't removable, a critical flaw in the design. Apple don't cover this in their warrantee, so that's hundreds of pounds down the drain.

Update - Apple now do cover this in their warrentee, but once it has expired you still have to pay through the roof for a repair.

Poor sound quality. I don't know what Apple can get away with among it's Mac OS users but Windows users are used to far better sound quality. Virtually every portable media player (even bargain basement players) I've listened to has exceeded the iPod in sound quality, this is one area where Apple need to do a lot of work to catch up, I'm not saying they'll ever be able to match what Creative have with their Zen players, but for a several hundred pound device not to compete with a £60 device in this department certainly raises a few eyebrows.

Poor control system - yes I'll admit the wheel looks like a good idea, and it's easy to control if you've got it out in front of you, but what about in your pocket? Where these players are suppose to be? It's virtually impossible to control, another gimmick feature out of Apple.

Poor compatibility - this is probably the iPod's worst defeat. Zero support for Windows Media Audio, the best lossy codec there is today and no support for Ogg Vorbis, an open source ultra-high quality codec that enjoys mass support from Linux fans (and myself) and then it lacks support for lossless formats like, WMA-lossless and Monkey's audio both very popular among audiophiles. Apple are bent on using the fringe format AAC, with their own copy protection bolted on the side for the iPod, a format that has almost zero support, a format that requires lots of unstable plug-ins on other players to actually work.

No support for Windows Media Player - the most popular media player in the market by far. Over 70 devices support the latest version of Windows Media Player (version 10) these you simply plug them in and WMP will auto-sync, transfer media the lot - all automatically if you want, you don't need to install any software you just plug them in - simple, how things should be. Not the iPod. Apple want you to install their own software called "iTunes" which like a lot of Apple software, is slow, it's buggy it's glitchy it just isn't very well thought out. It places icons on your desktop, start menu and quick launch all without asking, it installs several other applications that you never asked to be install and secretly boots them with Windows. Forcing users to install your own software and having the software do things behind your back is not on at all, you could quite easily compare that to the behaviour of a virus.

No support for 3rd party music stores. Thinking about using your iPod with many of the other music stores, Napster, MSN Music and the many others? Think again Apple force you to use their own music store linked via the before mentioned virus known as iTunes. The music you download from this store has extremely restrictive rights, you will only ever be able to play the AAC files you download on your iPod and on your computer, thinking about transferring some songs to your new player at some point in the future? Dream on, you'll have to buy it all again, and most likely from another store anyway. Apple are deliberately trying to trap users into their own media empire, a very shady business activity indeed, but then for a company that's been declining for over a decade what can you expect? I only hope people wake up and realise this before they have several hundred (or thousand) pounds worth of music that suddenly becomes totally worthless when Apple find themselves being squashed out of the market, by all their competitors that do offer choice.

iPod symbolizes lack of choice. In this day and age this is unacceptable. If you go for any Windows Media Player there are over 100 of them ranging for double digit costs and up, you can use them with virtually any online stores (except iTunes - cheer!) you'll have the choice over which licenses to go for, which prices you like and other packages that are suitable for your needs. Something that iPod users will critically lack, and something they will in the end suffer for. With Windows Media players you can just plug it in to your PC and let it fly, no installing complicated software that does things behind your back.

The choice is clear - don't go for an iPod. It's an evil hugely over-priced, parasitic device with virus like software that attempts to trap you and limit your options.


Other corrections, or out-of-date arguments:

1980s style LCD - not even colour? Come on this is the 21st century, for that kind of price it should have double the resolution and at least 16bit colour.

Update - I wrote this before the iPod photo actually came out, back in the Spring, so yes the iPod photo does have a colour display, although it is still tiny in comparison to other devices. Again this is evidence of how Apple's lack of desire to licence the technology out and desire to keep a stranglehold of the entire arena is causing them to be left behind just like with the Mac. The Creative Zen Portable Media Center, for example costs only £30 more then the iPod (or £30 less then the iPod photo!), but also can play video, 85 hours worth, you don't have to install any software, you just have to plug it in!

No charging over USB, that's right you can't even charge the iPod over the USB cable. Sorry but that is totally not on, most of the competitor products do that at a far lower price point, very few mainstream computers have firewire ports, adding the ability to charge over USB would of cost just pennies, yet Apple cut corners yet again.

Update - the newer iPods do seem to charge over USB.

Reply to some of the comments:

From Dru "So stop your bitching and don't buy an iPod. Buy one from the multitude of competitors that consitiute the 8% of the HD based MP3 players that aren't Apple."

Actually this is incorrect, the iPod market share has been hovering around the 30% mark for some time now.

Tired wrote: "AAC, like MP3, is open source, and hopefully more hardware manufactures will see that. WMA is NOT!"

AAC is not open source at all, it's an open standard, may be you're getting the terms confused. It's developed by Dolby, you have to license it, work around patents, just like Windows Media Audio.

Tired also wrote: "Notice in the first line the word "proprietary"? Do you understand the implications of that? Probably not."

Yes, AAC is also proprietary, it's owned by Dolby, and you have to licence it, you can get licensing information from Via Licensing.

I wrote: "A lot Microsoft's source code is available to it's customers." in response to what tired wrote "...And don't even begin to champion MS as an advocate of Open Source."

I think now over 60% of Microsoft's code is available to it's major customers. Sorry if you don't like that, but it's the truth. I think you're getting far too confused between having source code that you share and the GNU Public Licence. Either way your argument is flawed because AAC isn't some GNU product, it's owned, it's patented just like Windows Media.

Hey I'm tired too wrote: "It's odd that people think Apple is apparently restricting customer choise by supporting mp3 and aac and yet it's Microsoft that forces EVERYONE, including retailers, to use wma. Are we really willing to hand all the keys to MS again?! I hope the answer is NO!"

Sorry, but Microsoft doesn't force anyone to use Windows Media, how could they? There are basically two main formats, AAC (with Apple's fairplay bolted on) and Windows Media Audio. Windows Media Audio is available to anyone should they wish to use it. Apple's fairplay technology is not something Apple wish to licence because they want to keep iPod users stuck on iTunes. Apple could licence it if they wanted but they don't want to, who's really being restrictive? Why do they fear iPod users using other online stores?

Ian writes "Oh did i mention MS was trying to sue Linux for infringing supposed patents." and "and remember apple invented it first."

This is incorrect. I think you're getting confused between Microsoft and SCO. SCO claim to own parts of Unix that Linux apparently is using. Also I believe Creative were the first out with an "MP3 jukebox" as it was called back then.

From Sebhelyesfarku "iPod can't play mp3 tracks gaplessly."

Yes, that's one thing I forgot. Thanks for pointing that out.

Bias Alert spent a lot of time simply repeating the same URL over and over, pointing to Stereophile "The iPod is normally beneath their radar, but it ended up in their labs and was tested for audio quality with uncompressed sources, namely AIFF and WAV files, to see if it could deal with uncompromised audio signals with good accuracy."

OK fair enough, so what other players did they test? Seriously guys... Hook your iPod up to your hi-fi and then compare it to a Zen. Don't just take 1 persons opinion, go try it for yourselves.

Nebula DigiTV

Just got my hands on a Nebula DigiTV PCI card yesterday... Pretty good! For those who don't know it has a digital tuner allowing it to access all unencrypted channels broadcasted digitally in the UK (aka Freeview) as well as an analogue input for video from an external source, although the quality is quite poor and the newer software seems bent on trying to encode it to MPEG in real time creating a delay of several seconds, rather then just push it through onto the screen, the older pre-July software didn't do this so it's a little odd. However for watching and recording digital TV it's the mut's nuts.

Now if only I could make the final step (me and spending money don't mix) of getting Windows XP Media Center Edition, 2 digital tuners, 2 analogue tuners, 2 sky boxes so I could but together one beast of a Media Center for the living room.

BBC tech news insanity

Over on the BBC News website they have up an article talking about the new Portable Media Centers (they actually fail to mention their names). It's based upon some of Jupiter Research's findings on consumers demand for portable players that can handle video.

It reads "the analysis of the portable media player market found only 13% of Europeans want to watch video while out and about" "By contrast, almost a third are interested in listening to music on a portable player such as an iPod." and continues "The firm said gadget makers should avoid hybrid devices and instead make sure music reproduction was as good as possible."

Now I don't usually have a problem with the BBC's coverage of technology, (other then the fact it is very dumbed down, and Bill Thompson's columns where he always seems to reach an either nonsensical or bogus conclusions), but this has gone too far. I'm not sure if this is the BBC news technology team twisting things up or just some poor advice from Jupiter.

But let's address some issues here;

1) 13% of Europeans, they make it seem like a small number it's actually 95 million people, doesn't sound so small any more does it?

2) Yes of course more people are interested in listening to music on the go, you don't need to look at anything you can just keep the player in your pocket. But the way they dismiss the option is nothing short of plain stupidity. They mention the iPod, as you would expect as they do seem to be obsessed with the device, despite there being far better players out on the market and for lower price points.

3) Concentrate on better music reproduction, well that's a joke to start with as any audiophile will agree with me when I say the iPod sounds a lot worse compared to Creative's offerings, who also do manufacturer a Portable Media Center, an image of which was featured in the article. The iPod doesn't support WMA, which is the best sounding mainstream format for storing lossy-audio, it supports AAC a minor fringe technology that has very little support from anywhere.

BBC Tech seem bent on trying to limit consumer choice by publishing rubbish articles like these, the Creative Zen Portable Media Center is available for only £30 more then an iPod, it's an absolute bargain considering all the features it supports, storage for 85 hours worth of video, double the battery life, so it won't run out after just a few hours like the iPod.

Why limit consumer choice? I think we just again see the BBC's anti-Microsoft tendencies coming through, if it was Apple who came up with the Portable Media Center I'd bet they'd be jumping on the idea like it was the work of gods.

Media Center Extender for Xbox

With the new Windows XP "Reloaded" push comes a whole heap of new media related software and devices such as; Windows Media Connect, Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, Media Center Extenders and Digital Media Receivers.

Sound confusing? You're right it does. As most of you know a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC is Windows XP Professional with really cool extras, it's designed around being the ultimate home entertainment solution, with added stuff like the ability to record TV similar to Sky+, but with buckets of other things; music, pictures, games and the rest of the features of a PC and without the limitations; having your recorded stuff stuck on a box that you can do nothing with and so on, like with Sky+.

A Media Center Extender like the one for the Xbox allows you to access your Media Center PC from another room, so you can stream your content to your Xbox and therefore onto another TV over your network. Sounds neat? It is.

On the other hand there is Windows Media Connect which is a piece of software that allows you to stream media from any Windows XP computer to a range of compatible devices, the Digital Media Receivers.

The receivers themselves come in a range of types all from different manufacturers, some only support audio, some support both audio and video. To put them simply they're little boxes that you hook into your Hi-Fi or TV and they connect to your PC and stream music so you can listen to it in another room. Sounds neat? It is.

Why am I writing all this? The fact that Microsoft aren't releasing an add-on for Xbox that allows it to act as a Digital Media Receiver. All the hardware is in the machine, it's more then capable, they're doing basically the same thing with the Media Center Extender for the Xbox, so why not make it compatible with Media Connect also?

The fact it is only going to work with Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 is pure insanity in my opinion, granted they have made some steps to bring the Media Center OS into the mainstream by making it available separately to the hardware (at about £80 OEM), so I could simply buy that and use it as my main OS, but then I wouldn't have all the extra features that make it worth while anyway.

If they released an Xbox in a bundle that includes Digital Media Receiver software for it and the remote, therefore allowing it to stream media from any Windows XP machine with the free Media Connect software they'd open up a whole new market for the Xbox itself, something they cannot do to the same scale if they only link it to Media Center Edition 2005.

May be they're afraid of doing this because if people start buying the Xbox to stream media from their PCs they won't be using it for games which is where they make their money.

May be they're afraid of doing it at risk of upsetting the manufactures they're trying to bring on board for Microsoft's Digital Media Receiver platform, as the Xbox is at such a price point it would be serious competition to them.

Either way Microsoft should get themselves together, either drop the whole idea, or do it in a way that ensures the widest compatibility and uptake rate, making the Xbox compatabile with both is the way to go.

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