iPod Touch packs a lot into a small package

6 Jul

The iPod Touch is unlimited in its versatility.

July 6, 2009

By Geoff Meeker

A few weeks back, my iPod Classic gave up the ghost. It was four years old, and was locking up constantly.

I acted all upset, but was secretly pleased. I could finally pick up a new iPod Touch.

If you think it’s foolish to get excited about an mp3 player, you haven’t laid hands on the iPod Touch. It is to mp3 players what a computer is to calculators – you really can’t compare the two. (And if you are thinking about getting an ebook reader, keep reading!)

I wrote about the iPod Touch last year, focusing on its Internet roaming capability. The Touch has the same great features as the iPhone, without the phone. But as long as you can find an open wireless connection, which is getting easier all the time, you can surf the ‘net, log onto web-based email, update Twitter and facebook, and so on.

The Touch is ideal for someone who already has a basic cell phone and would like to surf the web whilst traveling, but does not require constant online access. The big advantage is that, because you mooch off other wireless signals, your Internet access is free (a big deal considering the cost of data downloads).

But that is only one aspect of the Touch. It has a mapping service, similar to GPS but without the usual signal triangulation (it uses the IP address of your log-on location to determine where you are), live stock market updates, weather forecasts, calendar, address book, calculator, push email, video player, and more.

It’s the ‘more’ part I like. But first, a few words about the screen itself, which is high resolution and touch sensitive, so almost all the controls and applications are hidden until you switch it on. To open a file or application, you touch it. To zoom into a photo or web site, you touch the screen with thumb and forefinger and spread your fingers apart. To make the image smaller, you pinch your fingers together. To scroll through lists, you flick upwards or down. It’s intuitive and responsive to the lightest touch. A work of wonder, really.

You can easily download all sorts of games from thousands of titles at the iTunes site. They range in price from $1 to $10, and many are free. There are shooter, puzzle, popper, maze, RPG, math, word games and more, with something for all ages. Game play is surprisingly layered and sophisticated for such a small device, and playing with your fingertip on the screen – rather than awkward little buttons – is easy and fun. I am not much of a gamer, but I’m already addicted to two: Tap Tap, inspired by Guitar Hero, and StoneLoops, a marble busting game.

For the games alone, the Touch is going to be a major hit as we vacation this summer.

Beyond games, applications turn the Touch into whatever you want it to be. For starters, there are several ebook reader applications that are free and easy to download. I learned of these through writer Kathleen Winter, for whom the Stanza ebook application was a revelation.

“Stanza does everything I could possibly want a reader to do, including saving your place, bookmarking pages, and cataloguing your book for you,” Winter said. “When you want to choose from your library, you see a flow-screen of all the books with their covers on them, or you can look alphabetically by author or title, and pick up where you left off. The readability is great. Stanza probably does a lot of things I haven’t discovered yet. Reading will never be the same, and nor will writing, for me.”

Winter has already discovered Project Gutenberg, which makes thousands of classic and hard-to-find titles available online, for free.

“I have been more or less attached to Project Gutenberg ever since, reading Katherine Mansfield, Joyce, Virginia Woolf and all my old favourites – carrying them in my pocket on the subway. My daughter has already downloaded amazing children’s books that are hard to find anywhere.”

Many still resist the idea of ebooks, but for Winter there is no turning back.

“Through the Stanza application, I remembered books and text have always been the transmission of imagination and ideas. It’s not about the artifact for me, it’s about the intangible idea being shared. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to buy another paper book again. I might be in the first flush of illumined screen romance, but somehow I can just feel it’s going to be a long affair. It has made me think about how I want to format my own upcoming books – I can no longer imagine publishing a book without having some sort of downloadable version in the options.”

The image area of the Stanza is only as large as the Touch window, which is much smaller than the Sony Reader (which I own). However, for the price – essentially nothing – you should give it serious consideration before buying a dedicated reader.

I’m still just scratching the surface of what can be done with the iPod Touch. Expect updates later. The device is available in 8, 16 and 32 GB models, for about $240, $300 and $400 respectively. Not cheap, but worth every penny. Visit http://www.apple.ca to find out more.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

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