Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Apple of my iPod

For years I have scoffed at those who walk around with headphones on, seemingly lost in whatever audio environment is more compelling than the real physical world around them. But no more. When I switched (again) to walking and public transportation as my primary means of commuting, I thought that listening to audiobooks and music would be a perfect way to make additional use of the time.

After weighing my options, I got an iPod Touch for several reasons. Although it's not the most capacious device in Apple's lineup, the 16Gb version is pretty roomy. Also, I really wanted to try the multi-touch screen interface, and, with the January Software Upgrade, the new PDA-style applications for it.

Suffice it to say, I'm very impressed. The Touch UI is all that it's claimed to be, and more. There are some inconsistencies across applications (e.g., in Notes, you have to touch left and right arrow buttons to turn pages, instead of just swiping your finger across the screen), but on the whole, it really is a new and dramatically better way to work with a handheld device.

I'm also undecided about the on-screen keyboard. It works reasonably well when I hold the device in my left hand and "type" with my right index finger. Apple recommends using both thumbs for typing, but I found this much too error prone. Apple also suggests using the on-screen display to view the letter being typed, and changing it if need be, before lifting the thumb/finger from the screen. This runs counter to all my learned behaviors for typing, so I'm not sure if or when I'll adapt to this.

The question this device raises, however, is what is an iPod Touch. If it's a music player, it has too little storage and too much irrelevant functionality for the price. If it's a PDA, it's missing important applications (e.g., To Do lists), and it's too difficult or impossible to synch across multiple computers. For example, with my phone/pocket PC (T-Mobile Wing, as mentioned elsewhere), I can synch with my Mac at home (using Missing Sync for Windows Mobile from Mark/Space) and with my Windows XP machine at work (using the included ActiveSync software from Microsoft). That way, I only have one address book, one calendar, etc.

Interestingly, the iPhone doesn't have this dilemma. It's a smart phone that can play music. Take away the phone capability, though, as in the iPod Touch, and you're left with a weird hybrid device.

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