More on the iPod touch

So, on Friday, I posted that I had picked up a new iPod touch. I’ve been able to spend a little more time with it now over the weekend, and I thought I might post up a few things about it.

The first bit is that I really think this device has a lot of potential. You can definitely see where having a few things would make this a serious contender for most users to other PDAs. Unfortunately, though, you could argue that the PDA market has moved on to cell phones. Lucky for Apple that they happen to make a phone as well.

The interface on the iPod touch is very nice — of course, if you’ve seen an iPhone, you already know what the interface is. This is my first time really using this interface as intended — everything I’ve been doing on an iPhone has been with the development side of things. Besides Safari, I never really used any of the other apps on the phone. Most importantly for my daily use, I had never used the iPod functionality of the iPhone.

First the bad regarding music — they took away the displaying of where you are in the song. This is a feature that has been a part of every iPod with a screen, the majority of MP3 and even CD players in existence. I assume that they removed it because they didn’t want to clutter up the interface. But, this is Apple — I’m pretty sure that they could come up with an elegant way of providing this info without cluttering the interface.

Another thing they removed — you no longer know where you are in a playlist. Previous iPods would tell you that you were playing song number 50 of 2078, for example. Not having this info isn’t a deal killer, but it seems odd that on the biggest and baddest iPod display that they couldn’t find space for something that’s been on every other iPod screen.

The control scheme does have problems — don’t try using this while driving in the car, for example. The lack of tactile feedback makes it almost impossible to control without looking. Add in the fact that since there is no lock switch on the iPod, the screen is now used as a locking mechanism, and you have something that’s very unfriendly to just skipping a song quickly. But, there is a consolation prize — it turns out that from anywhere, you can double-tap the home button to bring up a little dialog box that allows you to go to the previous or next songs, pause, and adjust the volume. This even works when the iPod is locked. Still doesn’t make it easier to do this without looking though. Edit — i just found that if you tap the album art, a status bar with the current position in the playlist and song shows up over the top part of the album art. It’s the same size as the bar at the top with the name of the track in it. Nice!

Scrolling through the songs at first seemed tedious – and it would be if it wasn’t for the ability to scroll down to a specific letter with the bar on the right side of the screen. In defense of the the flick motion, it did take Apple a few iterations of the click wheel to make it better for larger collections. I’m sure that someone at Apple is working on refining this interface. I do think that this is the right direction to take with this device. I certainly do not want to see a virtual click wheel on the touch.

Otherwise, the music functionality of the iPod is about what you expect — Cover Flow is neat, but personally, I just don’t find it necessary. But, I’m certainly not objecting to it being there — my wife, for example, always uses it. Sound wise, this iPod sounds like every other iPod I’ve used — good.

Moving on to Safari now — first off, it’s by far the best mobile browser I’ve seen/used. But, to be honest, you don’t have to try hard to beat out the competition, IMO. When you compare Safari on the iPhone/iPod to Safari on the Mac, you realise just how far behind mobile browsers are. Having no plugins is a limitation, but one that I can live with for now. On the other hand, browsing the web on a 320×480 display is more problematic. The biggest problem with mobile browsing is having a small screen. I’ve found it kinda useful to quickly check a sports score, or lookup something on the net, but for general purpose browsing, it’s just not there. And let’s not even begin on the crashing — though, I do have to say that if you build in a crash recovery mechanism to an app to bring you back to the same place you were before the app crashed, you might be putting your priorities in the wrong place. Make the app more stable instead.

It is interesting to see the design decisions Apple took with the touch. For example, iTunes will sync both your calendar and contacts over to the touch. With contacts, you can add new ones onto the iPod directly. With the calendar, you are limited to read-only. I’m not really sure why contacts got the ability to add while calendars did not — they should both have the ability to add.

Other things that would be helpful to have on the touch — note app, to-do app, and a PDF reader. The note app and PDF reader already exist on the iPhone, so it’s not too much of a stretch to see Apple adding these at some point. The to-do app is something that should’ve been on the iPhone as well, so hopefully we’ll see something from Apple at some point. If not, there is likely to be some 3rd party hacks that address these deficiencies.

Speaking of 3rd party hacks, that brings me to the more technical side of this post. So, the other part of my playing with the touch has been with trying to get it unlocked for 3rd party apps. My optimistic post on Friday afternoon was done with the view that since the touch is so similar to the iPhone that we would have a jailbreak up an working by Friday night and that we would all be testing apps on the iPhone over the weekend.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Apparently, despite what you may have heard from VPs who work at Apple, they have definitely taken a more active approach to locking down the iPod. The iPod, like the iPhone, signs the kernel binaries and DMGs that get sent to the machine. But, unlike the iPhone, Apple has taken the tact of encrypting the files as well, along with changing the protocol that jailbreak and others use to actually do the jailbreak. Right now, it’s not quite square one, but we’re not much further from that point.

Having said that, I have confidence that the iPod touch will be broken into — and I would even bet that it happens faster than it took to get into the iPhone. But, it will take some patience on everyone’s part.

Update: Added bit about tapping the album art to get the status bar to show.


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