A visit to the golden prison

My wife managed to win an iPod Touch a the office Christmas party. I got more excited than her; she actually suggested we put it on eBay unopened, of course I simply had to open it and play a little. After a weekend I came to the conclusion that, to me, it was a piece of useless crap that we should try to sell ASAP. Luckily we managed to sell it on to someone who’s recently had a large sip of the Apple Kool-Aid. Here’s what I found out anyway, let’s start with the least bad.

The UI

It’s cute, very cute. Clicking icons, typing in the “keyboard” all very enjoyable. I tried out the zooming in Safari, beautiful. Then the cracks started showing, I can’t zoom everywhere, suggesting that it’s implemented on an application level. Why not provide that on a system level instead, so that all applications have it automatically? I also found it really irritating that there’s no copy-paste (apparently a common gripe). After I broke the jail of the 1.1 firmware and installed a audio cast client I had to use a pen and paper to copy URLs from Safari in order to subscribe. Poor!

Browsing the web

Getting network connectivity was a breeze. The UI of Safari is cute and the zoom is really handy. The first thing that irritated me was that there’s no way of saving things. Yes, there’s WiFi available in many large cities nowadays, but there’s still a lack of wireless connectivity outside of cities. So, my hope of being able to look for things while online and read while offline was a no-starter. I also would have liked to download videos and watch them later, on the other hand, and this is such a ridiculous mistake by Apple since it basically breaks the web, there’s no support for flash. Yes, the format that basically everybody uses to post videos online is not supported! Oh, but there’s YouTube you say? Well, on to that then…

The YouTube application

The only way of watching videos on YouTube is through this application. Surprisingly it’s not possible to use Safari to browse around using YouTube’s well-known web interface and find interesting things to watch that way. No flash support, remember?

On top of this there is no way of saving a video to watch it later. Again, listen Apple, there are areas that don’t have WiFi connectivity in the world!

Loading things on to the iPod Touch

I found this to be most disappointing. The only way to get stuff, music/video/audio cast, on to it one must use iTunes. There are rumours of support in bleeding edge libgpod, but by this time I didn’t bother with trying that out. What I did try was breaking the jail, installing OpenSSH, mounting it using SSHFS just to find out I only had read access in the versions of gtkpod/libgpod that’s in Debian Sid. Then I tried installing iTunes in WINE, but gave up after a few hours of trying to get that working. The next attempt was to use VMWare, using an evaluation license for Workstation I got as far as installing iTunes just to find out that it wouldn’t accept the iPod Touch when I plugged it into the USB port. After all of this, and my other findings, I didn’t think it’d be worth compiling libgpod from source.

Other bits and pieces

I’ve heard the calendar and contacts can only be synced to a Mac. Of course I couldn’t try it, since I don’t have a Mac.

The iTunes application on the device itselfi only contains just enough to spend money on the iTunes store. No way to subscribe to audio casts that I could findii.

Conclusions

I’ve never thought quite as much about the words “proprietary” and “technological silo” as I did while playing with the iPod Touch. The experience has put me off all Apple products, sure they are beautiful and cute, but to me they aren’t usable.

  1. I can’t remember if it were on there when I first opened it of if it only appeared after upgrading to firmware version 1.2.[back]
  2. I could always set up a personal audio cast containing my music had it been possible.[back]
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2 Comments

  1. IF there was anything such as anti-kool aid, it seems you drank it a while back. It seems you weren’t actually wanting to use the primary functions in the primary ways. Happily a fair few of your reservations have now been been made mute.

    Cute – vs functional. Maybe both. It holds some design paradigms others are still learning for the platform.

    I can’t zoom everywhere – probably a good thing. no copy-paste an irritation. But if you add C&P, then why not a file structure etc etc. Happily apps for file storage and retrieval exist now for audio casts etc.

    The first thing that irritated me was that there’s no way of saving things. – possible via aforementioned apps (Files, box.net, mobilefiles, iStorage, AirSharing, OneDisk, Datacase etc). Not true saving yet (e.g. you can save pictures, but not a document, so have to save it elsewhere, and make it available to the device).

    look for things while online and read while offline was a no-starter. I think that is available now for web pages.

    I also would have liked to download videos and watch them later, on the other hand, and this is such a ridiculous mistake by Apple since it basically breaks the web, there’s no support for flash.

    The web != flash. To behonest, sites that have it are a pain. There are more accessible alternatives. Will it change/ possibly, but it’s a hell of a mess fighting for the space (Silverlight, AIR, etc). No support is a good thing. Would you want flash ads on a device with a 3.5 inch screen? It’s a pain there is less H.264 and more flv around, but if you look, people don’t post video online as flv, it’s upped as mpeg, mp4, avi, etc etc, then converted to the pain that is flv. Ubiquity not necessarily a measure of usefulness here.

    Yes, the format that basically everybody uses to post videos online is not supported! Oh, but there’s YouTube you say? Well, on to that then… The YouTube application

    I’d imagine video saving comes with video creating, so late summer next year for that one.

    I found this to be most disappointing. The only way to get stuff, music/video/audio cast, on to it one must use iTunes.You can also play music as streams video as streams wherever you have wifi. You can download to a file storage, and access the movie and music that way via the above apps.

    I’ve heard the calendar and contacts can only be synced to a Mac – nope. The iTunes application on the device itselfi only contains just enough to spend money on the iTunes store. No way to subscribe to audio casts that I could findii. – recently added feature.

  2. @Tom,

    I wanted three things from the iPod Touch:

    1. replace my portable audio player, which I mostly use to listen to webcasts,
    2. watch videos of talks and lectures, most of which are posted as flash videos and few are on YouTube,
    3. read web pages, mostly blog posts, using the iPod Touch for this would allow me to stop printing out pages for later reading.

    I don’t see how storing things on a file store would allow off-line use. I can’t take the file store with me on the bus now can I? And no, the buses in Cambridge don’t offer wifi :(

    You suspect that saving video comes with authoring later one. You are right that flash != the web, but flash == online video. A simple flash blocker would take care of the ads everyone hates, all other browsers do it that way and gecko can even do it using only CSS!

    You think off-line reading of web pages is possible.

    AFAICS the iPod Touch is still, a year later, not a a device for me. You talk about using the “primary functions in the primary ways”, you’re right, that’s not what I wanted. I mistook the iPod Touch for a general computing device, something like a PC that would fit in my pocket. I underestimated Apple’s ability to cripple devices and tie them to their other offerings.

    Since I got rid of the iPod Touch I’ve bought an EeePC. Aside from the form factor it gives me everything I originally wanted from the Touch, and more. I bought a nice leather postman’s bag so the form factor isn’t a bother anymore either.

    I’m still hopeful that in time there’ll be a device that I can use the way I want which will fit in my pocket. I don’t think that device will come from Apple though! It looks like one of the Android-based phones could be it, as a bonus I could then stop using my ancient Nokia phone as well.

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