Making sense of the iPod revolution

15 Jun

June 15, 2006

By Geoff Meeker

A while back, host Kelly Ryan of CBC Radio’s Freestyle program confessed that she didn’t own an iPod.

She admitted to feeling a little out of step, since all of her friends owned one. The thought of connecting it to her computer and doing the download thing was just too intimidating, she said.

Kelly Ryan is a ‘with-it’ kind of gal, so I was surprised by this little revelation. How many others, I wondered, feel the same way?

The fact is, iPods are ridiculously easy to use.  All you do is connect it to your computer. As soon as the iTunes software detects the iPod, it automatically begins downloading to or updating the iPod. And the iPod itself is even easier to use – you just scroll through your playlist and click what you want to play. You can’t get simpler than that.

That other grey area of complexity – how to get the music onto your computer in the first place – is simplified by iTunes, which easily converts the music on your CD collection to mp3. Of course, it also accepts mp3 files which you may download on the ‘net, but I don’t do much of this (partly because of the piracy thing, but also because I have more than enough CDs and vinyl to feed my iTunes library).

The iTunes software is intuitive and easy to use, allowing you to create an endless variety of playlists from a core volume of songs. That is, you might have 5,000 songs in your playlists, but just 2,000 in the library. It seems like more because the songs repeat in different themes and combinations. (I like the ‘shuffle’ setting, which plays songs in a random order, like a personal deejay.)

The iPod is so ubiquitous that some people are cynical about its success, dubbing it ‘the new Microsoft’.  This is inevitable, I suppose, but not fair. Consider what the iPod has accomplished. It was the first mp3 player to combine large memory with easy portability, and user-friendly controls. Its iTunes software simplified the computer/player interface. Oh, and the iTunes online music store also pioneered the first successful mp3 sales portal, which is now raking in billions.

Should you have an iPod? That is, would you actually use it? Ask yourself the following questions: Do you go camping often? Do you travel frequently on business or pleasure? Do you spend a lot of time on the highway? Do you travel to other provinces in search of work? Do you enjoy listening to Great Big Sea, while punching ahead in the gale aboard your 64 footer? Do you have a large CD collection at home that you rarely use, because it’s hard to quickly find the album you want?

If you answered yes to any of these, you already know the answer. The iPod allows you to store (and play) your entire music collection, in alphabetical order and with favorite playlists, on a device the size of a remote control. I ask you, what could be cooler and more functional than that?

My first iPod was an early model with a 10 gig capacity –  room for 2,000 songs. Last year, I purchased a 60 gig iPod Photo, with room for 12,000 songs. This is probably more than I will ever need, which is fine since I also use it as a backup storage device for my collection of digital photos.

The Logic 3 portable speaker system was great (in 2006) for travel. (But there are better, cheaper options out there today.)

Then there’s speakers. The iPod is an output device that works with earbuds. If you want to share the music around the campfire or hotel room, you need an external set of speakers and a power source. I have two versions of this: one for camping (I bring along a generator) and a compact set for air travel (it takes batteries and AC power).  You’ve got to see the camping version – my brother made it and it’s awesome! Go to www.theexpress.ca for some photos of both speaker units.

Steve Meeker designed and built this portable speaker enclosure, which pre-dated ANY of the portable iPod speaker units. It was built for motor home use. The opened unit is shown below.

The campsite rocked when this unit was powered up. And it closed up in seconds when the rain came.

And yes, I do have a way of converting my old vinyl collection – more than a thousand albums – into mp3 format. And I must admit, I am having a ball doing so. More on that in a future column.

Links:

www.apple.com/ca/ipod/

www.ilounge.com

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