Saturday, September 08, 2007

Contemplating Apple's latest

Apple Shows Some Style

Apple's latest was all about the iPod. Apple released a update to every member of the original iPod product line, plus a new member derived from the iPhone:
  • iPod shuffle. At $79, it competes against all the trashy MP3 players you can pick up at Target, WalMart and your local drug store in the same price range. The Shuffle and the trashy players differ in that the trashy players give you a display (very tiny) and AM/FM radio (very poor). The Shuffle trades the display and AM/FM radio to give you style and a quality product which will last longer. A lot longer. Tough choice that.

  • iPod nano. Starting at $149 for the flash-based 4GB model, it also comes in an 8GB model for just $50 more. The biggest mark against it seems to be that it's "fat", at least according to Jeff Smykil at ArsTechnica. Well, Jeff, guess what. You and your closest associates aren't on the Apple design committee, and for good reasons. The layout of the nano allows for personal video viewing at a decent TV-like aspect ratio. It may be wide looking from the front, but it's also considerably thin when viewed from the edges. Considering the price point that Apple's trying to reach, I consider it an outstanding combination of style and affordable usability. If I had money to spend, I'd get the 8GB iPod nano.

  • iPod classic. Wow. 160 GB. Even Jobs had to stop and think about that one. The question I need to answer for my own personal satisfaction is how easy and how fast it is to move content between the Classic and its host computer. I have an older Western Digital 80GB Passport external USB portable drive. I use it quite a bit, and it is quite fast when transferring files between it and my notebook. I'd like the same speed and ease-of-use with the classic. At $250 for the 80GB and $350 for the 160GB, it is a bit too pricey to just use as external storage. You can get the latest external USB drives with 250GB capacities for $180 at Newegg. But if you're looking for a truly portable audio and video player with lots of capacity and overall Apple quality then it's worth the cost.

  • iPod touch. Here is a device for people who hate AT&T but want many of the same features found in the iPhone. What's missing from the touch? The ability to make a phone call, a built-in camera and Blue Tooth. The biggest complaint seems to be about the lack of Blue Tooth; you can't use Blue Tooth headsets for wireless listening. Big deal. At $300 for the 8GB flash version and $400 for the 16GB flash version, the biggest problem is that the 16GB touch hits the iPhone at the same price point. And it makes me wonder why Apple didn't offer a new iPhone model with 16GB. Perhaps they will in the very near future. At which time Apple will need to seriously consider dropping the cost of the touch or perhaps bumping its capacity to 32GB.

    And an iPod touch, with 32GB of flash, in the same form factor, still at $400 would be an incredible product indeed. I find it amazing that today's touch has internal flash storage and RAM that exceeded my original Pentium 2 and 3 systems circa 2000. The size differential alone is unbelievable when looking back and comparing.
Apple Shows Some Class

When the new iPods were released Apple also dropped the cost of the $600 iPhone to $400, and then dropped the original $400 iPhone. Some folks immediately whined how two months or less after they'd paid the full purchase price of $600 Apple had cheated them. Well, them's the breaks, Binky. If it had been me at Apple I would have laughed all the way to the bank. Fortunately for Apple I'm not Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs wrote an open letter on the Apple website offering a $100 credit to "every iPhone customer who purchased an iPhone from either Apple or AT&T, and who is not receiving a rebate or any other consideration ... towards the purchase of any product at an Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store."

That other "rebate or any other consideration" is an important distinction. According to another article from MacNN, an iPhone purchaser, who used American Express to purchase his iPhone, claimed to have received the full difference plus tax because of American Express' buyer protection plan. I don't know of any other type of plan being offered by other credit cards, but if it's for real then it's a good thing to have.

Comparison with Some of the Competition

And finally, I can't get away from talking about cool portable tech without taking another swipe at Nokia and its lame 770 and N800 devices. I was dumb enough to purchase a 770 in March 2006. My experiences with the 770 inoculated me such that I was able to overcome the shiny shiny urge syndrome and resist purchasing the N800 when it was released in January 2007, at an initial price of $400. At $400 you can't help but compare the N800 with the iPod touch.

The first feature I compared between the two was storage capacity. Storage capacity is important when you want to play back movies, which typically eat up 1GB or more/movie. The N800 doesn't come with 16GB. It comes with 512MB, split between 256MB internally and 256MB on an SD card in one of two slots. The only way you can add 16GB to the N800 is to purchase a pair of 8GB Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) cards, which can currently be had for about $66/card on Newegg. So add another $130 onto the $400, and you can equal the storage capacity of the iPod touch. For $530. And I can assure you that the iPod touch's video playback is much superior to the N800, let alone the 770.

Let's keep comparing the N800 with the iPod touch. The N800 would appear superior to the iPod touch with its built-in camera, Blue Tooth, and FM radio receiver. The only problem with that short list is the camera appears to be fragile and has reliability issues and FM radio reception is one of those so-what features. Blue Tooth has the highest value, but then again, if you want to use it, you get to spend another $80 or more for a decent earphone or keyboard. And you really do need a decent keyboard for the 770 or the N800 in spite of what the Nokia fanbois say.

But what about the closed iPod touch software platform vs the Nokia's open, Linux-based platform? Folks, the much-vaunted Linux environment of the Nokia devices isn't all that it's cracked up to be, and that's not because it's Linux-based. If you want to develop anything of significance for the Nokias then you're going to start by installing Linux on a machine (virtual or otherwise), followed by a full SDK that requires Linux. SDK development is a pain in the rear for Windows CE (a.k.a. Mobile), and it's a pain in the rear for the Nokias, made even more painful that it requires a Linux host system rather than being cross-platform. With the high quality of the Apple built-in iPod touch applications covering pretty much everything you expect to do, there's little need to re-invent the wheel (so poorly) that the Maemo boys seem to spend their time doing for the Nokias with their elaborate but essentially pointless development environment.

It will be very interesting to see how the iPods continue to evolve, and how Nokia responds. If Nokia introduces a new model (or models) January 2008, I sure hope that they can at least match the capabilities of the just-introduced touch. If they can't, then they might as well not even bother to show anything.

Update

I seldom turn on my 770 any more, but I did just to see what the Nokia Tableteer website had to say. Sure enough, on the Enhance tab, Nokia announced a limited offer on the Nokia N800. Nokia was offering a 15% discount on the price of the $400 N800, or $60 off. Makes you wonder just how successful Nokia has been in selling the 800... But it didn't stop there. I tried to follow the link and found out it was limited to the first 500 770 owners who responded. So when I tried to follow the next link, I wound up on a blank page. I guess I waited too long.

In any event you can find the N800 discounted already at places like Amazon for almost 15%. Assuming you really have to have one.

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